Language

The Vernon manuscript is written in Middle English. In many ways, the language of the manuscript will be familiar to users of English today. Much of the vocabulary is still in common use, and the word order is that of modern English.

One of the features which distinguish Middle English from modern English is the absence of standardised spellings. When the manuscript was made, there was no agreement on ‘correct’ spellings of words. Within even a single text, one word could be spelled in several different ways. Another distinguishing feature is that regional dialects were reflected in writing. Today, regional dialects are heard in spoken English, but written English does not normally reflect dialect.

The Vernon manuscript is written in the dialect of the English West Midlands. The scribes’ spellings suggest that they were trained to write in Worcestershire. Characteristic of their dialect are the spellings ‘mon’ for ‘man’, ‘stond’ for ‘stand’, and so on. Also distinctive of the area is their spelling of the word ‘she’ as ‘heo’. Perhaps this word sounded like the sound in the middle of modern English ‘verb’.

Some of the texts in the manuscript display traces of the dialects of other areas. These texts have been ‘translated’ into the language of the West Midlands. Sometimes, translation from one dialect to another could spoil rhymes. In the manuscript, there are traces of correction to restore rhyme words.  

Latin and French are also used in the manuscript. These languages are used sparingly. Latin is used for some headings, and for quotations from the Bible and other texts. Two texts have verses in French alongside translations in English. The preponderance of English links the volume with the growing prestige of the vernacular language in the period.

 

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