English Dialects From the Eighth Century to the Present Day by Walter W. Skeat

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Page 1

"English in the native garb;"
_K. Henry V._ V. 1. 80

at the University Press

* * * * *

With the exception of the coat of arms
at the foot, the design on the title page
is a reproduction of one used by the earliest
known Cambridge printer, John Siberch, 1521

_First Edition_ 1911.
_Reprinted_ 1912.

* * * * *


The following brief sketch is an attempt to present, in a popular
form, the history of our English dialects, from the eighth century
to the present day. The evidence, which is necessarily somewhat
imperfect, goes to show that the older dialects appear to have been
few in number, each being tolerably uniform over a wide area; and
that the rather numerous dialects of the present day were gradually
developed by the breaking up of the older groups into subdialects.
This is especially true of the old Northumbrian dialect, in which the
speech of Aberdeen was hardly distinguishable from that of Yorkshire,
down to the end of the fourteenth century; soon after which date, the
use of it for literary purposes survived in Scotland only. The
chief literary dialect, in the earliest period, was Northumbrian or
"Anglian," down to the middle of the ninth century. After that time
our literature was mostly in the Southern or Wessex dialect, commonly
called "Anglo-Saxon," the dominion of which lasted down to the early
years of the thirteenth century, when the East Midland dialect
surely but gradually rose to pre-eminence, and has now become the
speech of the empire. Towards this result the two great universities
contributed not a little. I proceed to discuss the foreign elements
found in our dialects, the chief being Scandinavian and French. The
influence of the former has long been acknowledged; a due recognition
of the importance of the latter has yet to come. In conclusion, I give
some selected specimens of the use of the modern dialects.

I beg leave to thank my friend Mr P. Giles, M.A., Hon. LL.D. of
Aberdeen, and University Reader in Comparative Philology, for a few
hints and for kindly advice.

W. W. S.


3 March 1911



I. DIALECTS AND THEIR VALUE. The meaning of _dialect_. Phonetic decay and
dialectic regeneration. The words _twenty_, _madam_, _alms_. Keats;
use of _awfully_. Tennyson and Ben Jonson; use of _flittermouse_.
Shakespeare; use of _bolter_ and _child_. Sir W. Scott; use of
_eme_. The English _yon_. _Hrinde_ in Beowulf.

II. DIALECTS IN EARLY TIMES. The four old dialects. Meaning of
"Anglo-Saxon." Documents in the Wessex dialect.


Ritual. The Lindisfarne and Rushworth MSS. Meaning of a "gloss."

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