PhD grants : The evolution of the dialectal continuum of English between the tenth and twelfth centuries: a sociolinguistic analysis (H&L)

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    University of Tours
    Mobility Incoming
    First Stage Researcher (R1) (Up to the point of PhD)


  • Keywords


English linguistics, Historical linguistics, History of English, diachrony, medieval English, dialectology


  • Profile and skills required

Linguist specialising in the history of the English language.


  • Project description

This thesis in English linguistics focuses on the developments that occurred in the dialectal continuum of England between Late Old English and Early Middle English (tenth to twelfth centuries). It draws on the theoretical framework of 'Language Ecology' as developed by Salikoko S. Mufwene (2001, 2008).

By considering linguistic developments as inseparable from the environment in which they take place, Language Ecology builds interfaces between different disciplines in linguistics and the humanities in general, and promotes a theory in which language contact is at the heart of the evolutionary process of languages. This perspective has been applied to the study of creole languages and has made it possible to question and even refute certain conceptions of the mechanisms accounting for their formation. The application of this theoretical framework to the case of medieval English, which several authors have referred to as a creole language, thus requires a holistic approach combining linguistic, philological and historical considerations.

The first part of the paper will aim at defining the theoretical framework within which this research is conducted and will explore a set of considerations traditionally taken for granted in the study of language contact, and by extension in creolistics. It will be explained how the theoretical tools typically devoted to the study of creoles can be usefully applied to the more general fields of dialectology and historical linguistics. This argument will be based on work previously carried out as part of my Master's dissertation, the aim of which was to explore issues relating to the Middle English creole hypothesis.

In the second part two dialectological portraits of English will be drawn up: the first will be based on the analysis of late Old English texts from the first half of the eleventh century, i.e. before the Norman Conquest, while the second will be based on various sources from the end of the twelfth century, at the beginning of the Middle English period. It is in fact commonly accepted that the transition from Old English to Middle English took place in this time interval and was characterised by a series of important and more or less abrupt evolutions.

Results expected. Firstly, the confrontation of the two dialectological portraits should make it possible to re-evaluate, at the level of the dialectal continuum, both the extent and the nature of the changes that have taken place. Then, based on an in-depth analysis of the socio-historical context of these developments, the thesis will aim at determining the extra-linguistic factors which may have led to such changes. The holistic perspective advocated by Language Ecology will challenge the traditionally-held view of an abrupt transition from Old English to Middle English, and will hopefully lay the foudations for a renewed understanding of the evolution of English at this pivotal period. It should also be possible, in the light of this framework, to understand the real issues at stake in the Middle English creole hypothesis and to shed new light on it.

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