Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2017 Fund Drive.

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Ormulum's English
Question: I have a big interest in historical languages. One of them in particular is Middle English. I have studied the pronunciation of Chaucer's Middle English, which was a later version of the London dialect of Middle English. One day, I was reading about Middle English, and I came across the subject Ormulum. After some research, I found that the poem was composed in a very early version of the East Midlands dialect of Middle English. I also read that the unique orthography and alliterative nature of the poem preserved much of the pronunciation found in the language in that dialect at that time, which has allowed linguists to reconstruct the pronunciation of the dialect at that time. Now, I have two questions: How did linguists reconstruct the pronunciation of Ormulum's version of the language? and What was the pronunciation of Ormulum's version of the lanuguage? (It would be greatly appreciated if links were provided, along with a chart for the pronunciation. It would be great if I could also get a crash course in sound reconstruction.)
Reply: Linguists use clues like rhyme and alliteration to figure out what the pronunciation was at the time a poem was written. We also use comparisons with other related languages. It would be great if we had the time to give you a crash course in historical linguistics, but we on the Ask-a-Linguist panel are a group of unpaid volunteers. If you go to and input the search terms pronunciation historical reconstruction, you will get at least 100 hits, which include a number of books on historical linguistics. Best of luck with your avocation.
Reply From: Susan D Fischer      click here to access email
Date: 24-Nov-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Ormulum's English    Nancy J. Frishberg     (26-Nov-2012)
  2. Re: Ormulum's English    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (02-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: Ormulum's English    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (24-Nov-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions