This is an enquiry into the use and status of English in medieval England. It is concerned with English relative to French and Latin and with its regional and social varieties in relation to each other. It considers how people then viewed language and how their notion of the significance of English influenced the way they used it.
Professor Machan argues that some linguistic, literary, and historical interpretations of medieval statements on language have taken insufficient consideration of the circumstances and discursive practices which produced them. He suggests that modern linguistic attitudes and expectations can obscure specifically medieval qualities of the status of English and the uses to which it was put. In the process he brings to bear a wide range of documentary evidence, notably the royal letters issued in 1258 prior to the Baron's War and medieval diglossia. In his discussion of regional variation, he considers chronicles, poems, and commentaries including the language spoken by Chaucer's pilgrims; conversations in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'; and post-medieval transformations of the status of English in law, literature, and education.
The book will interest scholars from a range of disciplines - particularly linguistics, literature, and history - and is written in clear, non-technical language.