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From Domesday Book to Lay Subsidy Rolls: place-names as informants of linguistic change.

English place-names have frequently been used in recent decades by researchers in different historical fields. In the case of the study of linguistic evolution, the publication in 1913 of Eilert Ekwall's innovative article "Die Ortsnamenforschung cin Hilfsmittel fur das Studium der englischen Sprachgeschichte" opened up a new branch of investigation that has been especially fruitful. However, the differing interpretations of this type of evidence for the reconstruction of Old and Middle English dialects that have been proposed since the publication of the above mentioned article provide a clear illustration of the problematical nature of this material.

In spite of this, it is clear that the onomastic evidence must not be categorically excluded from the materials used by the linguist engaged in the painstaking task of reconstructing the linguistic features of Old and Middle English. Given the unreliability of other types of evidence (such as literary records), place-names should be regarded as the most reliable source available to us of the phonemic reality of previous periods in the history of the language; furthermore, Old and Middle English phonemes reconstructed through the study of onomastic material tend to show regular patterns of geographical spread, while the diffusion of the written forms recorded by the scribes in their copies of literary texts is usually subject to social and cultural processes. (1)

Taking J. Fisiak's (1984, 1985, 1990) and G. Kristensson's (1967, 1986) previous works on Domesday Book (1086) (hereinafter: DB) and thirteenth and fourteenth century Lay Subsidy Rolls (hereinafter LSR) as my model, I am proposing a diachronic approach to the onomastic material recorded in these documents, which accounts for some of the numerous phonological changes experienced by the English language in the period immediately after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Both documents have proven extremely useful for the historical dialectologist in recent times and, in spite of the methodological differences in the treatment of the place-names recorded in each one of them, I would like to focus on their complementary character as informants of processes of linguistic change in early Middle English.

In this paper, I am going to focus on the phonetic process traditionally known as second fronting and its significance for the study of the early Middle English dialect of the South West Midlands. According to classical accounts on this change, the palatalization of West Germanic a into OE ae and its later development into e took place in the dialects spoken in the Mercian dialects of the West Midland area and in Kentish. However, the quality of this sound, which is usually represented by the grapheme <e> in the Vespasian Psalter and other Mercian texts, was slightly different from the one derived from Germanic e, as can be seen from the subsequent levelling of West-Saxon ae and Mercian e (from West Germanic a) during the twelfth century (Campbell 1959: 62-64).

Early Middle English texts produced in the South-West Midlands in the years immediately after the beginning of the thirteenth century show a great deal of inconsistency in their use of the spellings <ae>, <a> (both for West-Saxon ae) and <e> (rendering Mercian e) in this group of words. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Diaz 1994: 450 and Appendix B), the distribution of the three spellings corresponds to the following patterns:

(a) Copies of West-Saxon documentary and literary texts produced in the South-West Midlands between 1200 and 1300 show high degrees of retention of <ae>. Scribes systematically use <e> only when dealing with copies of Old Mercian texts (such as St Chad), or when consciously holding on to the orthographic tradition of their own region, as in the case of the famous "Worcester tremulous hand" of the early thirteenth century (Franzen 1991).

(b) However, contemporary copies of literary texts produced in this same region show a prevalence of the grapheme <e>, being the copyist of the Caligula manuscript of Lazamon the only one who alternates this spelling with <ae>; further, the double graph <eo> is sporadically found in the group of texts copied in the AB-language. (2)

(c) The use of <a> is exclusive to the manuscripts copied by the end of the thirteenth century, and is especially frequent in translations of West-Saxon charters into Middle English.

It is thus clear that literary and documentary records cannot account for the geographical distribution of the QE phonemes /ae/ and /e/ and their evolution in early Middle English. How can the onomastic material recorded in DB and other medieval tax-rolls help us to ellucidate the phonemic reality of the dialects of late Old and early Middle English spoken in the South-West Midlands?

In order to answer this question, I have analysed a total of 246 place-names and related onomastic material as they appear in DB and the LSR to Herefordshire (1292, 1294 and 1334), Worcestershire (1272, 1327 and 1332) and the Northern half of Gloucestershire (1312 and 1327). The West-Saxon forms of the words from which this place-names derive are these: AEcci, [AEgel.sup.*], aeppel, aern, aesc, aeoele, [Baecci.sup.*], baece, baecere, [Baecga.sup.*], [Baeddi.sup.*], caerse, daeg, [Daegel.sup.*], dael, [draeg.sup.*], faeder, faeger, faesten, glaed, glaes, gnaett, graefere, haec(c), haesel, hraefn, maegden, [Maeoelgar.sup.*], naegel, [plaesc.sup.*], praett, scraef, slaed, smael, staepe, taegl, [Taeppa.sup.*], [paeccan.sup.*], waegn, waeps, [waesse.sup.*] and waeter.

As can be seen from Fig. 1 above, the spelling <e> is widely found throughout the region of the South West Midlands in all the documents studied for this research. However, the predominace of <e> over <a> is a phenomenon exclusively attested in DB, <a> being the most frequently used in all the LSR analysed. Our results can be summarized as follows. (3):

In spite of the rather high proportion of spellings using <a> recorded of DB, it is clear that second fronting affected the whole region included in our study. As regards place-names, occurrences of <e> are especially frequent in the onomastic material corresponding to the Northern half of Gloucestershire and Eastern Hereforshire (see Fig. 1). The nine forms recorded for these two counties in DB are to be derived from the following Anglian roots: [Egel.sup.*], ern, esc (x2), [Becci.sup.*], bece, [Becga.sup.*] and eoele (x2). Meanwhile <a> forms have been found for [Aegel.sup.*], caerse, haesel, [Maeoelgar.sup.*] and slaed, mainly corresponding to localities in Central and North-Eastern Gloucestershire. Only in the case of [Aegel.sup.*] (corresponding to AYLWORTH, PNGI i.199), fluctuacion between <e> and <a> has been detected (namely in the forms DB Ailwrde and DB Elewerde). It is thus clear that the phoneme /e/ from West Germanic a was in use in both counties by the end of the Old English period.

The evidence reflected in the a previously cited show a much clearer picture of the dialectal situation for Gloucestershire, our data for Herefordshire being too small to be considered. Place-names recorded in both counties show a progressive disappearance of <e> spellings, which contrasts with an almost generalized use of <a>. Spellings in <e> correspond to the Anglian roots [Egel.sup.*] (x2), ern (x2), bece and [Becga.sup.*], all of them being fossilized forms of names previously recorded in DB (namely AYLWORTH, BRAWN, BADGEWORTH and BAGE). The advance of the phoneme /a/ by the end of the thirteenth century is attested to by the 96 different forms in <a> (most of them recorded in Gloucestershire), in clear contrast with the 8 cases of <e> (i.e. the 6 place-names previously referred to, plus the personal names le Thechare and le Thecchar, derived from Anglian peccan and recorded in the LSR to Gloucestershire of 1327).

Much more puzzling is the evidence recorded from the county of Worcestershire, the quantity and variety of the forms found allowing a deeper and more complete analysis of the linguistic changes that affected this region throughout the period of our study. As can be seen from Table 1, Worcestershire is the only South-West-Midland county where spellings in <a> predominate over <e> as early as 1086 (date of compilation of DB).

The grapheme <a> is found in the forms Fikkenappeltreu (from OE aeppel), Asseberwe (from OE aesc) and Wasseborne (from OE [waesse.sup.*]), corresponding to localities in Central and Northern Worcersershire (i.e. FICKENAPPLETREE PNWo 305, ASHBOROUGH PNWo 337 and LITTLE WASHBOURNE PNWo 176).

As for /e/ this phoneme is found only in the forms Holefest (from Anglian festen) and Bradewesham (from Anglian [wesse.sup.*]), which refers to the localities of HOLDFAST HALL (PNWo 140) and BROADWAS (PNWo 176), in the southwestern quarter of the county (see Fig. 1). The ten occurrences of <e> extracted from the LSR for Worcestershire correspond to names derived from eight different Anglian roots: eppel, esc, festen, grefere, hecc, hrefn and scref. Three of these forms are found exclusively in personal names: grefere (SR Le Grever' 1327), hecc (SR Intheheche 1327 x2) and scraef (SR Schreweley 1275). Given the lower degree of reliability of this sort of names as dialectal informants (Arngart 1949: 17-29), these forms are not going to be dealt with in the discussion below on the relation between these spellings and second fronting.

The analogy between OE aeppel and Old Norse epli might account for the <e> spelling in SR Eppelton 1275 (for NAPLETON PNWo 146). However, the scarcity of Scandinavian place-names in this county (Sundby 1963: 242-250) and the absence of other forms using <e> for onomastic material derived from this root in the most Scandinavized regions of England (Kristensson 1967: 42-43 and 1987: 35-36) lead us to account for the existence of an Anglian form epple for this name.

As for OE aesc, recorded in SR Esseberuwe 1275 (for ASHBOROUGH PNWo 337), forms using <e> have also been recorded in regions not affected by second fronting. According to Kristensson (1987: 49), the phoneme /[integral]/ is responsible for the change from /ae/ to /e/in early Old English, which also accounts for the generalized use of <e> in DB for place-names derived from this word.

In the case of OE faesten, the <e> spelling in SR Holefeld 1275 (corresponding to HOLDFAST HALL PNWo 140) can be explained as a scribal mistake: given the similarity between OE faest- and feld, the copyist would have miswritten the second element of the compound in his manuscript. However, it should be remembered that other forms using <e> have been recorded for this place-name in DB (see above) and in other medieval documents from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Sundby 1963: 40), the later use of <a> in SR Holefaste 1327 presupossing an opening of Anglian e (from West Germanic a) in the root festen (with second fronting).

The root QE hraefn appears with <e> in the different forms recorded for the locality of RAVENSHILL (PNWo 171): SR Refenshull 1275 and SR Reveshull 1327. It has been argued (Campbell 1959: 74-75) that the /e/ in this OE word was originated by i- umlaut in the primitive Old English form [hraevni-.sup.*]

Clear evidence of the existence of a phoneme /e/ from West Germanic a in the late Old English dialects of the South West Midlands is thus scarce. However, the later generalization of <a> in all the place-names presented above (as reflected by their modern spellings) points to the maintainance of [epsilon] from West Germanic a until the end of the thirteenth century.

As a result of this brief analysis, the following succession of phonetic changes can be distinguised in the late Old and early Middle English dialect of the South West Midlands:

(1) West Germanic a became c in all the Old Mercian dialects spoken in this part of the Midlands, and this phoneme remained different from OE e.

(2) By the beginning of the eleventh century Mercian [epsilon] was depalatalized and soon retracted to a; evidence of this depalatalization is earlier and more numerous in the onomastic material recorded in the part of Worcestershire situated between the Severn and the Avon than in the rest of the region.

(3) Meanwhile, Mercian [epsilon] was maintained until the middle of the twelfth century in Hereforshire, Northern Gloucestershire and the South-Eastern corner of Worcestershire (see Fig. 1).

(4) By the end of the thirteenth century retracted a was generalized in the whole region, although isolated occurrences of <e> are still found in Northern Gloucestershire.

Total number of occurrences of the spellings <a> and <e> in place-names
recorded in documents related to the three counties of the South West

 Gloucestershire Herefordshire

 DB [LSR.sub.1] [LSR.sub.2] DB [LSR.sub.1]

<a> 4 - 95 1 1
<e> 7 - 8 2 -

 Herefordshire Worcestershire TOTAL

 [LSR.sub.2] DB [LSR.sub.1] [LSR.sub.2] DB

<a> - 3 14 99 8
<e> - 2 5 5 11


 [LSR.sub.1] [LSR.sub.2]

<a> 15 194
<e> 5 13

(1.) For a preliminary study of the interaction between phonemic evolution and scribal practice in early Middle English, see Diaz (1994, 2: 458-505).

(2.) For a complete description of this orthographic variant of early Middle English see d'Ardenne (1961: 1-54).

(3.) Where [LSR.sub.1] and [LSR.sub.2] refer to LSR compiled, respectively, before and after the year 1300. No division between place-names and personal names derived from them has been made here.


Andersen H. -- K. Koerner (eds.)

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1959 Old English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Coplestone-Crow, B.

1989 Hereford Place-Names. Oxford: B.A.R.

d'Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (ed.)

1961 pe Liflade and te Passium of Seime Iuliene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Diaz, J. E.

1994 Cambio lingulstico y tradicion ortografica en ingles medio temprano: 1050-1350. Diss. Ph.D., Universidad Complutense de Madrid; 2 vols. unpubl.

Ekwall, E.

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Fisiak, J.

1984 "English dialects in the fifteenth century: some observations concerning the shift of two isoglosses." FLH 4: 75-98.

1985 "The voicing of initial fricatives in Middle English", in: W. Viereck (ed.), 5-28.

1990 "Domesday Book and Late Old English Dialects", in: H. Andersen -- K. Koerner (eds.), 107-228.

Franzen, C.

1991 The Tremulous Hand of Worcester: A Study of Old English in the Thirteenth Century, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kristensson, G.

1967 A Survey of Middle English Dialects 1290-1350: The Six Northern Counties and Lincolnshire. Lund: Gleerup.

1986 A Survey of Middle English Dialects 1290-1350: The West Midland Counties. Lund: Lund University Press.

McClure, P.

1973 "Lay Subsidy Rolls and dialect phonology", in: F. Sandgren (ed.), 188-194.

Mawer, A. -- F. M. Stenton

1969 The Place Names of Worcestershire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moore, J. S. (ed.)

1982 Domesday Book: Gloucestershire. Chichester: Phillimore.

Moore, S. -- S. Meech -- H. Whitehall

1935 "Middle English dialect characteristics and dialect boundaries". Essays and Studies in English Comparative Literature XIII. Ann Harbour: University of Michigan Press.

Sandgren, F. (ed.)

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Smith, A. H.

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Sundby, B.

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Thorn, F. -- C. Thorn (eds.)

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Author:Diaz Vera, Javier E.
Publication:Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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