The difference between old and middle english?

Posted by Bob on July 20, 2003

In Reply to: The difference between old and middle english? posted by Kristian on July 20, 2003

: Hey all of you! I really need some help for an english assignment! Does anyone know the major differences between old english and middle english?
: Thanks for all your help!

You can start a lot of arguments with this one. Because English evolves continually (and always has) it's hard to find neat dividing lines, and clear differences. New words enter the language, words change meaning, old words disappear (and sometimes re-emerge), so that there's a flow.
That being said, however, most people agree that Old English gradually became Middle English from the Norman Conquest to about 1200. William the Conqueror plugged in a lot of his French-speaking people into positions of power, and words of French origin entered the vocabulary of the aristocracy. Meantime, the peasants continued speaking Anglo-Saxon. This explains why (for example) there's often a separation in the names of foods and the animals they came from ... "cow" comes from the Middle English cou, as spoken by the people who tend the cows, but "beef" is from the French, as spoken by the well-fed upper classes dining on the stuff.