An Introduction to Middle English
Grammar and Texts
  • Publication Date: April 17, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781551118949 / 1551118947
  • 544 pages; 6½" x 9"

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An Introduction to Middle English

Grammar and Texts

  • Publication Date: April 17, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781551118949 / 1551118947
  • 544 pages; 6½" x 9"

An Introduction to Middle English combines an elementary grammar of the English language from about 1100 to about 1500 with a selection of texts for reading, ranging in date from 1154 to 1500. The grammar includes the fundamentals of orthography, phonology, morphology, syntax, regional dialectology, and prosody. In the thirty-eight texts for reading are represented a wide range of Middle English dialects, and the commentary on each text includes, in addition to explanatory notes, extensive linguistic analysis.

The book includes many useful figures and illustrations, including images of Middle English manuscripts as an aid to learning to decipher medieval handwriting and maps indicating the geographical extent of dialect features. This introduction to Middle English is based on the latest research, and it provides up-to-date bibliographical guidance to the study of the language.


“This is an astoundingly rich book, which replaces in one fell swoop all other introductions to Middle English. Fulk has magisterially digested the sometimes dramatic developments of the past fifty years and presents the reader with a comprehensive, lucid and elegantly written account of the grammar of Middle English, its syntax, and its dialect variations. The core of the book is a fine anthology of Middle English texts, ranging from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, girded with insightful commentaries and a selective glossary. Fulk’s Introduction is to last a generation, and more.” — Rolf Bremmer, Leiden University

“Middle English is not taught as often as it should be. Thanks to this exciting new Introduction to Middle English, it may see a revival! The book consists of a detailed and sophisticated, yet thoroughly enjoyable, Grammar. It also contains excerpts from 38 texts organized in a chronological order. The excerpts are well chosen and each is introduced and followed by insightful linguistic commentary and notes. A glossary completes the book. This Introduction will appeal to students of linguistics and literature alike.” — Elly Van Gelderen, Arizona State University





A. Historical overview

  • 1. The transition from Old to Middle English. 2. The transition from Middle to Modern English.

B. Orthography

  • 3. Phonetic symbols and phonological terms. 4. The alphabet. 5. Sounds and
    spelling: consonants. 6. Sounds and spelling: vowels. 7. Sample spellings of
    stressed vowels.


A. Stress and syllables

  • 8. Lexical stress and syllabification. 9. Phrasal stress.

B. Stressed vowels

10. Vowels at the close of the OE period.

  1. Quantitative variation: shortening
    11. Shortening before consonant groups. 12. Trisyllabic shortening.
  2. Quantitative variation: lengthening
    13. Lengthening before homorganic consonant clusters. 14. Lengthening in open syllables. 15. Compensatory lengthening. 16. Quantity in words borrowed from French.
  3. Qualitative variation: native vowels
    17. The OE short low vowels. 18. OE æ. 19. OE ā. 20. OE ý.
    21. OE ō. 22. OE diphthongs. 23. The rise of new front diphthongs.
    24. The rise of new back diphthongs.
  4. Qualitative variation: non-native vowels
    25. Vowels in borrowings from Old Norse. 26. Vowels in borrowings from French.
    27. Summary of developments in the stressed vowels. 28. The Great Vowel Shift.

C. Vowels in syllables of lesser stress

  • 29. Centralization and laxing of unstressed vowels. 30. Loss of final -e. 31. Loss of /ə/ in syllables closed by a final consonant. 32. Disyllabic and polysyllabic stems. 33. Vowels of prefixes. 34. Unaccented words.

D. Consonants

  • 35. The consonant system of Middle English. 36. Voicing and devoicing.
    37. Assimilation. 38. Deletion. 39. ME ȝ and the development of glides.
    40. Metathesis, epenthesis, metanalysis. 41. Some dialectal developments.


A. Nouns

  • 42. Declension in Old English. 43. Reduction of case distinctions. 44. Elimination of grammatical gender. 45. Three declensional classes. 46. Exceptions to the general trend. 47. The inflectional morphology of loaned French nouns.

B. Adjectives

  • 48. Definite and indefinite inflection. 49. Strong and weak inflection in ME.
    50. Comparison of adjectives.

C. Numerals

  • 51. Cardinal numbers. 52. Ordinal numbers.

D. Pronouns and articles
53. Historical development.

  1. Personal pronouns
    54. First and second persons. 55. Third person. 56. Possessive pronouns.
  2. Demonstrative pronouns and articles
    57. The definite article. 58. Demonstrative þat. 59. Demonstrative þis.
    60. Other demonstratives and articles.
  3. Interrogative pronouns
    61. The OE types and their development.
  4. Relative pronouns
    62. The OE types and their development.
  5. Indefinite pronouns
    63. Inventory.

E. Verbs
64. Background.

  1. Inflections
    65. Inflections of the present tense. 66. Inflections of the preterite.
  2. Stems: strong
    67. Sample paradigm of a strong verb. 68. Principal parts and chief developments.
    69. Alternate stem types. 70. The seven classes of strong verbs.
    71. Strong class 1. 72. Strong class 2. 73. Strong class 3. 74. Strong class 4.
    75. Strong class 5. 76. Strong class 6. 77. Strong class 7.
  3. Stems: weak
    78. The OE background. 79. Sample paradigms. 80. Variant stem types
    of regular verbs. 81. Examples of the stem types. 82. Irregular weak verbs.
  4. Preterite-present verbs
    83. Background. 84. Inventory.
  5. Athematic verbs
    85. Background. 86. The verb ben. 87. The verb don. 88. The verb
    89. The verb willen.


A. Historical overview

  • 90. Syntactic and morphosyntactic change.

B. The noun phrase and its elements

  1. Morphosyntactic properties of nouns and adjectives
    91. Gender. 92. Case. 93. Number. 94. Substantive adjectives. 95. Adjective
    complements. 96. Comparison of adjectives and adverbs. 97. Placement of
    adjectives. 98. The position of quantifiers.
  2. Articles and pronouns
    99. Rise of the indefinite article. 100. The particularizing pronoun one.
    101. Reflexive pronouns. 102. Familiar and formal pronouns in forms of address. 103. Relative pronouns and their antecedents. 104. Ellipsis of relative pronoun.
  3. Subjects and direct objects
    105. Ellipsis of the subject. 106. Pleonastic subjects. 107. Compound subjects. 108. Ellipsis of the object. 109. Pleonastic object.

C. The prepositional phrase

  • 110. The preposition of. 111. The prepositions mid and wiþ. 112. The preposition to.
    113. The preposition into. 114. The expression of agency in passive constructions.
    115. Postpositive prepositions. 116. Preposition stranding. 117. Prepositions with pronominal objects.

D. The verb phrase

  • 118. Tense and aspect. 119. Mood: imperative. 120. Mood: subjunctive. 121. Mood: interrogative. 122. Impersonal and passive constructions. 123. Existential constructions. 124. Negation. 125. Auxiliaries. 126. Infinitive constructions.

E. The clause

  • 127. Position of adverbial elements. 128. Position of objects. 129. Extraposition from
    clauses. 130. Subordinating conjunctions. 131. Placement of the verb.


  1. Factors in dialect variation
    132. Orthography and phonology. 133. Mischsprachen. 134. The nature of
    regional variation.
  2. Dialect maps
    135. The Middle English dialect atlases. 136. LALME maps.
    137. Some major isoglosses: introduction. 138. Some major isoglosses:


139. Poetic types.

A. Isochronous verse

  1. Scansion
    140. Metrical feet. 141. Unstressed vowels. 142. Trisyllables. 143. Synizesis.
    144. Metrical properties of borrowings from French.
  2. Forms
    145. Narrative forms. 146. Lyric forms. 147. The septenarius.

B. Anisochronous verse

  • 148. Historical background. 149. Early ME alliterative verse. 150. The Alliterative
    Revival. 151. The alliterative form in the fourteenth century.



  1. The Peterborough Chronicle
  2. The Soul’s Address to the Body
  3. The Ormulum
  4. Poema morale


  1. Ancrene Wisse
  2. La3amon, Brut
  3. Kentish Sermons
  4. The Physiologus
  5. Seinte Marherete
  6. The Proverbs of Alfred
  7. The 1258 Proclamation of Henry III
  8. The Fox and the Wolf
  9. Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?
  10. The Thrush and the Nightingale
  11. King Horn
  12. The Owl and the Nightingale
  13. Havelok
  14. The Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester


  1. Cursor Mundi
  2. Robert Mannyng of Brunne, Handlyng Synne
  3. Dan Michel of Northgate, Ayenbyte of Inwyt
  4. Laurence Minot, The Siege of Calais
  5. Richard Rolle, Three Exempla
  6. The Stanzaic Morte Arthur
  7. Patience
  8. The Alliterative Morte Arthure
  9. William Langland, Piers Plowman
  10. John Barbour, The Bruce
  11. John of Trevisa, Translation of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon
  12. Petition of the Company of Mercers of London to Parliament (1388)
  13. John Gower, Confessio Amantis
  14. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, from The Canterbury Tales


  1. Thomas Hoccleve, La male regle
  2. John Lydgate, The Siege of Thebes
  3. The Book of Margery Kempe
  4. Margaret Paston, Two Letters to John Paston I (1444, 1448)
  5. The Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play
  6. Robert Henryson, The Testament of Cresseid


R.D. Fulk is the Class of 1964 Chancellor’s Professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington.