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How Fast Do Languages Change? (Linguistics)
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DPCrisp


In: Bedfordshire
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I was going to say

"However, they are right in a sense. Before literacy, the question of where to divide anadder did not arise. Questions of correctness, whether words are "really" compound or simple, and all that stuff... depend on there being an objective form to the language. Writing it down crystallizes, if not ossifies, the language, so when changes are made, they become permanent; and becoming a written language is a one-way, once-only process."

But then, I've just said that there is no record of a change from a naddre to an adder, only records showing a difference... and we've been saying that old-fashioned English still counts as plain English...
Can we answer the question of whether it is written or spoken language that changes most?

- Literacy adds to the inertia of language: what is taught is what is written; once we have the notion of correctness, we have the obligation of adherence...

- Literacy is neutral: people write what they say; when they do deviate from what was written before, they now write something different...

- Literacy enhances dynamism: it provides a whole new suite of tools for expression in concrete media, which then influences what people actually say...

- Dialects have enormous inertia: you speak as you are taught; accents are ingrained and long-lived; dialects are connected with identity; many archaic words survive as dialectical words...

- Dialects are neutral: the factors influencing change come and go and people vary what they say according to circumstances...

- Dialects are dynamic: there is no bar to local variation under internal or external influence...

If all of these things are true, I suppose the picture is as we have painted it before: on the macro scale, movement is imperceptible; on the micro scale, changes may be rapid, but they are random and as likely to be undone as remain; a still lake with ripples at the surface. And the answer is that there is no reason to suppose that the writing and the speaking of language now vary in their rates of change. In the sense that we speak a written language -- the speaking and the writing being lumped into the same toolbox -- there could be no other conclusion.
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Mick Harper
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Do we know of any languages that became non-literate and then literate again?

"English" of course is another one. In the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries this 'language' was spoken by the whole population of England and was being written down by many thousands of these English-speakers. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, ie after the Norman Conquest, all these people carried on speaking English but virtually everybody forgot how to write it down. However gradually everybody started to remember again but bizarrely decided to use a different alphabet. Oh, yes, and the language meanwhile had completely changed too.

Come to think of it, anything orthodoxy identifies as a literate-illiterate-literate language is likely to signal a non-existent Dark Age

A piercing insight. Are Dark Ages even possible? In other words is it really likely that a whole region of the earth can lose everything for several centuries? THOBR says "Yes, when the Church ordains it" but I agree it is equally likely, since the Church/orthodoxy usually has control of history, "No, but we can insert several spurious centuries when our paradigm requires it." In the Church's case, is it possible that Rome's break with Constantinople required a bit of jiggery-pokery to make it stand up?

A similar example is the disappearance of pottery for several centuries. This is also sufficiently unlikely as to betoken an artefactual Dark Age.
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DPCrisp


In: Bedfordshire
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There is no written evidence of Saxons on the Continent because they learned to write when they came here, is that right?
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Mick Harper
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Yes, I think this is right, unless they mugged it up on the boat coming over. After all, England was the first time that the Anglo-Saxons found themselves in a literate (i.e. ex-Roman Empire) neck of the woods.
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DPCrisp


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Hang on a minute. That means Anglo-Saxon as a written language was invented in England. But they did plenty of salt-trading before then, and grew to be powerful invaders. (Powerful enough to beat up the mollycoddled-by-the-Romans-for-hundreds-of-years English wimps, at any rate.) That doesn't fit the "alphabet = sea-traders' secret weapon" model very well.

Assuming Saxons = (continental) Celts, they seem to have got on rather well without writing. Did they take up writing the minute they took to the water (that is, really took to the water the minute they took up writing)?
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Komorikid


In: Gold Coast, Australia
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As someone who was never into English Lit as a student I was never polluted by the Anglo-Saxon dogma. I've always thought that the English spoke English back into ancient times with minor variations accounted for by natural language evolution.

Just as Australian and American English is the same but different; if you know what I mean.

I don't want to appear like an ignoramus but sometimes I can't help it. So I'll shoot from the hip. As I understand linguistics, Anglo-Saxon is or was a Runic Script - a sister language to Norse, Germanic and Gokturk; all of which share the same basic Runic Script with minor variations and the same linguistic root. Though some will argue against Gokturk, the evidence is pretty conclusive when you compare scripts and words; so my Turkish friend Turgay assures me. With this ancient Turkish script he has been able to translate previously indecipherable Rune Stones in Sweden; the Kylver stone from Stanga, the Mojbro stone from Uppland and the Istaby stone from Blekinge.

See here: www.antalyaonline.net/futhark/index.htm

Anglo-Saxon came to England in the 5th Century AD and remained as a Runic Script until it was translated into the Latin alphabet around the 9th Century. So Who Translated It Into The Latin Alphabet? Who was there in the ninth century or thereabouts who were educated enough to convert Runic A-S into the Latin alphabet it is now written in.

My guess is the Catholic Church and who's to say how they interpreted the original written Runic A-S.

Makes you wonder if anything we now term Anglo-Saxon has any relevance at all.
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Mick Harper
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So I'll shoot from the hip. As I understand linguistics Anglo-Saxon is or was a Runic Script - a sister language to Norse, Germanic and Gokturk; all of which share the same basic Runic Script with minor variations and the same linguistic root.

A problemo. As far as I know, every single piece of Anglo-Saxon writing that has come down to us was written in Britain, in the Anglo-Saxon alphabetic script. But I shall welcome news to the contrary. Well, not welcome it exactly but you know what I mean. So in what sense is Anglo-Saxon a Runic language?

Though some will argue against Gokturk the evidence is pretty conclusive when you compare scripts and words; so my Turkish friend Turgay assures me. With this ancient Turkish script he has been able to translate previously indecipherable Rune Stones in Sweden; the Kylver stone from Stanga, the Mojbro stone from Uppland and the Istaby stone from Blekinge. See here: http://www.antalyaonline.net/futhark/index.htm

I've seen these claims too. The problem is that Turgay is Turkish and Turks are quite incredibly nationalistic about their language. Though you should tell Turgay that, if true, the Turks probably picked it up from the Scandinavians. The Scandinavians have a long and proud record of operating in and around the Black Sea; the Turks are noticeably absent from the Baltic. Let me know what he says.

Anglo-Saxon came to England in the 5th Century AD and remained as a Runic Script until it was translated into the Latin alphabet around the 9th Century.

Well, I think you mean Anglo-Saxons came to England in the fifth century. Strictly speaking (unless you've got some Runic evidence) we don't know what they were speaking until the seventh century, the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon documentation. (And pace our Alphabetical musings, that only proves what they were writing.) I would not say either it was "translated" (surely you mean "transcribed") nor was it into the Latin alphabet (some of the letters of the A/S alphabet are the same as Latin, some are not.)

So Who Translated It Into Latin The Alphabet? Who was there in the ninth century or thereabouts who were educated enough to convert Runic A-S into the Latin alphabet it is now written in. My guess is the Catholic Church

Well now, there's the rub. If it was the Catlicks then why didn't they just use the Latin alphabet? Sure, some of the sounds didn't fit the Latin phonetic system but that didn't stop them when doing the same job for Irish, English, Polish etc. and who's to say how they interpreted the original written Runic A-S.

A very pretty conundrum. Our only evidence would be...er...um...er...a Rosetta stone written by a renegade Anglo-Saxon priest on one side with a commentary by a...runic past me again...
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Komorikid


In: Gold Coast, Australia
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As I understand things the Anglo Saxons were a semi-literate people who invaded/immigrated to/were deported to/went on summer hols and loved the place so much they decided to stay in, Britain. During this period of semi-literacy, the Runic alphabet "futhork" was used for inscriptions. When literacy arrived with the reintroduction of Christianity to the English lands, a form of Latin script was used with a few letters derived from the futhork to transliterate A-S into a written language.

The assumption being that A-S had supplanted the entire indigenous language.

Would this be a fair assumption of the state of play up until there was a alphabetic language?
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Mick Harper
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As I understand things the Anglo Saxons were a semi-literate people

You can't be semi-literate. Either your language can be written down or it can't. Anyone who speaks an unwritten language is of course free to learn a written language for communicative purposes. But since this is pointless unless there are people who can read it at the other end, you have literate cultures or illiterate ones.

During this period of semi-literacy, the Runic alphabet "futhork" was used for inscriptions.

It may be true that Runes can be described as "semi-literacy" because they can only be used rather ponderously for memorial inscriptions but I do not know of any actual Anglo-Saxon Runic inscriptions. This is a technical question and ought to be easily answered.

When literacy arrived

No, literacy was introduced into Britain by the Romans and never went away.

with the reintroduction of Christianity to the English lands

No, Christianity never went away either. Latin Christianity was introduced.

a form of Latin script was used with a few letters derived from the futhork to transliterate A-S into a written language.

There's a coupla hundred years between St Augustine and the earliest Anglo-Saxon script so it'd be hard to make a directly causal connection. Is the Anglo-Saxon alphabet such an admixture, and if so why? Why not use the Runic alphabet (if you're used to the system); why not use the Latin alphabet if you're used to the system? Why go to all the trouble of concocting a system that ensures everybody's all at sea? [Alphabetical Conspiracy Theorists know the answer to that one.]

The assumption being that A-S had supplanted the entire indigenous language.

Yes, but what led to this assumption? How come you personally could see the falsity of the assumption when the other five thousand million people on God's Earth cannot.
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Mick Harper
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Well, let's break down the argument. Suppose you are speaking an ordinary European language and you want to write it down in an alphabet. Basically, you can't. There are too many sounds--about eighty in English for example.

If you want to assist the process of uptake by adopting an existing alphabet (i.e. one people might already be familiar with from writing in a foreign language) the problem gets even worse because there is no guarantee that the sounds in your language will fit at all well with the letters of somebody else's alphabet. So basically you give up.

However certain groups had a pressing need not to speak to one another (they could already do that) but to write to one another. The reason for this was because they were engaged in long-distance trade.

They could of course have done what you suggest and simply used an existing writing system--ideograms, cuneiform etc-- (and indeed they did) but these presented a minor but not insignificant problem for international traders everywhere. All these languages used direct substitution of spoken words for the written form and hence, whatever language they were written in, anyone could read them.

That just happens to be a characteristic of ideogrammatic writing. You actually read Egyptian pyramid texts in English! Though, parri passu, we do not know what Egyptian sounds like (at any rate from the hieroglyphs). Which reminds me, I may have spelled parri passu wrong, I may not know what it means, but I do know what it sounds like because the French not only use the same alphabet as I do, they use the same letters to denote the same sounds as I do. Though being French obviously they mangle everything horribly.

Any road, somebody--we think it was a Phoenician--had the bright idea of taking a simplified form of their own language (Aramaic? we dunno because Punic is still undeciphered) and rendering it down to a form that could be expressed into an alphabet. This had two remarkable effects:

1. Completely secure communication but, much more importantly,

2. A means of creating instant "Phoenicians" ad infinitum and wherever they were needed because anyone who went to all the trouble of learning this new simplified language and how to write it had a vested interest in the "Phoenician interest".

It's a bit like the Masons or Macdonald's franchising. A built-in exponential expansionary scheme in a world plodding along using family networks and single city states and mercantile associations and local guilds and sole traders and hopelessly uncompetitive organisations like that. The "Alphabeticals" did in Ancient History what the Joint-Stock Company did in modern history ...cleaned up.

So the theory goes. It worked and soon all over the Mediterranean there were "Phoenician" colonies. No doubt many of them really were Aramaic-speakers but frankly they didn't give a damn. As long as you talked the talk you were allowed to trade the trade.

Human nature being what it is, after a few generations, the top dogs spoke only this privileged language and brought their children up in it while everyone else was --er-- everyone else.

This success, and the manner of it, was noticed by a bunch of Greek-speakers who sat down with their Demotic Greek and simplified it into a form which could be expressed in just fifteen consonants and five vowels (is that right? something like that) and so Classical Greek was born.

So successful was this that quite quickly Hellas was divided into those who could speak and write this new language and lived and traded in towns and those who couldn't became slaves, helots, rustics and other folk we don't hear much about unless they revolt.

But now tha's trouble in t'Med. Two inimical trading groups, Phoenicians and Greeks, but only one Mediterranean. Not to mention eventually Tyre vs Carthage and Athens versus Corinth et al. We've got some history on all this but actually we know exactly what happens from Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France. Peaceful coexistence is fine when there's plenty of trade to go round but very soon trade means war.

All of this was noted with some interest by some Italian-speakers who argued "Fuck this trade lark, we'll never be able to compete with the Cartho's and the Bubbles, let's go straight to the war stage." So they simplified Italian to fit their new alphabet and came up with Latin.

A bit later, up on their northern borders, some salt-traders plying the Elbe route from the salt-mines of Saxony up to the "angle" of Denmark and Geermany said, "Ja, that's a gut idea, let's simplify our beloved German into Anglo-Saxon and compose OUR own alphabet."

And on their northern borders, some Swedes said "blah blah... into Gothic and compose OUR own alphabet."

And on their northern borders, some Danes said "blah blah... Old Norse and compose OUR own alphabet."

Meanwhile, one group had recognized that control of the alphabet and thus the written language meant that you didn't have to follow either the trading model or the conquest model, you could do the whole thing using a hearts-and-minds (and a bit of squeezing-the-bollocks) model. Yes, you guessed it, the Roman Catholic Church, which used control of education to ensure that Latin was a monopoly written language.

Though of course it did have to make special local arrangements with the other local alphabeticals--Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Norse. In all cases the deal was simple: don't let the locals write their own language. Everything else flows from this simple command because either you're in the ruling class already (i.e. you speak, maybe write, Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Norse) or you can join the ruling class by learning Latin. And in order to learn Latin you have to sign up for the discipline of the Catholic Church.

If you just speak the ordinary local language--English, French, Dutch, Spanish etc--you are an illiterate rustic. By definition. But, as it happens, there was one tiny corner of Europe where neither the Latins nor the Alphabeticals could ever quite reach, so that's where the next momentous event took plsce.

That's right, you all guessed it, Western Ireland where some little janius realised that by using the Latin alphabet, adding a few new letters and with the judicious use of dipthongs and dimorphs you could actually render demotic Irish into written alphabetic form. And hence being literate didn't mean having to sign up to anybody else's culture.

Thus the Celtic Renaissance and the spread of the monasteries with their obsession with scriptoria and their endless battles with Episcopalian Catholicism. By the time this battle was lost (or rather by the time this battle became irrelevant) the Welsh then the French then the Brits then everyone else had learned the same trick and the whole Latin Is King model was finished.

Cue the linguistic nation-state and the rest is (true) history.
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Komorikid


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I'd like to take issue with the whole 'trading language' proposition. Commonality of language, either covert or overt, has never been a prerequisite for trade.

The Mesopotamian, Indus and Egyptian civilisations managed successful intercultural trade relations for a millennium with neither common written nor spoken language. And Ancient Britain (c.1200bc) traded tin to create the Bronze Age with no written language at all.

What is required for successful trade is not a common language but a common rate of exchange (nothing has changed in 5000 years).

Written language may have developed out of a need to record surpluses and goods traded, but as with trade today all that is needed is a rudimentary numeric system and a descriptor for different types of traded goods. From these humble beginnings a more elaborate and sophisticated script was developed (Anuna Elish, Pyramid Texts etc.)

Sumerian cuneiform was subsequently adopted as a written text by the Babylonians, Akkadians and Assyrians even though their spoken languages differed. Egypt developed a totally unique written text and the Indus script still hasn't been fully deciphered. While these three languages could be called "trading languages" those that came after (from Greek onwards) cannot.

I believe that written language served a more strategic purpose. It was a way of forging alliances after cultures had been subdued. It was born in the conquests during the Greek era under Alexander the Great, enforced with overt brutality by the Romans and proliferated with covert insidiousness by the Holy Roman See.

I believe that Northern Europe (including Britain) from the Bronze Age up until the end of the Roman Empire all spoke a common language. (Mick believes it was English - I've read the book and I can go along with that). I don't think there is any such thing as the progressive development of the so-called Indo-European languages. The proliferation of WRITTEN European languages mysteriously appeared after the Old Roman Empire collapsed and the "righteous and benevolent" Holy Roman See replaced it. The history we take as FACT today was written largely by this "unbiased religious theocracy".

The Romans already had a largely subservient European population with language as a prerequisite for administration and military communication. Latin was a tool to separate the political, social and military elite from the indigenous illiterate population.

But although the locals couldn't read or write Latin, and had no written language of their own, they had a cultural base built on knowledge and as they all spoke a similar language it is more than likely they were all originally related. The Roman subjugation of these "Europeans" was largely due to there being no centralised government and their knowledge base being focused within small elite cliques, which the Romans specifically targeted for eradication. (Divide and Conquer - something the Romans were quite good at, but their heirs were supreme craftsmen at it).

After Rome fell the Roman Church inherited the wherewithal to continue what Pagan Rome had started (although there are many who believe that Pagan Rome merely changed its name by Deed Poll).

What frightened this fledgling empire most was that the aforementioned "Europeans" represented a major threat to an empire in disarray. A large disgruntled population spread over the entire northern empire and united by language and the possibility of finding a local hero to unite them against Rome at its weakest would have scared the B'Jesus out of the bishops (irreverent pun intended).

What can we do, they asked?

Ha! I know. We've got this bunch of scholars sitting around doing nothing.

Aren't they working on God, the Trinity and Everything?No, Constantine solved that one already.

Why wasn't I told?

Well we've got this religious theory, why don't we use it for something constructive.

Like what?

A weapon would be nice.

(We've got this atomic theory why don't we use it for something constructive)

"I thought I'd heard it before"

This is where the Divide and Conquer I spoke of earlier comes into play.

- Set up a puppet government beholden to Rome.

- Call it a country and give it its own written language.

- Take the best and brightest and tutor them in the new language along with large doses of religious indoctrination.

- Create a hierarchal structure of Church/State/Army and all the rest can remain illiterate.

- Eradicate all pagan practices - former knowledge which may have survived (heresies) and original spoken language.

- Then convert the illiterate masses to Christianity by force.

Repeat the above with minor (and sometimes major) changes to the written language and, hey presto, you have the Indo-European languages that have survived until today.

Benedictine monks, working from scriptoria on the east coast of England, developed the basic structure of the Germanic group of languages such as: German, Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish etc. Benedictine monks working from the Pannonhalma scriptorium in Hungary created Hungarian, which with special invention technique was taken north to create Estonian, Finnish and Lappish. With linguistic help from the Pannonhalma monks, the Eastern Orthodox monks, working from the scriptoria attached to the monasteries in Kiev and Novgorod, created the Slavic group of languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian etc. Polish was likely developed in the Benedictine scriptorium at Tyniec. Edo Nyland

This to me seems a more plausible scenario for the proliferation of "instant" written languages immediately subsequent to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire.
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Komorikid


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The Saxons were a Germanic tribe, so we are told, and prior to their establishment in England they shared a Runic Script with their German and Scandinavian cousins. Then suddenly they fetch up on Mother England's shore and miraculously start writing in a Romanised script.

So how did a bunch of semi-literate immigrants suddenly become educated?
Roman civilisation hadn't reached that far north at the time the Romans were leaving Britain and it wasn't until Charlemagne employed Alcuin to educate the German elite that they started to read and write in Romanised script.

There seems to be a very large anomaly regarding the language we know as Old English, in fact the script known as Old English looks to me like the work of Benedictine illuminators.
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DPCrisp


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The Saxons were a Germanic tribe, so we are told, and prior to their establishment in England they shared a Runic Script with their German and Scandinavian cousins.

How much runic Anglo-Saxon exists? Sod all?

In the Beowulf thread we are told German scholars were pilfering British archives shortly before Beowulf turned up, taking stuff home and saying it was German material -- which in an important sense it may well have been.

Then suddenly they fetch up on Mother England's shore and miraculously start writing in a Romanised script.

On the other hand, as you say, there is a significant difference between Anglo-Saxons as evidenced in Britain and Anglo-Saxons as evidenced on the continent. The archaeological basis for the identification seems to be piss poor.

The existence and longevity of Saxons is pretty sure. Jutes are a bit more controversial, coming from Jutland or Belgium depending on who you ask. But the Angles are the particular enigma, innit? It seems at least as likely that Anglo-Saxon means "the English Saxons" as "the Angles and Saxons together".

Even the academics are coming around to the idea that the Saxon Shore forts were trading establishments rather than seafront defences and the Saxons seem to have had a long and intimate relationship with Britain. (I reckon Julius Caesar commissioned his invasion fleet from the Saxons.) So, both reins and script seem to have been taken over from the Romans rather lightly.
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Mick Harper
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Not enough attention is given to the actual scripts used. The medium truly might supplant the message. I remember having a merry argument on one website over the status of Scribal Latin -- an abbreviated version that Medieval scribblers went in for -- which my opponent claimed was an example of Latin rapidly evolving into another language! And of course the original THBOBR insight was that Latin took up only half the writing space of natural European languages (ie was originally a shorthand, something like the Telegrammic English that newspapers used to save money eg Upproceed Abysinnia Warreport Soonest Outragecolourfulsplash).

It is surely significant that one of the chief differences between English and other Indo-European languages is the pronunciation of w and v, and that the former is (apparently) an arbitrary doubling of the first invented by some early alphabet-freak. Though we describe it as a double-u!

Gothic script, which is highly angular and therefore like both Runic and Latin would seem to be designed for carving on stone (or for printing?) needs to be investigated. It would be interesting to know, for a start, the origin of the English alphabet. This is usually airily dismissed as being the Latin one but of course it is no such thing (since it has K, W and Z...what else?) I assume it is the Irish one that we took over but I suppose we ought to know. And it ought to be something taught in primary school - the Slavonic script gets its own saints!
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Mick Harper
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According to the ANSAXnet today, the whole of Middle English is now available for free inspection. According to the scholars, Middle English is a halfway house between Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and Modern English; according to THOBR Middle English doesn't exist.

Anyway, I was interested in seeing this new resource (and indeed 'tis a mighty one that you can see here http://ets.umdl.umich.edu/m/mec ). So now you can judge for yourself. This is a snippet that I selected purely at random

The mirrour of the furst reding of these histories.
HIt is a noble and a faire thinge for a man or a woman̄ to see and beholde hem-self in the mirrour of auncient stories, the whicℏ hathe ben wretin bi oure Aunsetters forto shewe us good ensaumples that thei dede, to leue and to eschewe the eueƚƚ. And, doughtres, y saie this for y am olde, and haue leued longe, and see moche more of the world̛ thanne ye. And therfor a parti, after my science, whiche is not * gret, y wiƚƚ shew you, for y haue gret desire that ye turne youre hertis and thoughtis to drede and to serue God; for he thanne wol sende you good and worship in this world̛, and in the other. For in certayne aƚƚ the verray good and worship honest of man and woman comithe of hym only, and of none other, And yeuithe longe lyff and stont in this terreyn and wordly [sic] thing like as hym lust, for aƚƚ liethe in his plesir and ordinaunce. And also [fol/col 2/2 ] he yeuithe and yeldithe, for the good seruice that is yeue and do to hym, the double an hundred tymes. And therfor, doughtres, it is good to serue suche a lorde that gardonetℏ his seruaunt in suche wise.

Yeah, right, that's Anglo-Saxon bar the shouting.
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