Word of the month: Ale

The Bilingual Thesaurus of Everyday Life in Medieval England is now complete and will soon be launched as a publicly available online resource.  It now has seven separate domains of everyday life: Building,  Farming, Food Preparation, Manufacture, Trade, Travel by Water and now, Domestic Activities. The latter has four sub-domains: brewing, gardening, cleaning and textile manufacture. June’s Word of the Month, ‘ale’ comes, unsurprisingly, from brewing.




Ale, from Old English ealu, is first attested in Middle English around 1200. It has an Anglo French equivalent, namely aile, a word borrowed from English which is first attested around 1350. Anglo French contains two other words meaning ale, namely cerveise and servoise.

Ale is made from water and malt, whereas beer is made from water, malt and hops. Although the bilingual thesaurus does contain words for beer in both English and French, namely English ber and more unusual berkyne, and French bere and boite, ale was much more common than beer in medieval England. It was viewed as clean and nutritious, and was relatively affordable compared to wine, which was only really consumed by the aristocracy.  Indeed, it wasn’t until the 18th century that most English brewers produced bitter, hopped beer, despite the fact that hops were being used in Europe in order to bitter and preserve fermented malty drinks from as early as the 13th century.

Public records show that the brewing of ale was dominated by women. This was not just common in England; records show that women were brewers in ancient Mesopotamia.

A female brewer.

The bilingual thesaurus contains a number of words for female brewers in both Anglo French and English. The earliest recorded word for female brewer in the thesaurus is Anglo French braceresse, attested from 1200. Anglo French also contains brustere, a later word, coming in around 1400, based on Middle English brewster for which there is only one citation in the Anglo Norman Dictionary:

‘Et puis remittés en un coverel Jesque que la brustere en cuer tient’ Fem2 39.7.

In English there is breueresse, first attested in 1312 and breu-wif, first attested around 1350.

The brewing of ale is a complex process involving several different stages. The process where barley grain is made ready for brewing is called malting. The word for this in Middle English is milden, which has its etymological roots in Old Norse as well as Old English. The last part of the malting process is called kilning. This is where the malt is dried in a kiln, with a gradual increase in temperature over several hours. The compound word kilne man is found in Middle English, but so is kilne wif, as women would have also minded and managed the kiln.

When kilning is complete, the grains have been turned into malt and they are crushed. This is known as the mashing process and is done so that the starches released during the malting stage can be fermented. The only word in the bilingual thesaurus for this process is the rather glorious stampinge, used presumably because people would stamp on the malt in order to mash it. The final stage of the brewing process is fermentation. The verb ‘to ferment’ is present in both Anglo French and English. In the former it is fermenter, in the latter, it is fermenten. However, my personal favourite word is spurginge, a noun which means fermentation. This is a wonderful, onomatopoeic Middle English word that deserves greater recognition, which is why it is included in this blog post. The various brewer’s utensils used in the brewing process include Middle English becche, mashel, rother and scope and a vat for brewing/fermenting called an ale-fat in Middle English.

Although brewing was primarily carried out by women in the home or domestic sphere, where it was seen as another chore, in addition to food preparation and cleaning for example, the various retailers of ale, the tranters, gannockers and tipplers, were also often female. How they went about their work would be an interesting area to explore further.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post about the brewing of ale in medieval England. Thoughts and comments welcome!


Land ahoy! Words for naval navigation in medieval England




This month’s word of the month is ‘Lodmanage’, which is a word meaning ‘navigation’, taken from the domain of Shipping.

Shipping, particularly international shipping, is a fascinating aspect of everyday medieval life to explore from a linguistic perspective. Historian Maryanne Kowaleski (2009) has argued that English shipmasters would have probably been able to speak French because they would have travelled to foreign ports, from Flanders to Bordeaux, where they would have had to communicate with a variety of people who made their living from the sea, from merchants to customs officials. French was not only the language of maritime law and port town records, she argues; it was also a practical, oral vernacular that would have been spoken on the dock, by English and French mariners alike.

Indeed, it has been suggested by several scholars that French acted as a sort of ‘lingua franca’ of the Atlantic, a common argot that would probably have been (at least partly) understood by a range of European sailors. This compares with Arabic, which became a kind of lingua franca around the Indian Ocean during the medieval period. Later on, a nautical version of Portuguese achieved the same wider currency. Individual languages such as Turkish also adopted nautical terms from other languages around this time.  It is in this global, international context that this month’s blogpost explores the word ‘lodmanage’, and other words relating to navigation, in both Anglo French and Middle English.


The word ‘navigation’ itself has several related senses. The sense relating to seafaring is defined by the OED online as ‘the action or practice of travelling on water in a ship or other vessel; sailing’. Etymologically, it is related to the Middle French, French word ‘navigation’, which in late 13th Century Old French meant ‘voyage’ and came to mean the ‘action of travelling by water’ by the mid 16th Century, or the ‘art or science of travelling by sea’ (mid 16th cent.). The classical Latin etymon for the word is ‘navigation or ‘navigatio. The first citation listed by the OED for this nautical sense of ‘navigation’ dates from 1539, when Thomas Elyot wrote in the Castel of Helthe:

‘Navigation or rowyng nigh to the lande, in a calme water is expedient for them that haue dropsies’.

So the modern word ‘navigation’ entered the language at a relatively late date. By contrast, ‘lodmanage’, which is etymologically derived from Old English ‘ladman’, Middle English ‘lodman’, a word for a ship’s navigator, is present in the language at an earlier date. It’s been chosen as the word of the month for several reasons. Firstly, it is the only word for seafaring related navigation that occurs in both Anglo French (or Anglo Norman as it is sometimes referred to) and Middle English.  It therefore appears on both sides of the Bilingual Thesaurus of medieval England. In Anglo French, it is cited in the following two quotations, the earliest dating from 1283:

‘qe les costages renables qe il mettra en lodmanage e en towage […] ly seit alowé’ Litt Wall 204;

‘pourtant que ung lodeman ne prendra point lodemanage sur lui s’il n’ait bon et plaine congnoissance du chemin pour faire et accomplir le lodemanage, Dieu aidant’ Blk Bk 128

In Middle English, ‘lodmanage’, meaning ‘Navigation, skill in navigation; also, a course followed’ in a maritime context, is first found in the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, dating from c.1387 – 1395:

‘Of his craft..His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage [vrr. lodmenage, lodmyngage, lodmanage, lodemannage, ledmannage, lodes manage], Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage’.

It’s also found in a variety of other sources, mainly works by the writer John Lydgate, but also Piers of Fulham’s Conceits in Love:

‘He that in loues boute doth rowe, Ȝef that he..faileth of his lodemonage [Trin-C: lodemanage]’.

The second reason ‘lodmanage’ is so interesting is because it is a borrowing from English into Anglo French, rather than vice versa. As stated above, the international nature of medieval seafaring led to the adoption of many ‘foreign’ terms into nautical vocabularies. We know that the French nautical vocabulary includes English and Celtic words describing the operation of a ship (including our word of the month), Dutch terms for ship construction, and German words for combat. Linguistically, ‘lodmanage’ is an interesting word because it is an example of a French affix, specifically ‘age’, being attached to an English stem (lodman), indicating the interaction of the two languages at a morphological level. There is also a continental French equivalent, ‘lamanage’, which may or may not have been borrowed from English.

So what about other words relating navigating the waves in the medieval period? Well, there appear to be two other contenders in Anglo French, namely ‘governaille’, which meant the action of steering a ship and/or navigating:

‘Par quoi les Niefs d’autry ont demorez sanz governail, & pur ceo plusours d’iceux peritz’ Rot Parl1 ii 307’.

There is also the word ‘navire’, although it only appears in a single citation, given below:

‘Aprés tel tens dreske al derein ide de novembre, nient certain est navire’ VEG1 149.13

In Middle English, there are three other words for navigation on the sea: ‘governaunce’, similar in form to the Anglo French governaille, ‘navigaunce’, related to the modern day word ‘navigation’ and ‘ship-craft’, which appears in (among other places), John Trevisa, Bartholomaeus’s De Proprietatibus Rerum (ME translation) as can be seen in the quotation below:

‘Þis sterre..is I-clepid stella maris..for it lediþ in þe see men þat sailiþ & haueþ schipcraft’

However, ‘lodmanage’ appears in the language before all of these words, according to the textual sources that survive. It contributes to the complex etymological picture of English sea terms. As Kowaleski points out, Old Norse and Low German contributed to a particularly large number of these terms, ‘including many that refer to essential parts of the ship, such as ‘bow’ and ‘keel’, or to the types of wood and nails used in shipbuilding’. French terms for parts of ships such as ‘bilge’, ‘plank’ or ‘cabin’ also found their way into English, but did not originally have specifically nautical meanings. On the link between Anglo French and English, a final thought to leave you with is that because of seafaring, and specifically the regular contact between French-speaking English mariners and native French speakers making their livings from the sea, Anglo French was not as ‘insular’ and isolated from Continental French as some scholars have previously suggested.

As can be seen, seafaring is a fascinating area of everyday life to investigate if you are interested in multilingualism and language contact in the medieval period. Thoughts and comments welcome!

Quistrouns and knaves: the kitchen servants of medieval England

This month’s blog post is about the words used to describe kitchen servants in medieval England, and how they could also be used as insults.

Ein Bäcker mit seinem Lehrling beim Brot backen.

Between the early sixteenth and the nineteenth century, these kitchen servants were referred to using the word ‘scullion’. The OED online defines a scullion as:

‘A domestic servant of the lowest rank in a household who performed the menial offices of the kitchen; hence, a person of the lowest order, esp. as an abusive epithet.’

There is evidence that calling someone a ‘scullion’ could be an insult, albeit a relatively mild one, as can be seen in the brilliant quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2:

‘Away you scullian, you rampallian, you fustilarian’. Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 2. ii. i. 61

However, ‘scullion’ is not attested until the early sixteenth century. The earliest attestation of the word dates from around 1515, and is found in The boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux: ‘Squylyons of ye kechyn’.

So what were the words that were used to describe kitchen servants before the sixteenth century in England, and were they used as insults? The Bilingual Thesaurus of Medieval England lists three words for kitchen servants that were used in England between 1100 and 1400. Two of them (‘knave’ and ‘quistroun’) are from Middle English and one (‘cuistron’) is from Anglo Norman, or Anglo French as it is sometimes referred to, the variety of French spoken in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The Middle English word ‘knave’ comes from Old English ‘cnafa’ (possibly derived from the Mercian word ‘cneafa’).There are various recorded references to the word ‘knave’ to describe a kitchen boy/cook’s servant or scullion in Middle English, the earliest being from Ancrene Riwle, dating from around 1230:

‘Beon bliðe iheortet ȝef ȝe þolieð danger of sluri, þe cokes cneaue [Tit: cnaue; Nero: knaue], þe wescheð & wipeð disches i cuchene’. Ancr. (Corp-C 402), 192/3.

The latest citation we have in the Middle English Dictionary is from around 1500, from a text called Octavian:

‘The kokes knaue, þat turneþ þe spyte, Upon þy wyf he hath begete On of þo two’. Octav (2) (Clg A.2).

‘Knave’ was a widely used word that had wide applications. In addition to kitchen servants it could be used to refer to male infants, peasants or labourers, and crucially, wastrels, or good for nothing rogues.

The following two quotes, from Cleanness by the Pearl Poet and Lydgate, illustrates this well:

‘He wonded no woþe of wekked knavez..For harlotez wyth his hendelayk he hoped to chast’. Cleaness IMEV 635; Manual 2.II.4.

‘And so thestat of politik puissaunce Is lost wher-euer knaues haue gouernaunce’. Lydgate FP (Bod 263).

So, like ‘scullion’, ‘knave’ could be used as an insult. However, the two uses of the ‘knave’ seem to be more differentiated than the two uses of ‘scullion’, which appear to overlap more, possibly because of the heavily stratified nature of medieval and early modern society. In other words, calling someone a scullion was insulting because the meaning of ‘scullion’ became extended, from someone who performs menial jobs in a kitchen to someone who is, as the OED definition of ‘scullion’ has it, ‘a person of the lowest order’. Whereas, to call someone a knave, in a pejorative sense, was to imply that they were dishonest, unprincipled, cunning, unscrupulous; even a villain. So although you could refer to a ‘cook’s knave’, when ‘knave’ was used as an insult, it arguably carried a much stronger pejorative sense than ‘scullion’.

Middle English ‘quistroun’ and Anglo Norman ‘cuistron’, are actually the same word, in that the English word was borrowed into the lexicon from French. The Middle English Dictionary suggests that the primary meaning of ‘quistroun’ was ‘a cook’s assistant or errand boy, scullion’. It could also be used to refer to: ‘a page, lowly servant, knave; also, a sutler, camp follower;’. The quote below from Octavian illustrates the culinary usage:

‘Sche segth a boy, loþly of face, A quysteroun..And seyde, ‘Hark, þou cokes knaue.’ Octav. (2) (Clg A.2). 154

The Anglo Norman equivalent ‘cuistron’ is also defined as a scullion or a cook’s boy in the Anglo Norman Dictionary, and various quotes illustrate this usage, such as the following quotes from Gaimar and Bibb Roth (G):

‘Sa niece mesmariee ad; Il la dunad a un garçon Ki Cuaran aveit a nun; […] Cil Cuaran esteit quistrun Mes mult esteit bel vadletun’  Gaimar 103

‘Va t’en, quistroun, ou toun havez (M.E. fleyshhock) Estrere le hagis del postnez’ Bibb Roth (G) 1035


A quistroun/cuistron/knave at work on the right.

Again, this word doubled up as an insult, in both languages. In French, there is the following quote about ‘bastard cuistrons’, from the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500):

Cuistron bastard. “Vil bâtard” : Questron bastard, je te occiray (Precef. IV, R., 608).

Meanwhile, in English, there is a reference to the ‘foulest quisteroun’ in Ywain:

‘I sal hir gif to warisowne, And of þe foulest quisteroun, Þat ever ȝit ete any brede, He sal have hir maydenhede’. Ywain (Glb E.9) 2400

And a glowing description of the beautiful God of Love, who was ‘lyk no knave, ne quystroun’ in the Romance of the Rose:

‘This God of Love of his fasoun Was lyk no knave, ne quystroun; His beaute gretly was to pryse’. RRose (Htrn 409) 886

What’s more, these insults were not just reserved for people, or used for the purposes of comparison in relation to gods. There are two quotes in the Middle English Dictionary that refer to the ‘whel of quistrounes’, which was a contemptuous epithet for the wheel of Fortune:

‘So þe qwele of qwistounes [read: qwistrounes] ȝoure qualite encreses, Þat noþir gesse ȝe gouernour no god bot ȝour-selfe!’ Wars Alex (Ashm 44) 4660


The ‘qwele of qwistounes’

This last quote suggests that the pejorative sense of Middle English ‘quistroun’ was relatively established and well known, at least by the later medieval period, which is when the text it is taken from was written.

So it is clear that before ‘scullion’ came along in the sixteenth century, there were already words for kitchen servants in both Middle English and Anglo French that doubled up as insults.

That’s it from this month’s blog. Thoughts or comments welcome!

Illegal trading in medieval England

This month’s blog post asks a lexicographical question: when you are creating a bilingual thesaurus of medieval England, what sort of boundaries do you need to place around particular semantic domains to prevent ‘data explosion’, i.e. the problem of simply having too many words to deal with?

The post will focus upon one particular domain, Trade, and will explore where the boundary lies between trade and crime in medieval England. It will feature, among other things, bribery, extortion and counterfeiting.

For the purposes of the thesaurus, we decided to limit the domain to ‘trade’, as opposed to ‘trade and commerce’, and we decided to define ‘trade’ as the exchange of money (or something of equivalent value) for goods. In relation to illegal/immoral trading, this meant that words relating to any kind of monopolizing would be included, but that illegal practices involving money more generally, such as bribery, ransom or extortion, would not be.

The words that made the cut

The words relating to illegal or immoral trading that made it into the thesaurus include:

Anglo Norman ‘Engrosser’ and its equivalent Middle English word ‘Engrossen’, meaning ‘the action of buying (any article) in large quantities with the view of obtaining a monopoly’ (quote from online OED definition of ‘engrossing’ (n.))

Anglo Norman ‘Regrater’ and its equivalent Middle English word ‘Regraten’, meaning ‘to buy up (commodities, esp. food) in order to resell at a profit in the same or a neighbouring market’ (quote from online OED definition of ‘regrate’ (v.)).

Anglo Norman ‘Forstal’ and its equivalent Middle English word ‘For(e)-stal’, meaning ‘the buying up of goods beforehand, etc’ (quote from online OED definition of forstalling (n.)).

As you can see, there is a strong similarity between the French and English words in the examples above. As a project team we are interested in whether words such as these are code switches or simply lexical borrowings. Etymologically, it is interesting to note that it in the case of ‘forestal/for(e)stal’, Anglo Norman appears to have adopted a word of Old English origin, whereas in the case of ‘engrosser/engrossen’ and ‘regrater/regraten’, Middle English has adopted words of Old French, Latinate origin. These examples not only demonstrate how much potential overlap there could be between the two languages, but also the complexity of the etymological situation.

Other areas of illegal/immoral trading that we decided to take account of in the thesaurus include…


That’s right! Counterfeiting, specifically the practice of creating false money, did occur in the medieval period, as is evidenced by, for example, Anglo Norman and Middle English words for counterfeit money – Anglo Norman ‘fause moneie’ and Middle English ‘countour’, meaning a counterfeit coin. We decided to include the practice of counterfeiting money because although arguably illegal and/or immoral, it does involve the exchange of (real) money or some equivalent for goods, which in this case happen to be counterfeit bank notes and/or coins.

And last but by no means least, smuggling!


The photo shows cigarette smuggling with a book

Smuggling, or the secret importation of goods, was included as a practice within ‘Trade’ in the thesaurus. We included words relating to importing and exporting goods, and as this is the essentially the illegal version of this, we decided that it should be included. Crucially, for our purposes, it involves the transportation of goods. Interestingly however, there were relatively few words for the practice of smuggling in either of the Middle English or Anglo Norman dictionaries. The only really relevant word appears to be ‘passer’, an Anglo Norman word for smuggler. Smuggling undoubtedly went on, but, perhaps because it was an illegal practice, it appears to be less well documented than some of the more above board practices associated with trade.

The words that didn’t make the cut..

Although we decided not to include words for extortion, ransom or bribery because they do not involve the exchange of money for goods, there are some still very interesting words associated with these practices, which will be discussed below.


Snowman extortion 

The Middle English word ‘extorcioun’ and indeed its modern English equivalent ‘extortion’, meaning ‘the action or practice of extorting or wresting anything, esp. money, from a person by force or by undue exercise of authority or power’ (quote from online OED definition of ‘extortion’), comes from the Old French word ‘extortion’. Indeed, the Anglo Norman word for extortion is, you’ve guessed it, ‘extorsion’.



Ransom, generally understood today to refer to either the practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money or property to secure their release, or the sum of money involved, was likely to have been a fairly common practice in medieval England, judging by the number of words associated with it in the Anglo Norman and Middle English dictionaries (henceforth referred to as the AND and MED). Words relating to ransom in Anglo Norman include: ‘apesement’, ‘finance’, ‘raindre’, ‘rancer’, ‘rançun’ and, ‘redempcion’, which meant ‘ransom to secure remission of physical punishment’ (see the AND entries for all these words for more information).

Some examples of Middle English words relating to ransom include ‘deliveraunce’, ‘finaunce’, the relative of our modern word ransom, ‘raunsoun’, which is of Old French origin, and ‘redempcioun’ (see the MED entries for more information). Again, as we saw above in relation to words for engrossing, regrating and forestalling, there are a number of overlaps between the lexis of the two languages, ‘finance/finaunce’, ‘rançun/raunsoun’ and ‘redempcion/redempcioun’ being cases in point.



There are also several words in both languages associated with bribery, or ‘the act or practice of giving or accepting money or some other payment with the object of corruptly influencing the judgement or action’ (quote from online OED definition of ‘bribery’ (n.)). However, the blog would like to focus on the Middle English phrase ‘handi-dandi’ (thanks to Dr. Izabella Hopkins for alerting us to this).

‘Handi-dandi’ is defined by the MED as ‘the conveying of a bribe (secretly, as in a game of handy dandy)’.

In case anyone is wondering, the game of handy dandy is a child’s game, where one child guesses in which closed hand the other holds some small object, winning the object if right and forfeiting an equivalent if wrong.

It’s a strange and imaginative way of referring to bribery, illuminated by the following quotes (all taken from the MED entry for the phrase):

‘Wro[n]g þenne vppon Wisdom wepte to helpe, Him for his handidandi Rediliche he payede’. c1390

‘And wisdom in handydandy hastely he payed’. a1475

‘And prayed hym for his handydandy help hym at his nede’. a1500

That’s all for now. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this month’s blog post; thoughts and comments welcome.

Cackling hens, trumpeting elephants, twittering sparrows – the many uses of Anglo Norman ‘braire’

These days, modern English speakers tend to use the word bray to exclusively refer to the sound that a donkey or mule makes, e.g. “the mule in the field is braying”.


Here is an audio clip of a braying mule: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzm4z-Rg1sQ.

Modern English speakers do not tend to go to the zoo with their friends or family and say “look at those monkeys/elephants/sparrows/hens/sheep braying”. However, it would appear that the closely equivalent Anglo Norman verb braire, derived from the Old French word brai or brait, meaning ‘cry’, could be applied to the sounds made by a number of things: humans, animals of various kinds, even water. As can be seen from the citations below (which are all taken from the Anglo Norman Dictionary entry for braire: http://www.anglo-norman.net/D/braire), it could be used to refer to:

A general roar or howl:

To roar, howl: rudere: brayer TLL ii 12; vagit: brayet TLL i 147; pandatio -as .i. braeer Gloss Bod 730 202.27;


Humans shouting, or wailing:

(Of the noise made by humans) to shout, yell: Qui donc fu pres d’iluec grant noise put oir, Braire les chevalers e les chevals henir Rom Chev ANTS 3522; jeo criay ebrayay YBB 33-35 Ed I 123; ♦ to cry, wail: Les enfaunz […] En cryaunt braerent pyteusement S Fran ANTS 6868; or … ♦ to wail, lament: Iluec les (=the damned in Hell) oi saint Paul estrange doel faire, E crier e braere cum se ço fust toneire  Descent 159-60; Sainte Eglise crie e brait Pur cels qui li malfé deceit Mirur 87ra16;


Roaring animals:

(Of the noise made by various animals) to roar: il cria cume leun quant ilbreit Apoc 1814; urse brait (M.E. braies)   BIBB (O) 333va;

Crying monkeys:

(Of monkeys) to cry: Senge braie (M.E. Ape scrikith)  Nom 744;


Bleating sheep:

(Of sheep) to bleat: Kaunt ele targast au lever Matyn le ayngnel soleyt braer S Fran ANTS 3672;


Cackling hens:

(Of hens) to cackle: la geline quant ele ad pont ne fest forsbrere Ancren2 180.9;


Twittering sparrows:

(Of sparrows) to twitter: moisson favele toz jours e bret e jangle e crie Ancren2 237.34;


Trumpeting elephants:

(Of elephants) to trumpet: barrit: noys, criet, brayet TLL i 338; 3  (of water) to roar: la mer […] Undeie e brait cum esragee S Gile 782; toutes estes en cest corant, en la braanteeve del siecle qe nuiz porte avalante Ancren1 51.11; Cist mundes est ausi cum mer Ke ja ne set en pais ester, Mais tutdis bruit et tutdis brait Corset ANTS 1501;


Rushing or roaring water:

(Of water) rushing, roaring: Es granz undes broiant Horn 4962; De refreider son cors il out talant D’ewe de puis u de fontainnebroiant Anc Test (B)


From a linguistic point of view, the multi-purpose nature of the Anglo Norman word braire tells us several interesting things. Firstly, and most obviously, it tells us that Anglo Norman braire (originally derived from the Old French word brai which would have been used in Continental France) was used in a very general way in Anglo Norman, and could be used in relation to both living creatures and features of the natural environment such as river water.

Secondly, it potentially tells us something about the relationship between Anglo Norman and Middle English within England during the medieval period. Braire is cited in Anglo Norman documents dating from as early as the 12th Century (1100 – 1200). Meanwhile, according to the OED, the first attestation of the verbal meaning of the word bray, meaning ‘To cry out, to utter a loud harsh cry; esp. of grief or pain’ within English can be found in the Cursor Mundi (a1300):

‘He sal here it [heaven] cri to wonder, bath cri and brai for dute and drede’.

(cited from the OED online: cf. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/22839?rskey=U3Ith9&result=4&isAdvanced=false#eid).

The documentary evidence suggests that braire was being used in Anglo Norman either before, or at the same time as, it was being used in Middle English. It could therefore potentially have come into the English language through contact with Anglo Norman. In other words, English speakers may have borrowed this word from Anglo Norman, and this is how it came to be part of the English language. Examples such as this may be able to tell us something about the bilingual situation in medieval England.

Thirdly, it is worth highlighting the diachronic aspect, i.e. how the usage of this word has changed over time. The main thing to note here is that the meaning of bray has become very specialized in modern English. At some point, it began to be used within English to exclusively refer to the sound made by donkeys or mules. And what a glorious sound that is!

Comments welcome.

Note: all citations have been taken from the Anglo Norman Dictionary online: http://www.anglo-norman.net and the OED online: http://www.oed.com/. If you are interested in finding out more about the word briare, see the Anglo Norman Dictionary entry: http://www.anglo-norman.net/D/braire. The Anglo Norman Dictionary also has a blog devoted exclusively to Anglo Norman words, which can be found at this link: http://anglonormandictionary.blogspot.co.uk/.

The research in brief

Many English words were borrowed from foreign languages, filling a gap where previously there was no word in English for the item or concept. They were initiated by English speakers who were fluent users of the foreign source language.

Between 1066 and the late 14th century, English and French were both used as vernaculars in England (in addition to Celtic languages, Scandinavian and Hebrew in some communities). Among the educated classes, the use of French was widespread for a long time, generally referred to as Anglo-Norman.

Medieval literature in English shows the two language heritages intertwined, thanks to the contacts between the two linguistic cultures.

Hello world!

Hello and welcome to the Medieval Bilingual England blog!

This blog is connected to the Bilingual Thesaurus of Medieval England project, based at Birmingham City University. By creating a thesaurus of Middle English and Anglo French (also known as Anglo Norman) words, this project seeks to capture the influence on English of Anglo French at a time of the overlapping presence and use of both languages within England. It will allow a range of scholars to conduct research on the language of everyday medieval life. Particular areas focused upon in the thesaurus include building, manufacture, shipping, farming, trade and commerce and food preparation/cooking.

Members of the project team (PI Prof. Richard Ingham, co-investigator Dr. Louise Sylvester and myself, RA Dr. Imogen Marcus), will be blogging about code switching and lexical borrowing between the two languages. The blog is also likely to include a ‘Word of the Month’ feature.