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Normalisation 1: principles

the principles underlying the normalisation of word forms in the East Midland dialect c 1150, together with an introduction, abbreviations and definitions

The following is background information. It is not required reading for these who wish to learn Early Middle English. If you're looking for a description of Early Middle English grammar, see eME language.

Below, you'll find

Normalising Early Middle English - an overview

Old English 50 years on

Variation is no stranger to language. It exists in Modern English as it did in Old English and all stages between. It was certainly apparent in Early Middle English. In the Peterborough Chronicle entries from 1137 to 1154, for example, some words appeared with two or three different spellings in the same text - gyuen/iiuen wes/waes/was. Some of these variations can be put down to scribal whim (or error) but others may reflect differences in pronunciation and form that co-existed in the East Midlands at that time. As the song goes - "You say either /i:/, I say either /ai/." There's nothing wrong with variation. It's part and parcel of language. But in certain contexts, such as learning a language, the aim is to keep variation to a minimum, at least in the early stages. That is where normalisation comes in.

Editors of Old English texts have often normalised, especially in primers. They eliminate (or reduce) the inconsistencies and departures from the standard form of the language, by modifying forms. Generally this affects spelling, but occasionally might involve substituting or removing a grammatical inflection. In that task, their reference is the standard West Saxon literary language of the late 9th century. Unfortunately, there was no standard for Early Middle English. In its absence I have based the language of englesaxe on the East Midland dialect, and in particular on two texts - The Peterborough Chronicle (1137-54) (PC2) and Ormulum (Orm).

PC2 and Orm represent the same dialect. And that dialect has distinct features that have been identified (i.a. by Lass 1 and Johannesson 2). Nevertheless, the two texts do differ slightly, in spelling mainly, but also occasionally in sound, suffix and vocabulary. In normalising Early Middle English then, a choice has to be made between these variations.

That choice between variations in PC2 and Orm is only one one part of the process, however. A more fundamental task lies in filling in the blanks in the East Midland dialect itself. Although we have a good idea of its grammar (see Burrow and Turville-Petre 3) and its sound system (see Lass 1 and Johannesson 2), we don't have a complete picture of the dialect. We don't have all the verb forms, to take one example. And the documented vocabulary, though extensive, is limited to a handful of texts. How de we fill out the canvas? The best way to achieve that, is on the basis of a few solid principles. This page outlines the principles I followed not only when choosing one form over another - i.e. one documented spelling or sound or grammatical form or vocabulary item over another, but also when filling "blanks" in verb paradigms and the vocabulary itself.

The Early Middle English used in englesaxe should be as simple and practical as possible for the learner, who will be coming at the language from the perpective of a speaker of Modern English or the perspective of a reader/student of Old English, or perhaps from both. As far as possible then, the Early Middle English used in englesaxe should reflect the broad patterns of development which led from Old English to Modern English. In other words, it should steer a straight course between the two, encompassing all the elements that are common to Old and Modern English, and avoiding features found in neither. The Modern English speaker should be able to produce Early Middle English confidently, using existing available resources - Old English dictionaries and/or Modern English forms. And the guidelines for producing Early Middle English forms should be as few and straightforward as possible. These are set out below (after the abbreviations and definitions).

The gist of of the guidelines is this: Early Middle English (eME) is Old English (OE) 50 years on1. Accordingly, the eME used in englesaxe is simply an adapted OE. It is OE with late OE (Anglian2) and early East Midland changes applied. The sound changes from OE to eME are well documented elsewhere (i.a. by Lass 1 and Johannesson 2) and summarised in this site in a table. The simplifications to OE grammar are also well documented elsewhere (i.a. by Burrow and Turville-Petre 3) and summarised in this site. The additions to OE vocabulary and modifications to OE spelling, are derived from PC2 and Orm, either directly from the texts available in this site, or via the Middle English Dictionary (MED). Summaries of all the late OE (Anglian2) and early East Midland changes can be found in this site in either list or table form.

The normalisation process is less extensive than you might think. The key concept to grasp is that OE words are not dealt with on a one-by-one basis. Normalisation is applied to the language as a whole. Think of it as a filter which seeks out a finite, recorded set of patterns and modifies those as it passes the language through. For example, each sound change affects a particular cluster of sounds. With very few exceptions, any word with that sound cluster will be affected, in the same way. Since the sound changes which took place in the 11th and 12th centuries are so consistent and such a reliable predicter of eME forms, there is no need to work through every OE vocabulary item separately. Fine-grain normalisation - comparing isolated forms in PC2, Orm and other 12th and 13th century texts, is generally only applied to new vocabulary (mainly Norse) and a handful of unexpected forms which appear in PC2 and Orm.


These abbreviations are used in the definitions which follow.

Peterborough Chronicle - Second continuation (1132–1154) (East Midland c11558)
Ormulum (East Midland 1150-11809)
Lay`amon (West Midland c120010)
Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group3 (West Midland c120011)
Owl & Nightingale (Southern/West Midland? c125012)
Sir Orfeo (East Midland c130013)
Chaucer (East Midland 1368)
the normalised East Midland dialect of Early Middle English c 1150 AD used in englesaxe
Old English
Old Norse
Middle Dutch4
Middle Low German5
Modern English
A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (later - the Oxford English Dictionary)
online Middle English Dictionary


Please note that hereinafter, the abbreviation eME refers specifically to the normalised East Midland dialect of Early Middle English which is used in englesaxe.

  1. eME sources - PC2, Orm, Lmn, AW, Owl, SO, Ch
  2. standard OE form - the normalised early Old English (West Saxon) version of a word, to which all variants point in Clark Hall's A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary 5; broadly speaking, the standard OE form is the most frequently attested variant of a word in the OE corpus
  3. eME changes - the sound and spelling changes listed in alphabetical order in the table of sound & spelling changes (hereinafter referred to as table X); these changes occurred in three sets of transformations or stages of development:
    1. features characteristic of OE Anglian2 which set it apart from OE West Saxon;
    2. changes in the late OE period, between 900 and 1100 A.D.;
    3. developments in the ME East Midland dialect (one of the successors to OE Anglian2, and the ancestor of ModE) between 1100 and 1200;
  4. eME form - a standard OE form with eME changes applied
  5. additional eME form - a word which is not simply a standard OE form with eME changes applied; this is generally derived from an alternate OE form or a borrowing from ON; for clarification, see normalisation 2: additional eME forms; crucially, a single source is not sufficient justification for an additional eME form; an additional eME form must meet the criteria listed at Principle 2 below
  6. eME grammar - the collection of grammatical features applied consistently in both PC2 and Orm

The five basic principles

The following principles govern the normalisation of word forms in the East Midland dialect of Early Middle English (eME), as used in englesaxe.

  1. the normalised East Midland dialect of Early Middle English (eME), as used in englesaxe, is standard Old English vocabulary which has undergone eME sound and spelling changes, coupled with eME grammar;
  2. additional eME forms can enter eME, provided they conform to eME spelling, and are found in one of the following combinations:
    1. either PC2 7 or Orm and at least one other eME source (PC2, Orm, Lmn, AW, Owl, SO, Ch);
    2. ModE, appearance in English prior to 1250, and probable OE or ON origin (e.g. alternate OE form);
    3. ModE, appearance in English prior to 1350, no close OE cognate and Germanic origin (ON, MDu 4 or MLG 5);
  3. stem alternation and other complexities or anomalies within a given paradigm (noun, verb etc), are excluded from the core eME grammar when evidence of levelling exists in that paradigm in a text dated before 1250;
  4. where widespread levelling is observed within the paradigms of a distinct group of words with shared characteristics, the same levelling can be applied to each remaining paradigm in that group, provided such levelling doesn't conflict with the corresponding paradigm in ModE;
  5. sound changes in eME within a particular phonetic environment, e.g. vowel lengthening or shortening, elision or syncope, and consonant degemination, are generally only applied in cases where ModE also exhibits that change;

More on normalisation

Looking for more background on the normalisation of the East Midland dialect c 1150, in englesaxe? For examples of the principles in action - eME forms (eME changes applied to standard OE forms) and additional eME forms, see normalisation 2: additional eME forms. For a discussion of levelling within eME paradigms, see normalisation 3: grammar. For a discussion of the principles governing the eME spelling scheme used in englesaxe, see normalisation 4: spelling. For a discussion of some of the finer points, see normalisation 5: issues.


  1. that may vary, depending on which point you start from; the end of the Old English period is generally given as 1100 AD, though sometimes that is stretched to 1150 AD; PC2 was written somewhere around 1154 AD (the year of the last entry); on the other hand, Aelfric - a leading author in the late West Saxon dialect, put quill to parchment around 1000 AD, roughly 150 years before the nominal date for this site's eME, which is 1150 AD; but if we can say that OE was still being written and spoken in 1100 AD, then eME is only 50 years removed from that;
  2. Anglian is a grouping of two OE dialects - Mercian and Northumbrian; Mercian covered the whole of the Midlands; the distinction between East and West Midland dialects arose in the Early Middle English period as a result of Danish occupation and settlement in the north east;
  3. The so-called Katherine Group is a group of five 13th century Middle English texts composed by an anonymous author of the English West Midlands, and addressed to anchoresses (religious recluses): Hali Meithhad, Sawles Warde, Seinte Juliene, Seinte Margarete and Seinte Katherine; the language of Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group was described by J.R.R. Tolkien as "a faithful transcript of some dialect...or a 'standard' language based on one" in use in the West Midlands in the early 13th century;
  4. apart from Frisian, the languages most closely related to English are Dutch and Low German; Middle Dutch coincides with Middle English - 1150 to 1500; roughly a third of the invading Norman army of 1066 came from Dutch-speaking Flanders; many Flemings stayed in England after the Conquest; most refugees to England, Wales and Scotland from the 11th till the 17th century were from the Low Countries - particularly Flemish skilled weavers and textile workers;
  5. Middle Low German (aka Middle Saxon) is the descendant of Old Saxon and the ancestor of modern Low German; MLG roughly coincides with Middle English - 1100 to 1600; it was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League, spoken all around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea; its importance can be seen in the many loanwords found in the Scandinavian, Finnic, and Baltic languages, as well as standard German and English;
  6. generally this matches the form listed in Pollington 4; however some late West Saxon forms with y for earlier ie, need to be cross-checked against Clark Hall 5; the standard OE form for our purposes is the early West Saxon form in ie;
  7. The Peterborough Chronicle - First continuation (1122–1131) (PC1) can act as proxy for PC2 where a reflex of a particular OE word doesn't exist in either PC2 or Orm.
  8. 1155 Burrow and Turville-Petre 3; ?a1160 according to MED
  9. 1150-1180 Ormulum Project; c1175 according to MED
  10. a1200? MED; 1189-1250 according to Burrow and Turville-Petre 3
  11. a1200? MED; c1215 according to Burrow and Turville-Petre 3
  12. c1250? MED; 1189-1216 according to Burrow and Turville-Petre 3
  13. late 13th or early 14th century Burrow and Turville-Petre 3; c1330 according to MED


  1. Lass, Roger. The Cambridge History of the English Language Volume II 1066-1479, Cambridge University Press 1992; p50
  2. Johannesson, Nils-Lennart. East Midland dialect features, formerly housed at the Orrmulum Project. NB - follow the numbered links for details on Phonology and the lengthening and shortening of vowels. Installing fonts will make these pages easier to read.
  3. Burrow and Turville-Petre. A Book of Middle English Second Edition, Blackwell Publishers, 1992
  4. Pollington, Stephen. Wordcraft, Anglo-Saxon Books: Hockwold-cum-Wilton, 1999
  5. Clark Hall, J.R. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1960; Scanned version online