An Introduction to the Ways That Chancery Contribute to the Standardising of the English Language in the Middle Ages

In what ways does the Chancery contribute to the standardising of the English language in the Middle Ages?

During the Middle Ages, more precisely, in 1066, the Normans conquered England and brought a major change in the history of English language. The Chancery, being a judiciary agency, was established in Westminster. Likewise, it was influenced by the languages which were being used then; namely, Latin and French. Consequently, this helped in the standardisation of the English language, not only morphologically and phonologically, but also, in making a language which became an inevitable dialect across the world.

As J.H.Fisher acknowledged, English, being an administrative language” (1997; pp.870), was not used often by the nobles during the Middle Ages. Beginning from the 12’h century till the 14th century, the English language went through a number of important and critical transitions which had a great impact on its evolution. The reason was because of the dichotomy of languages which prevailed during those centuries. First, Latin was the standard at that time, hence, being the language of the elites and of the church.

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Second, the use of French was an indispensible etiquette among the nobles. There was also a mixture of the two languages: “the Anglo-Norman nobility wrote in Latin, but they spoke French” (Fisher, 1997, pp.878). English was reserved to the working class people, mainly the peasants. However, written Latin and written French were both already standardised languages. In other words, they were static languages while English was a more fluid one. As judiciary documents of the Chancery were undertaken by clerks; they brought about major change in the English language.

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While they would copy proclamations, wills and parliamentary records in Latin, French and then English; they contributed a lot in the evolvement of the latter. For instance: pronouns became much more coherent – the second person singular was always ‘ye-you’; and the third person plural was always ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’. Sometimes, borrowed words from Latin and French would be used to consolidate the language, thus, standardising it all-together.

Along with those morphological changes, English language was also gradually propagating phonologically. Unlike Latin, which was being taught in schools and French, which was acquired rather informally, English was being standardised orally. By the end of the 15th century, English was already a frequently speaking language while French and Latin were written one. This introduced what J.H.Fisher calls an “unselfconscious drift” (Fisher.1997. pp.883) in the English language. In other words, English became the language of trade and commerce, being greatly involved in national businesses. All legal documents were addressed by the Chancery. Topped up to that, “the King’s English” (Fisher.1997.pp.894) brought about a turning point in establishing English as an official language. King Richard preferred to listen to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The treatise on the Astrolabe (1392)” in English. Chaucer, being himself a close civic member of the Chancery, situated certain spellings; for instance, words like ‘should’, ‘such’, ‘much’, “buť and ‘ask’. This was a great improvement for the language. In 1432, the influence of Chancery reached the Oxford University. Students who wanted to work in the court’s administrative offices were taught Chancery’s English. English was truly embedded in England from that point.

Though, Middle English literature was largely influenced by Chaucer; in 1476, another major event rooted English as the national language; the advent of the printing press by William Caxton. Caxton opened his printing press in Westminster itself, under the supervision of the Chancery Standard. “He printed in a language strongly influenced by the Chancery Standard” (Fisher. 1997.pp.899). With the printing press, came the mass distribution of identical articles. As R.Lass points out: with the “linguistic ‘normalisation’ and ‘stabilisation’; this [gave] to the increasingly used vernaculars an authority’ and permanence like that of Latin” (1999.pp.8). Hence, this phenomenon not only standardised existing words but also brought the language nearer to the population. We should not forget that the mass already spoke English as a native language. Additionally, reading the language in newspapers and getting accustomed to new words probably just brought about a new burgeoning sense of nationalism. In J.H.Fisher’s words, it produced a “linguistic uniformity” (1997.pp. 883). The press acted as a nexus between the Chancery and the mass population. Hence, communication would then be much more constant and stable within the linguistic realm of the society. In other words; everyone would speak and understand the same language. Finally, this resulted in an educated population which will continue to foster a standardised English centuries over centuries.

D.Crystal claimed that “a language is a shared set of communicative conventions” (2004.pp.227). A language is a constantly evolving communicative skill and the English language did not escape this modification. It has been altered repeatedly, moulded numerously and it is still growing day by day, but the fifteenth century Chancery standard was the starting sprout.

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An Introduction to the Ways That Chancery Contribute to the Standardising of the English Language in the Middle Ages. (2022, Apr 22). Retrieved from

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