Event date:

Jacek Fisiak Memorial Lecture 2022 by Prof. Simon Horobin

The Department of the History of the English Language has the honour to invite everybody to the Jacek Fisiak Memorial Lecture 2022. Its aim is to celebrate the life and achievement of prof. Jacek Fisiak, the founder of post-war English studies in Poland and an eminent student ot the history of English.

This year our speaker will be Professor Simon Horobin, Professor of English Language & Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. His general research interests focus on the history and development of the English language, and in particular the Medieval period. He has published extensively on literary language and dialectology of the period, as well as researching the language and spelling of Medieval English manuscripts and their scribes. Some of his most recent books are How English Became English: A Short History of a Global Language (2016),  Bagels, Bumf, and Buses: A Day in the Life of the English Language (2019), as well as an edition of Osbern Bokenham's Lives of the Saints (2020) for the Early English Text Society. The lecture will take place on May 13, 2022 at 1.00 p.m. CEST.

Prof. Simon Horobin (Magdalen College, Oxford)
“When did Middle English end? Later than you think!”

Abstract: Since the 1870s, scholars have recognized three major periods in the history of the English language: Old, Middle and Modern English. Deciding when Middle English begins and ends, however, has prompted considerable uncertainty, because of its transitional status. In an important paper published in 1992, Professor Fisiak considered the status of Middle English in histories of English, raising the question of whether it could be said to exist at all.

In this paper I want to consider this question from the perspective of the shift from Middle to Modern English, a change which is linked with the establishment of a written standard and the “purging of grosser provincialisms” – the elimination of the pronounced dialectalisms that mark Middle English writing. According to this narrative, the emergence of a prestigious London standard prompted members of the rural gentry, like the Norfolk Paston family, to drop their socially disadvantageous provincialisms in favour of those of the nascent standard. The success of this standard was further assured by William Caxton’s decision to adopt its forms for his printed editions, rather than the ‘brode and rude’ English of his native Kent. Reconsidering the data offered by these sources, I shall question the evidence for standardization they offer, and consider why scholars have stuck so resolutely to this narrative despite the abundance of conflicting evidence.

The lecture will be held on Zoom. Please register at https://forms.office.com/r/B2JTqNThtX
to receive the link to the online meeting.