Oldest English in Church - A Resource
- Mr. Brown doesn't seem to have been overly concerned with historical accuracy. This sort of statement may have been intended to grab a headline (and the press-writer apparently took the bait hook, line, and sinker).
Meanwhile: for a very informative and well-written study of the earliest uses of English texts in churches, you may want to download J. I. Mombert's book "Handbook of the English Versions of the Bible" from Google Books. It includes, among other things, a translation of the Ruthwell Cross runic inscription.
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
- --- In email@example.com, "Larry Swain" wrote:
>> Before responding to the below, I have some information on your previous remarks about Nerses to type up: in the end it won't change the practical nature of your assumption, but it was fun for me to think and find information outside my geographical place and beyond the languages I usually work in.<<??? I don't know of any mention of Nerses on this forum since 2005.
>It's puzzling what they could mean by "English written in a church context." The Bible had a long history of being translated into English, going all the way back to Bede--a scholar and a churchman if there ever was one. Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use.<I beg to differ. Old English--and there are several distinct literary dialects thereof--is not any more recognizable as being the same language as English than is Medieval Dutch. The conflagration of the Norman invasion killed Old English as a living language, and what finally emerged from its ashes was a language that owed as much to Norman French as it did to Old English. For convention, we refer to it by the old name, but it is in fact an entirely different language. It would be like calling Latin Old Italian. Old English is no more intelligible to us than any modern Teutonic language, and less so than modern Romance languages, due to the shared Latin heritage of the French half of our language.
>> I suppose I should query just what is meant about the statement that "Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use." It is the same language, just at a different stage in history. Yes, it has changed significantly in the intervening 1400 years or so, but is still recognizably the same language.<<
>> English emerged as a written language long before that! I mentioned above the runic inscriptions on the crosses...the language is English, as well as the Franks Casket. The Northumbrian version of Bede's Death Song and of Caedmon's Hymn are both eighth century, and it is agreed generally that Genesis A and Beowulf are both likely eighth century works and at least in the case of the former was written down. There are other literary works in English from before the Conquest, both prose and poetry, but too many to go into here. <<I don't agree on a post-invasion date for the composition of Beowulf, but that's quite beside the point. You refer to Old English; I refer to Middle English, which I can read with little difficulty because it is only an early version of my native language. In fact, the earliest. As far as I know, the oldest extant mss containing Middle English date to a century after the Conquest, about the time of the last Old Enlish document. Middle English, which of course was the Modern English of the time, was first used officially in England in 1258, in connexion with the Provisions of Oxford. It was another century after that before English came into widespread literary use, and it had changed enough in that century that the English used in the English Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence is not materially different, even in spelling. Only in recent centuries have we decided that what we use now should get the name Modern English, and that mostly because the development of the printing press, and the distribution of the Bible, have fixed literary English more than any previous events.
>> As for Middle English after the Conquest, the earliest Middle English is simply a continuation of Old English practices. Poems such as "The Grave" and the last entries in the Peterborough Chronicle, Proverbs of Alfred and the like are examples. As for specifically Biblical materials, there glosses on Psalters come into play, but so do other things such as paraphrases, homilies, harmonies, and the like, much less Biblical lyrics, Richard Rolle's psalms translation, and the like.<<Definitely the earliest Middle English documents show more Old English influence than later ones; one of the last Old English words to fall out of use was 'cleppid'. Dictionaries still list its root 'clepe' as an archaic word, and its form 'yclept' continues to this century in some literary usages.
> Berengaudus wrote in Latin; further he's earlier than the 14th century. The standard opinion is that he was an eleventh century writer on the continent and his commentary became very popular in the late 11th and 12th century and was often quoted from and used as gloss on the Apocalypse thereafter. Derk Visser wrote a book on early medieval Apocalypse commentaries in the mid-90s published with Brill that argued, I think fairly convincingly, that Berengaudus was a late Carolingian writer and not an 11th century writer.<The English Apocalypse to which I refer was but a translation of the Anglo-Norman Apocalypse, which, naturally, was a translation of the Latin.
The earliest use of literary French, especially for ecclesiastically related uses, was in England, where it was the native language of the nobility. In France itself, the ruling class continued to use Latin until French was falling out of favour in England.
>>It wasn't until Wycliffe's time, toward the end of the century, that there was any apporbation attached to translating the Bible into English. And even Wycliffe wasn't burned at the stake until many years after he'd been dead and buried.<<Indeed, this has long been the contention of the Church of Rome, which even authorizes vernacular translations done by Protestants if under the supervision and input of Church authority.
> Thus, it wasn't the fact of the Bible being in the vernacular, but the how and why it was in the vernacular--to undermine church authority.<