Uniformitarian principles suggest that the spoken English of 1100-1300 would have
displayed regional variation. The written reflections of spoken regional diversity evident in
Late Middle English (1300-1500) support this assumption, but the paucity of literary texts
from the earlier period has made it difficult to test. This thesis uses the more plentiful placename evidence to show the extent of areal linguistic variation in the written English of this
period in six East Midland counties: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire with Ely, Essex,
Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Middlesex.
Chapter one introduces the period, geographic area and the aims of the project. It also gives
an overview of the previous research into early Middle English. Chapter two reviews the use
of onomastic data in Middle English dialectology. It discusses important contributions by
Wyld, Ekwall, Bohman, Sundby, Kristensson and Ek and addresses some issues of
methodology and ideology that arise from the study of place names for dialectal research.
Chapter three discusses the tools and research methods used in this analysis. The data from
five English Place-Name Society volumes, covering six counties was scanned, parsed and
entered into a database. Bespoke software allowed complex searches by spelling, date and
source, returning data sets in tabular or map form.
Chapter four presents the data with analysis and discussion. Four variables were examined in
fifty-year sub-periods: OE /a:/ data, OE /y/, OE /te:/ and voicing of initial fricatives [fj and [s].
Selected lexical items were investigated in name-initial and name non-initial position. The
corresponding spellings are tabulated by county, and mapped to show geographic and
temporal variation. Individual items are discussed in detail, with reference to source types in
which they are recorded, and general patterns of variation are identified. Chapter five
summarises the results, points out some limitations and offers suggestions for further
There are six appendices. Appendix A: List of data identifiers (IDs) that allow crossreferencing the data in the tables, appendices and on maps. Appendix B: OE la-.l data.
Appendix C: OE /y/ data. Appendix D: OE /æ:/ data. Appendix E: Voicing of initial
fricatives [f] and [s] data. Appendix F: Geographical arrangement of data.
The unrivalled level of detail achieved in this onomastic study, displayed on forty
distribution maps, allows us to capture changes in progress, to identify archaic language
strata in which pre-change forms are preserved, and to demonstrate the existence of new,
post-change, layers of language in early Middle English. The data demonstrates greater
variation in the selected variables than had been previously known.
This work shows the value of onomastics as a source of data on early Middle English,
supplementary to the documentary and literary evidence collected in projects such as the
Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English.