Sonnet Loan Words -- Wyatt

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Sat Nov 14 16:14:56 UTC 2009

TEXT:        Wyatt, The longe love that in my thought doeth harbar
DATE:       1530

(There is no possible way of identifying the dates of any of Wyatt's
sonnets.  As he died in 1543 at the age of 39, 1530 seems a reasonable year
in which to locate the composition of the poem.  Similarly, Shakespeare's
Sonnet 18 could plausibly be located in 1600.  As a general observation,
Wyatt is the first English writer to compose a sonnet, and has no native
models for this; Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is written after the innovations of
Philip Sidney in the 1580s, and, unlike Wyatt's, is part of a sequence.)

The Texts.

Shakespeare's sonnet, dating from 1600, has 114 words; Wyatt has 104 words,
dating from 1530.  The poems are thus written 70 years apart, with Wyatt's
more polysyllabic than Shakespeare's.  (The latter observation could be
refined by counting the number of monosyllabic, disyllabic and trisyllabic
words in each text.  However, at this stage, it seems unnecessary.  It might
or might not be worthwhile doing when the range of word-numbers in a larger
set of texts is available.)


In both cases, the majority of loan words are from Old French, first
recorded in the period 1275-1386.  Shakespeare has 14 loan words (one
occurring twice) in 114 words of text.  All of the loan words are Old French
and all are first recorded between 1275 and 1386.

Wyatt has a higher proportion of loan words - 21 words in a 104 word text.
All are from Old French with two exceptions - "master" (Latin) and "trust"
(Old Norse).  While the majority (11) of the Old French loan words are still
first recorded between the late 13th and the late 14thC, there are
exceptions, with 4 antedating and 4 postdating this.

Five of the earlier loan words are found in a narrow period between1225/30
in two texts, three (one of which is Old Norse) in the Ancren Rule and two
in The Legend of St. Katherine, both religious texts.  The later four OF
loan words are first recorded spread throughout the period 1425-1543,  with
the latest, "campeth" (OED camp v2, 1a) predating the earliest OED citation
of 1543.

In both sonnets, then, the majority of loan words are from Old French and
enter the language in a roughly one hundred year period between 1275-1386.
This is, however, much more marked in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, where there
are no exceptions whatsoever to this.

A significant difference appears when we come to Strong Semantic Words
(verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc., with pronouns, prepositions and
conjunctions - all OE, and perhaps as well seen as part of the grammar as of
the lexis - omitted).  Here we find that Shakespeare has 22% of loan words,
while the percentage in Wyatt is almost double at 42%.  This is a distinct
divergence, and it will be interesting to see if it holds for other
Shakespeare and Wyatt sonnets, and other texts of the two periods in
question.  Are we talking about a general shift in the course of a 70 year
period, or something more local to these two individual writers?  Jury's out
on this.

The detailed presentation of the full figures follows.  (Figures for the
percentages in Shakespeare are in brackets.)


            104  Actual Words

83 / OE  :  19 / OF  :  1 Latin  :  1 Old Norse

%OE  80% (88%)  -- 8% divergence
%Loan  20% (12%)
%OF  18%

NOTE:  None of the loan words are repeated, whereas "and" appears ten times
and me/my/mine six times.

No Italian loan words in the translation of an Italian sonnet!

            75     Distinct Words

 54 / OE  :  19  / OF  + 2

%OE  72% (84%)  -- 12% divergence
%Loan  28% (16%)
%OF  25%

            50    Semantically Strong Words

 29 / OE  :  19 / OF  + 2

%OE  58% (78%)  -- 20% divergence
%Loan  42% (22%)
%OF  38%

Given my relatively crude identification of the etymological background and
dating of the words in the texts, I don't think recourse to the Middle
English Dictionary would significantly enhance the conclusions.  However, I
would be interested in examining the borrowed words in the context of _The
Historical Thesaurus of English_, to identify which words replaced an
already-existing meaning, and which words introduced a fresh meaning.  I
however, have easy access to this at the moment.

One thing I did find interesting was the ease with which it was possible to
generate significant data from a simple methodology using commonplace tools.
All I used were the texts themselves, and Word, Excel, the online OED, and
the Microsoft Calculator.  Actually getting the data for Wyatt took
approximately two hours.  I think this could possibly be reduced to an hour
per sonnet with practice.

I'm not sure how important the observations made are - I actually find them
rather interesting, and surprising - but as far as I know, this incredibly
simple exercise hasn't been performed before.

Robin Hamilton

[Is this drifting off-topic for the list?  I'm happy to continue for a bit,
as I'm finding the exercise rather fun, but there may be a more appropriate
forum for these observations.  R.]

Wyatt, text from the Egerton MS.  First published (with slight changes) in
_Tottel's Miscellany_ (1557)

The longe love that in my thought doeth harbar
  and in myn hert doeth kepe his residence
  into my face preseth with bold pretence
  and therin campeth spreding his baner
She that me lerneth to love and suffre
  and will that my trust and lustes negligence
  be rayned by reason shame and reverence
  with his hardines taketh displeasure
Wherewithall vnto the hertes forrest he fleith
  leving his entreprise with payne and cry
  and there him hideth and not appereth
What may I do when my maister fereth
  but in the felde with him to lyve and dye
  for goode is the liff ending faithfully

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