Sonnet Loan Words -- Wyatt

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Nov 14 20:38:19 UTC 2009

By "*Old* French," do you intend "(old) French"? The French borrowings
cited are centuries younger than Old French.


On Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 11:14 AM, Robin Hamilton
<robin.hamilton2 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
> Subject:      Sonnet Loan Words -- Wyatt
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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.)
> Comparisons:
> 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
> don't,
> 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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