Sonnet Loan Words -- Surrey

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Sun Nov 15 23:00:42 UTC 2009

> I took my first linguistics course in 1959-60 using George A Miller's
> Language and Communication.  I remember that the text used the
> Thorndike 1000-word list of the most frequently occurring words in the
> major classes (N,V,Adj,Adv) for an analysis of immediate (rather than
> ultimate) origins and the results were roughly 2/3 Old English and 1/3
> French with only a smattering of other languages, Old Norse, Latin,
> Greek, Hindi &c.  Of course a different corpus were used, there might
> be different results.

That's pretty much what's showing up in my mickey mouse sonnet
examination -- French easily the winner with Old Norse well behind but still
well ahead of Latin.  (But that ignores the impact of Norse contact on the
English grammatical system, accelerating the loss of inflexional endings.)
But the devil's in the detail -- what I didn't expect was to discover that
the French Influx is *so* predominantly confined to a single hundred year
period (and such a relatively high proportion of the words to be first found
in the Ancrene Rule -- were Wyatt and Surrey forced to memorise it as
children? <g>).  Whether this will continue to hold as the examination
extends itself is another matter.

Then there's the case of the radical divergence of the second Wyatt sonnet
I'm looking at just now, from the first.  If *that held, it would be a way
into one of the Great Unresolveds of the Wyatt canon -- dating the
individual poems, or even creating some sense of sequential order ...  But I
think this is too much to expect.  Much of what seems to be most interesting
at the moment probably constitutes a statistical anomaly, and will be
diluted out of significance as I proceed.  Nevertheless, be interesting to
see what digesting a few more Wyatt sonnets throws up, or comparing
Shakespeare's Sonnets 18-20 in terms of word-borrowing.


> I think the over-estimation of the importance
> of Latin and Greek words is the result of tracing words back to their
> ultimate sources rather than from the language they were borrowed
> from.
> Our common vocabulary is still basically germanic although the more
> intellectual one writes the more romance language vocabulary appears.
> So the serf in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe does have a point when he
> compares the good English words for the animals (cow, pig, sheep) with
> the frenchy words for the meats derived from them (beef, pork,
> mutton).
> -db

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