Gower Bibliography

A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English.

McIntosh, Angus and Samuels, M.L. and Benskin, Michael. "A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English." Aberdeen: University Press, 1986

Review

In 1982, M.L. Samuels and Jeremy Smith published an essay on "The Language of Gower" (NM 82:295-304) in which they demonstrated that the orthography of the two principal manuscripts of CA contain features that can be localized in NW Kent and SW Suffolk, precisely the areas in which the poet and his family were known to have owned property. Their article was not only an important contribution to Gower studies, but also an impressive confirmation of the dialectological methods that had been pioneered by the editors of the new Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English. Much had already been written about the new methodology, which is based on scribal orthography rather than on underlying phonological forms or the language of the author, but at the time, the body of data on which Samuels and Smith depended was available only to the small circle of scholars working in Glasgow and Edinburgh. That data has now been published in impressive form, and though the new atlas makes no specific reference to Gower, it would be inappropriate to leave unacknowledged here one of the great monuments of Middle English scholarship of our time, and a work that will no doubt have profound impact on Gower studies in the years to come. The atlas is a daunting production. The first of the four large volumes includes a general introduction, providing the most complete statement of the assumptions under which the editors worked, an index of sources, and a series of "dot maps" showing the distribution of specific forms; volume two contains enlarged "item maps," plotting the different forms of the same item; volume three contains linguistic profiles of each county; and volume four is a "county dictionary," indexing the distribution of localizable forms. This is not a tool for a novice, and some of us will need considerable help before we understand all of the implications of this material. A new essay on the language of CA by Jeremy Smith is promised in the forthcoming "Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Works of John Gower" (see JGN 2, no. 1), which will no doubt tell us more about how all this data may be used. It may also resolve one question that troubles the reviewer: since the working assumption of the atlas researchers is that scribes copied by "translating" texts into their own orthography, what is the implication of the fact that the language of the two earliest Gower manuscripts is evidently the poet's, and that these manuscripts, by different scribe, are "in all respects except their actual handwriting, as good as autograph copies" (Samuels and Smith, 1982:304)? [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 8.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Language and Word Studies

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