Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > The Scottish Language > Southern Influence on Middle Scots
  Middle Scots Latin and French Elements in Middle Scots  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

IV. The Scottish Language.

§ 4. Southern Influence on Middle Scots.


The southern, or English, influence, which is the strongest, is exerted in three ways. It comes through the study of Chaucer and the English “Chaucerians”; through religious and controversial literature; and, lastly, through the new political and social relations with England, prior to and following the accession of James VI to the English throne. The first of these is the most important. In a later chapter, attention is drawn to the debt of the Scottish “makars” to the southern poet and his followers for the sentiment and fabric of their verse. The measure of that debt is not complete without acknowledgment to Chaucer’s language. The general effect on Middle Scots of this literary admiration was an increase in the Romance elements. It may be taken for granted that the majority of words of Anglo-French origin which were incorporated at this time were Chaucerian; but it is not always easy to distinguish these words from the Anglo-French which had been naturalised in the early period. It must not be forgotten, especially in estimating the French contribution to Middle Scots (see post) that the most active borrowing from that quarter had been accomplished before this time. In The Kingis Quair and Lancelot, which illustrate the first Chaucerian phase in Scots, the infusion is not confined to the vocabulary. Fantastic grammatical forms are common: such as infinitives in -en (even -ine), weren for war, past participles with y-, frequent use of final -e—all unknown and impossible to the northern dialect. In these cases there is no mistaking the writer’s artifice and its source. Such freaks in accidence are hardly to be found in the poetry of James IV’s reign; though Gavin Douglas’s eclectic taste allows the southern ybound and the nondescript ysowpit. In the verse of the “golden age” it is the word, or tag, which is the badge of Chaucerian affectation. The prose shows little or nothing of this literary reminiscence. John of Ireland, whose writing is the earliest extant example of original Scots prose of a literary cast, speaks of “Galfryde Chauceir” (by whom he really means Occleve), but exhibits no trace of his influence. When the Middle Scots prose-writer is not merely annalistic, or didactic, or argumentative, he draws his aureat termis from the familiar Latin. So, when The Complaynt of Scotlande varies from the norm, it is, in Rabelais’s phrase, to “despumate the Latial verbocination,” or to revel in onomatopoeia.   12

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  Middle Scots Latin and French Elements in Middle Scots  
 
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