Inscribed orality in the first section and First Continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle

The first section of the Peterborough Chronicle written by the first scribe consists of the copy (or, if the text had had to be replaced, the recopying) of the chronicle from other chronicle sources or the scribe’s own knowledge of events up to and beyond 1080 as far as 1120. As we might expect, there are virtually no examples of inscribed orality until after the Conquest (with the exception of the interpolations describing the founding of the abbey in the seventh century). Those that we see in the entries after the Conquest are of a metadiscursive nature offering, with the benefit of hindsight, an evaluative scribal/ narratorial commentary on events of the past, which may also have been in the text(s) from which the copy was made. The entry for 1077 begins as follows:

(6) Her on bisum geare wurdon sshte Franca cyng and Willelm Englalandes cyng: ac hit heold litle hwile.

“Here in this year the king of the French and William, the king of England, made peace: but it did not last long.”

The use of the proxemic spatiotemporal deictic adverb her (“here”) is typical of the ASC in general and is an indication that the texts were meant to be reproduced orally to larger audiences. By this time, of course, the her had become completely ritualised. The only signs of Anglian influence here are the unrounding of [y] to [i] in litle and the lowering of [e] to [$] in sahte. The metadiscursive comment on the event is negative.

We have similarly negative comments in the entries for 1091 and 1093, although in these two entries, the scribe’s written language displays more Anglian features (bold type) and clear signs of insecurity with respect to the language model used (single underlining),[1] both indicating that the scribe may have been aiming at West Saxon without having had a written source to copy from:

(7) Das forewarde gesworan xii ba betste of bes cynges healfe and xii of bes eorles, peah hit syddan litle hwile stode.

“Twelve of the best of the king’s half and 12 of the earl’s swore on those agreements, though it stood [i.e. held or lasted] afterwards only a little while”.

(8) ... to manegan mynstren land geude—acpet he syddan xtbrxd,pa him gebotad wxs.

“ . . . granted land to several minsters—but he afterwards took away what was offered. ”

As in (6), the negative comments in (7) and (8) are also aimed at secular authority, and in (8), which is the least formulaic of the criticisms, it is significant that the comment concerns land grants to ecclesiastical institutions.

The First Continuation is characterised by a marked change in the narrative style of the annals indicating the presence of a narratorial persona and by a further shift away from the linguistic model of the West Saxon of the other versions of the ASC towards the scribe’s own language.[2] The style is lively and flowing, and the text reveals a narrator who was involved in what he was reporting and was not averse to making critical remarks on events and characters. As might be expected from the definition of inscribed orality given in section 3, there is a marked increase of metapragmatic and metadiscursive linguistic expressions that indicate a shift towards informality and orality, three examples of which I will analyse below.

In the annal for 1123 the scribe relates the pilgrimage of the archbishop of Canterbury to Rome:

(9) Da com se srcebiscop of Cantwarabyrig and was 5sre fulle seouenniht sr he mihte cumen to fies Papes sprsce: fiet wss forfian fiet hit wss don fione Pape to understanden fiet he hsfde underfangen done srcebiscoprice togeanes fie muneces of fie mynstre and togeanes rihte. Ac pet ofercom Rome pet ofercumed eall weoruldpet is gold and seolure.

“Then the archbishop of Canterbury arrived and was there for a full week before he was able to have an audience with the pope. That was because the pope was given to understand that he had received the archbishopric against [the wishes of] the monks of the minster and unjustly. But that which overcame Rome overcomes the whole worldthat is gold and silver. ”

The italicised passage indicates the narratorial metadiscursive comment on the fact that the pope finally agreed to grant an audience to the archbishop of Canterbury, and it is framed as tongue-in-cheek irony (single underlining). The archbishop must have bribed the pope to grant the audience, which indicates that the Church of Rome, like the rest of the world, is open to worldly corruption.

The annal for 1127 describes the actions of a French abbot who had whatever he found of value in his monastery shipped to France. The first comment (in bold type) is similar to those in the first part of the chronicle insofar as it is a metadiscursive evaluation, with the benefit of hindsight, on the uselessness of the abbot’s actions. But this is then justified by a lengthy metadiscursive commentary (which I have not presented in full) that warns readers not to doubt the veracity of the narrator’s information (marked by use of the first-person plural pronoun we). The narrator states that it was well known throughout the country that the action itself (which I have left out here) took place on the Sunday on which “Exurge, quare obdormis, Domine?” is sung (i.e. Sexagesima Sunday). The biting irony here is that the Latin text means “Wake up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?” The reader is not quite addressed by the second-person singular pu, but the impersonal pronoun man is certainly a form of pronominal address, and we can perceive a move towards direct reference to the addressee:

(10) Eall fiet he mihte tacen widinnen and widuten, of lsred and of lswed, swa he sende ouer ss; and ne god ^жг dide ne na god бжг lsuede. Ne pince man na sellice pet we sod seggen; for hit was fUl cud ofer eall land swa radlice swa he par com—pet was pes Sunnendaies pet man singad “Exurge, quare obdormis, Domine?”

“Everything that he could take, inside and outside, of learned and unlearned things he sent over the sea; and it didn’t do any good there nor did

it leave anything good there. Nor may one think wondrously that we are not telling the truth; for it was well known across the whole land that as prudently as he came there—that was on the Sunday when you sing ‘Exurge, quare obdormis, Domine?’”

Excerpt (11) is the annal for the year 1130, and it tells the story of the abbot of Cluny, who spent a great deal of energy, against the will of the monks of Peterborough and ultimately to no avail, trying to persuade King Henry I to place the abbey of Peterborough under the jurisdiction of Cluny:[3]

(11) To Burch he com, and fisr behet se abbot Heanri him fiet he scolde beieton him fione mynstre of Burch fiet hit scolde beon underded into Clunni: oc

man seid to biworde, “Hage sitted pa aceres daleth!” God almihtig adylege iuele rade! Sone parafter ferde se abbot of Clunni ham to his arde.

“He came to Peterborough, and there Abbot Henry asked him [the king] to take the minster of Peterborough for him [and] to subjoin [it] to Cluny: but

they say in the proverb, ‘Hedges sit there that separate acres!’ May God Almighty blot out evil speech! Soon thereaf ter the abbot of Cluny went home to his own earth.

The commentary is again ironic (single underlining) in that the narrator uses an imprecation to God to forgive evil speech; if God should interpret his quotation of the proverb as “evil” in relation to the abbot of Cluny, he pleads forgiveness. The fact is that his criticism is meant seriously, which is subtly signalled by a move to the prosaic statement that the abbot of Cluny left England soon afterwards, and it includes the sting in the tail (to his own earth) referring to the earth on his own side of the hedge. The introduction of a proverb commonly used at that period (“Hedges sit there that separate acres") is introduced by the discourse marker but, and the proverb itself can be understood as a metapragmatic marker. The density of metadiscursive commentary and metapragmatic expressions in this brief excerpt creates undeniable humour.

  • [1] The elements underlined in (7) involve a wrongly imagined spelling of the third-person plural pastinflection of the strong verb geswerian (gesworan for gesworon), which could indicate that the scribe in any casepronounced the final syllable as [3n], the nominative instead of the genitive case in the NP pa betste plus theuse of the strong adjective instead of the weak adjective after the determiner, and in (8) confusion as to how torepresent the dative plural in the NP manegan mynstren for manegum mynstrum, again indicating that the scribepronounced the inflections with a schwa [3].
  • [2] Since I am not concerned primarily with the structural shifts in the language in this chapter, but ratherthe effects of inscribed orality, I shall not go into any further detail concerning those shifts. However, I arguethat an increase in inscribed orality automatically involves such structural changes, particularly in the absenceof a standard language.
  • [3] The abbot’s name was also Henry, which does not help to resolve the coreferencing of the actors inthis passage.
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