At the outset we need to consider the huge differences between oral instantiations of language produced in emergent situations of language contact, examples of which are no longer possible to unearth, and the paucity of written texts that evidence simplification. Given the restrictions on any such investigation, however, certain texts may still be considered crucial.

My first example is taken from an Anglo-Saxon will written approximately ten years before the Conquest. Judging by the place names referred to in the will, it was probably taken down in Essex or Suffolk, since land in Stisted, a village lying quite close to Braintree in Essex, is referred to as well as Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. The will was made on behalf of a man called Ketel, and was, in all probability, taken down by a scribe from dictation.

The will of Ketel

Her is on ^is write Keteles quide ^at ic an Stistede

after mine tyme for mine fader soule

and for Selfledan.

And ic wille ^at mine men ben ben alle fre

and Mann myne refe ^at he sitte on ^e fre lond ^at ic him to honde habbe leten his time euer fre

and after his time folege ^at lond ^en o^ere.

And ic an into ^ere kirke ^at lond ^at Withrich hauede under hande and Lewine and Siric and Goding so so geard go5 to Leueriches hyge.

And ^at no man him ne forwerne ^an vtgang.

And ic wille ^at alle ^o men ^e ic an fre

^at hi habben alle ^inge ^e he vnder hande habben buten ^at lond.

And ic an ^at lond at Herlinge Stigand Arche- bisscop mine louerd so it stant buten ^o men ben alle fre and ten acres ic an into ^e kirke and gif ic ongein ne cume ?>an an ic him to min heregete

an helm and a bronie and hors and gereade and sverd and spere and ic wille after ?e forwarde ^at Eadwine and Wulfric after my time fon to alkere ^inge ^e min ower is ?>er on tune buten

so mikel so ic an into ?e kirke,

^at is ^at erninglond ^at Alfwold mine

man haued vnder hande

and he sitte on ^at other his time.

And sithen al ^at lond ^at him to honde beged folege mid ^e o^ere into ^e kirke.

Here in this document is Ketel’s will:that I bequeath Stisted

after my days to Christ’s church for the sake of my father’s soul and Selfledan s soul.

It is my will that my men should all be free

and that my reeve Mann should occupy the free land that I have left him to hold during his life

and after his death may the land follow in his line.

And I bequeath the land that Withrich, Lewin, Siric and Goding worked on as far as Leverich’s hedge, to the Church.

And it is my will that no man shall deny them exit.

It is also my will that all the men to whom I grant freedom

should keep all the things in their possession except for the land.

And I bequeath the land at Herling as it stands to my Lord Archbishop Stigand except that the men should all be free, and I bequeath ten acres to the. church.

If I should not return again I bequeath him

[them?] in my household

a helmet, a bridle, a horse and harness

and a sword and spear,

and it is my will that, by agreement,

Edwin and Wulfrich after my death should acquire other things that are mine in the town

except as much as I bequeath to the church,

i.e., the freehold land that my man Alfwold works,

and it is my wll that he occupy that land

for the rest of his days,

and from then on that all the land that he

works shouldfollow the other into the


Gif Eadwine min Em wille helden se felageschipe mid me and Wulfric min em ymbe ^at lond at Me^eltune gif wit him ouerbiden, fon we to ^at londe at Thorpe

into ^at forwarde ^at vre bo^ere time go ^at lond at Metheltone for vre heldren soule and vre awene soule into seint Benedicte at Holme.

And ^at lond at Thorpe into saynt Eadmundes biri.

And ?>at is min and mine sustres boten ?>at forwarde gif ic mine day do her his ^at ic fon to ^at lond at Keteringham and an marc goldes o^er wyrth,

and gif ic hire ouerbide ^anne schal ic habben ^at lond at Somerledetone and ^at ilke forwarde Ic and Gode mine suster habbed speken gif he me ouerbide gripe he to ^at lond at Walsingham

buten ten acres ?>o schulen into ?>ere kirke.

And gif ic libbe leng ^anne hio ^anne schal ic habben ^at lond at Prestone.[1]

If my Uncle Edwin keep faith with me and my Uncle Wulfric concerning the land at Methelton

if the two of us outlive him we succeed to the land at Thorpe

on condition that after both ofour lives the land at Methelton

should go to St. Benedict’s at Holme for our parents’ souls and the sake of our own souls.

And the land at Thorpe should go to Bury St. Edmund’s.

And it is my and my sister’s bidding that if

I do obey his (will) that I should succeed to

the land at Keteringham

and inherit one mark of gold or the value


and if I outlive her then I shall have the

land at Somerledeton,

and by virtue of the same agreement made

between me and my sister God,

if she outlive she will succeed to the land

at Walsingham

except for ten acres which will go to the Church.

And if I live longer than her, then I shall have the land at Preston.

Apart from a number of phonological features that give immediate testimony to its Anglian origins, three major morphosyntactic changes are in evidence:

  • 1. Dative cases after prepositions are virtually nonexistent (bold typeface) either in the singular or in the plural (e.g. sg. on pis write or buten pat lond and pl. to alkere pinge or buten ten acres).
  • 2. The indeclinable defining relative pronoun pe functions in a number of instances as a definite article (single underlining), and not merely in the nominative case (e.g. on pe fre lond for which we would have expected (a) the dative singular pam, (b) a weak dative inflection on the adjective and (c) a dative singular inflection -e on the neuter noun lond; after pe forwarde for which we would have expected the Anglian singular feminine dative form of the definite article pere; three instances of into pe kirke for which we would have expected pere; and mid pe opere for which we would have expected the dative plural form of the definite article pam [or in Anglian, at least, pan] and a weak dative plural adjective inflection on oper-, and pe wyrth for which we would have expected pa wyrth).
  • 3. Some confusion is apparent with respect to the marking of grammatical gender on nouns (italic typeface) for which we would have expected clarity from the point of view of natural gender, for example, mine mann for min mann and mine sustres boten, which has a strong masculine declension marking for the genitive (sustres) rather than a weak feminine declension marking (sustren).
  • 4. There is also a phonologically weakened form of the indefinite article a for an governing the noun bronie (bold italic) which has been borrowed from Old French—even at this stage in the language prior to the Norman Conquest!
  • 5. And, interestingly, is monophthongised to which leads to ambiguity between “he” (he) and “she” (he in place of heo) (double underlining).

Normally these phenomena would be accounted for by resorting to simplification processes, but they may sometimes cause difficulty here by generating possible ambiguity, particularly in the case of the third-person singular pronoun (i.e. they lead to greater complexity in that the reader has to rely solely on the context to resolve the intended meaning). Resorting to the koi'neisation argument might help to explain the disappearance of an explicit morphological marking of the dative case, since a drastic reduction in the number of cases had also taken place in the Scandinavian languages. But there is no way we can resort even to koi'neisation to explain the gradual spread of pe in place of selseolpat, since the Old Norse definite article appeared (and still does appear in the Scandinavian languages) as a suffix added to the noun. Clearly, this does not exclude the introduction of pe as a simplification that would have helped speakers of the Danish variety of Old Norse to communicate with speakers of Anglo-Saxon. In fact this is very likely to have been the case. But neither does it exclude the possibility that this substitution was under way in any case and was simply speeded up by the language contact situation involving both language varieties.

Let us now make a jump of roughly 70 years to the language of the two scribes in the First and Second Continuations of the Peterborough Chronicle, where we see an advanced state of all three major areas of simplification that were already under way in the first half of the eleventh century.

  • [1] Single underlining indicates occurrences of the uninflected definite article pe in place of an inflectedform, or the digraph th used in place of p/д. Bold typeface indicates retention or loss of the dative case, anditalic typeface indicates confusion with respect to the gender of the noun. Double underlining indicatesconfusion between the pronouns he (he) and heo (she).
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