Appendix: Notes on the Dialect of the York Corpus Christi Plays


APPENDIX: AN ANALYSIS OF THE DIALECT OF THE YORK CORPUS CHRISTI PLAYS: FOOTNOTES


1 York Plays, ed. Beadle, pp. 10–11.

2 Kniesza, “Problem of the Merger”; P. John­ston, “English Vowel Shifting,” pp. 76–77.

3 P. Johnston, “Dialect of The Worlde and the Chylde.”

4 Kristensson, Survey of Middle English Dialects, p. 238; McIntosh, Samuels, and Benskin, Linguis­tic Atlas, 1:464. Airedale was probably Northern-speaking throughout the valley, so Leeds, Bradford, and other localities in the Central West Riding were on the Northern side of the line. These were not major centers compared to York, however.

5 See Samuels, “Some Applications of Middle English Dialectology.”

6 Fisher, Emergence of Standard English, pp. 36–64.

7 Jack, “Language of Literary Materials,” p. 232.

8 I am in fact working on a book-length study, which shall cover each play in the cycle, instead of only a sample.

9 Hohlfield, “Die Altenglischen Kollektivmisterien,” p. 248; Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 640.

10 Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers, pp. 154–60; Greg, "Bibliographic and Textual Problems," pp. 291–92; Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 29; Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” pp. 640 and 643.

11 Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 649.

12 Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers, pp. 157–58; see also Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 642. Greg believed Play 33 to be another reworked play from the early fifteenth century (“Bibliog­raphical and Textual Problems”).

13 See Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” pp. 642, 644, and 646–47; Greg, “Bibliographical and Textual Problems,” p. 289n1; Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 29.

14 Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 649.

15 According to my analysis, Play 39 is only semi-alliterative.

16 Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 646; York Plays, ed. Beadle, pp. 475–76.

17 Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 646.

18 See York Plays, ed. Beadle, p. 449.

19 Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers, p. 157; Reese, “Alliterative Verse in the York Cycle,” p. 642.

20 P. Johnston, “Older Scots Phonology,” pp. 102–03.

21 P. Johnston, “Older Scots Phonology,” p. 104.

22 Aitken, “Variation and Variety in Written Middle Scots.”

23 P. Johnston, “Older Scots Phonology,” p. 105.

24 McIntosh, Samuels, and Benskin, Linguistic Atlas, 1:549.

25 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 3.

26 Orton and Halliday, eds., Survey of English Dialects; York is listed as Y 19.

27 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 86.

28 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, pp. 24–25.

29 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, pp. 97–98.

30 Kniesza, “Problem of the Merger.”

31 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 142.

32 Compare groan for groin (Orton and Halliday, eds., Survey of English Dialects, 1:662, for Y 11).

33 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 66.

34 One rhyme that could show either a long vowel or a diphthong is in Play 30, Stanza 4: enioyned/perloinedperloined/troned/honed. If the rhyme is on [ɔ:], it is a Northern one, with monoph­thongization; if on [ɔI], it is a West Yorkshire one, with diphthongization of lengthened /ɔ/ to [ɔI]/.

35 P. Johnston, “English Vowel Shifting,” pp. 213–17.

36 Nine could conceivably have Vowel 11, by Open Syllable Lengthening of an [Ii] diphthong to [ei]. If so, is only a long mark spelling.

37 Orton and Halliday, eds., Survey of English Dialects, 1:1010 and 1012.

38 P. Johnston, “Older Scots Phonology,” p. 85; Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 86.

39 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, pp. 84–85.

40 See, however, Play 44, which comes in at 2.1%.

41 P. Johnston, “Older Scots Phonology,” pp. 84–85.

42 The one spelling that seems to illustrate this principle is haales = hauls in Play 35, but this al­ternates with haylls and probably shows the verb hale, haul’s predecessor, instead.

43 One (near) rhyme may show this diphthongization: gome/consume (Play 26), rhymes Vowels 7 and 14a.

44 Vowel 2 has multiple sources too, but the bulk of the native ones (Old Northumbrian /e: e:o/ and /ø:/) fell together early, to be joined by French /e/ and, even later, /e:/ from /I/ lengthened by OSL.

45 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, pp. 119–20.

46 Southern East Riding dialects do merge Vowels 3 and 2 variably, but there does not seem to be any phonological conditioning (Orton and Halliday, eds., Survey of English Dialects).

47 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 119.

48 Aitken and Macafee, Older Scots Vowels, p. 67.

49 Lass, “Vowel Shifts,” and Stockwell and Minkova, “English Vowel Shift.”

50 P. Johnston, “Lass’s Law and West Germanic Vowel Shifts,” and P. Johnston, “English Vowel Shifting,” pp. 218–20.

51 Trudgill, Social Differentiation of English in Norwich, pp. 65–66.












 

 
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Appendix: Notes on the Dialect of the York Corpus Christi Plays

The forty-seven plays contained in London, British Library, MS. Add. 35290 might, at first glance, seem to be an easy set of texts in which to examine the language. For one thing, we know their provenance. They come from the city of York, and, while this is by no means a rock-solid assurance that the playwrights were residents of York (even if the actors were), it is highly likely that they were. We also know, at least approximately, in what period they were composed — that is, between the late fourteenth century and 1463–77, when the manuscript was copied.1 This chronology, however, marks the period which signals the transition from Middle English to Early Modern English, and a number of sound changes are known to have been implemented in those years in this area — e.g., the Great Vowel Shift complex, and the monophthongization of /ai/.2 We would thus expect that, like any manuscript of the period, there would be a fairly large amount of linguistic variation in the corpus, but that on the whole the plays would illustrate an identifiably Northern dialect.

To a large extent, they do, but only up to a point. As the analysis will show, the plays are written in a combination of Northern and Midland dialectal features. Some of the Midland features may be only scribal since it is not uncommon in these plays to find a Midland spelling for a word participating in a Northern rhyme. As my previous analysis of The Worlde and the Chylde demonstrated,3 such “concealed spellings” can be very useful in uncovering the original dialect of a piece of verse because (allowing for the odd near- or slant-rhyme) the rhyme evidence will accord with what the author intended. The picture here, though, is not that simple, since most plays have both rhymes that would only work in a Northern dialect, and others that are exact only in a Midland variety, while the ratio varies from play to play. In any case, most rhymes in these plays could indicate either dialect. Since the syntax and morphology are predominantly Northern, the overall impression is of a series of Northern texts with Midland borrowings, not the other way around.

There are a number of reasons why such a mixed dialect should appear here. First, the North/Midland boundary was not that far away, even if it was not as close as it is in modern times.4 The hinterland of York, though then the capital of the North, included a large number of Northeast Midland-speaking localities in the southern portion of the West Riding, Lincolnshire, and Nottinghamshire. It is likely that the audience at a major festival such as Corpus Christi in what was then England’s second city included those from both Northern- and Midland-speaking areas, and it would be logical that a stage dialect was used which was a mixture of the two.

In addition, farther afield, York enjoyed important religious (as the seat of an archbishop), trade, and political connections with London, especially at a time where, for twenty-four years, the crown was in the hands of the House of York. This would have naturally led to a flow of York-based civil servants and other professionals to the capital but also, over time, to a two-way connection.

Thirdly, while it is too early to talk about the influence of Standard English, and Standard-based judgments concerning the nature of “proper English,” there was already a largely Midlands- and London-based movement to koinéize written English as witnessed first by the Central Midlands Standard (CMS)5 used by Wyclif and his followers, and later, by other writers wishing to emulate Wyclif in using a medium that would be easily understood by readers over a wide geographic zone. Still later, we see the growth of Chancery English,6 the direct ancestor of Standard English and a hybrid of CMS and London norms, used first by the civil service when they started to write records in the vernacular, then by the business community, and also by printers such as William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde. This reason might account for the greater incidence of Midland spellings than Midland rhymes already, since CMS and its descendants were primarily written rather than spoken dialects at this point.

Finally, there is already evidence, even from Scotland, that the use of non-Northern forms was associated with a more formal “high-style” tone as the prestige of London-area writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and John Lydgate was already present. The heyday of the Scottish Chaucerians such as William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas postdates all but the very latest emendations and additions to the play manuscript.7 But Robert Henryson also used Chauceresque forms, and he is very nearly contemporary with playwrights/revisers such as the York Realist. The alliterative form in which some of the plays are written also was associated with the Midlands, albeit the West Midlands of Langland and the Gawain/Pearl-poet, which has a far more localized and distinctive dialect than the East Midlands. The reason for admixture could be any, several, or all of these, but an exploration of the type as well as the frequency of Midland borrowings could shed light on which of these reasons is the strongest.

1. THE TEXTS AND THEIR CLASSIFICATION

Since there is so much variation in the play cycle, a linguistic analysis theoretically could determine which plays, or which parts of plays in several cases, might have been written by the same author. To do this, one would have to compile full profiles of the type used in the Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English and compare each text to every other text.8 However, a smaller-scale survey, using rhyme evidence as the most likely to be authorial, will nevertheless serve to advance our knowledge, providing at least useful hypotheses about attribution that will refine or exclude previous suppositions.

In the past, much of the interest in the York cycle has concentrated on the plays that employ the alliterative long line as the basic structural unit. There are a number of such alliterative plays in the cycle with irregular meters (by modern standards), a fact first discovered by Alex Hohlfeld, who assigned Plays 28 (The Agony and Betrayal), 30 (The First Trial before Pilate, with the Dream of Pilate’s Wife), 31 (The Trial before Herod), and 33 (The Second Trial before Pilate), together with part of Play 29 (the section of The Trial before Cayphas and Anna having to do with Peter’s denial of Christ) to a single group.9 Charles Mills Gayley added a number of plays to this group, but the only addition subsequent researchers such as W. W. Greg or E. K. Chambers have unanimously agreed on is Play 26 (The Conspiracy). These were assigned to a putative playwright/reviser called the York Realist, or sometimes the Great Dramatist,10 who worked in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, in all likelihood the latest period of composition of the plays. Some credit the York Realist with writing other material also, such as the Hail sequences in Herod Questioning the Three Kings and the Offering of the Magi (Play 16), and at the end of The Entry into Jerusalem (Play 25).11 Gayley believed that he reworked all of the Passion Play sequence but The Last Supper (Play 27).12

Greg and Chambers saw other alliterative plays as belonging to a different author, entitled the Great Metrist, who worked slightly earlier than the Realist. The Metrist also often uses the long alliterative line, but often seems to use a hybrid form, utilizing extensive alliteration but with regular syllabic meters. The Mortificacio Christi (Play 36) is the play that is most consistently assigned to this author, but Greg added The Creation through the Fifth Day (Play 2), and Doomsday (Play 47) to this group, while Chambers added The Travelers to Emmaus (Play 40), The Death of Mary (Play 44), and The Assumption of the Virgin (Play 45) as well.13 Reese points out that some of these plays are really syllabic in structure, however,14 and that there is at least one alliterative play, Play 39, The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalen,15 not assigned to either group. Reese also tries to separate the Metrist’s and Realist’s plays by frequency of types of lines with three alliterations instead of four, since the most frequent pattern is four alliterations per line for both supposed authors. He found that the alliteration sequences xaaa and aaxa are more frequent as a second choice in works attributed to the Metrist, while the Realist favors aaax. There is too much overlap, however, for a hard-and-fast distinction to be made, as the “Realist” Plays 26, 28, and 31 have xaaa as the second most-frequent pattern, while the “Metrist” Play 36 has aaax.

It must be noted that none of the earlier researchers founded their hypotheses on the similarity of dialect forms in the texts attributed to one author or the other. Could these features be used to test the attribution of the texts? Since all the plays mentioned but The Creation through the Fifth Day were copied by Scribe B, there is at least a good possibility that any other similarities and differences reflect authorial practices, or at least those of a late reviser, which the Realist is supposed to have been. To test for attribution, it is necessary to include (1) those plays assigned by any authority to either the Metrist or the Realist, even if other scholars disagree, to see if such assignments bear any weight, and (2) a control group of plays in the same area of the cycle, to make sure that such similarities and differences are not simply scribal. Table I shows the groupings which could be used to test attribution.


TABLE I: GROUPING OF PLAYS ARRANGED BY PREVIOUS ATTRIBUTION

 
GROUP A — GENERALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE YORK REALIST:  
Play 16(b)   
Play 25(b)
Play 26
Play 28
Play 29(b)
Play 30
Play 31
Play 33
Play 34(a)
 
“Hails” in Herod Questioning the Three Kings and the Offering of the Magi (lines 309–44)
“Hails” in The Entry into Jerusalem (lines 489–544)
The Conspiracy
The Agony and Betrayal
“Peter’s Denial” in The Trial before Cayphas and Anna (lines 104–46 and 170–395)
The First Trial before Pilate
The Trial before Herod
The Second Trial before Pilate
The Road to Calvary (Stanza 1, lines 1–7)
 
GROUP B — GENERALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE YORK METRIST:  
Play 2
Play 36
Play 40
Play 44
Play 45
Play 47
 
The Creation through the Fifth Day
Mortificacio Christi
The Travelers to Emmaus
The Death of Mary
The Assumption of the Virgin
Doomsday
 
GROUP C — OCCASIONALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE REALIST AND/OR THE METRIST:  
Play 17(e)
Play 34(b)
Play 35
Play 37
Play 38
 
Repetitive sequences in The Purification of the Virgin (lines 320–39, 354–73, 378–93, and 438–60)
The Road to Calvary (remainder)
Crucifixio Christi
The Harrowing of Hell
The Resurrection
 
GROUP D — CONTROL GROUP PLAYS:  
Play 25(a)
Play 27
Play 29(a)
Play 32
Play 39
Play 41
Play 42
Play 43
Play 46
 
The Entry into Jerusalem (remainder)
The Last Supper
The Trial before Cayphas and Anna (remainder)
The Remorse of Judas
The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalen
Doubting Thomas
The Ascension
Pentecost
The Coronation of the Virgin
 

Upon analysis, the categories proposed in Groups A, B, and C are lacking in credibility. While previous scholars have discussed alliterative and syllabic-meter plays as if they were two discrete groups — and this division played a great role in their attribution16 — in actual fact there is something more like a continuum. There are plays which are purely alliteratively structured, usually employing the long line and with the alliteration even being evident on unstressed syllables; most of Group A and some of Group B fall into this category. There are others that use regular alliteration, but the alliteration largely coincides with syllabic-metrical peaks, resulting in a hybrid system, with the alliteration “used as ornamentation.”17 There are syllabic plays with two and/or three alliterative syllables in most lines, illustrating some rough familiarity with the alliterative style (which I here call semi-alliterative), and there are others where alliteration plays no role, or next-to-no role whatsoever, and which are thus in purely syllabic verse. Yet the above categories lump together different types into the same group, and not just with the Control Group plays, which one might expect to be heterogeneous; among the Metrist plays, Plays 2, 36, and 45 are hybrids, while 40 and 44 are fully alliterative, and 47 uses only partial alliteration.

Secondly, some plays are exceedingly complex, containing several changes in line and stanza length, necessitating testing if a change from one stanza type to another correlates with a change in alliteration frequency or not. In some cases, the different parts match in their alliterative structure. This is true of Plays 40 and 44, for instance, each of which use two stanzaic types, but the material in one type of stanza is just as fully alliterative as that in the other. Play 32, on the other hand, has both fully alliterative and semi-alliterative sections, with even a burst, probably due to corruption of the text, of purely syllabic verse.18 The small sections of Plays 16 (where most of the rest is hybrid), 17, and 29 (where it is syllabic) that are attributed to one or the other playwright have already been separated from the rest, but even here, the litany-like sections of Play 17, which are admittedly rough, are hybrid, and only the other two are fully alliterative.

According to my reckoning, the breakdown of examined texts by alliteration type results in the breakdown found below in Table II, which presents Table I attributions in the column at the right. Note that, even without considering the linguistic content of the plays but relying on the alliteration type alone, the general theories of attribution are called into question, especially where the identity of the Metrist is concerned. We are left with the possibility that either a given playwright was capable of varying their style (and why not, one may ask) or that there were multiple “Metrists” involved.


TABLE II: TEXTS ARRANGED BY ALLITERATION TYPE AND ATTRIBUTION GROUP

 
GROUP E — FULLY ALLITERATIVE PLAYS TABLE I
ATTRIBUTION
Play 16(b)
Play 25(b)
Play 26
Play 28
Play 29(b)
Play 30(a)
Play 30(b)
Play 31
Play 32(a)
Play 32(b)
Play 33
Play 34(a)
Play 40(a)
Play 40(b)
Play 44(a)
Play 44(b)   
 
“Hails” in Herod Questioning the Three Kings and the Offering of the Magi (lines 309–45)   
“Hails” in The Entry into Jerusalem (lines 489–544)
The Conspiracy
The Agony and Betrayal
“Peter’s Denial” in The Trial before Cayphas and Anna (lines 118–46 and 170–395)
The First Trial before Pilate (lines 1–156)
The First Trial before Pilate (lines 157–346)
The Trial before Herod
The Remorse of Judas (lines 1–55)
The Remorse of Judas (lines 56–129 and 335–64)
The Second Trial before Pilate
The Road to Calvary (Stanza 1, lines 1–7)
The Travelers to Emmaus (lines 1–152)
The Travelers to Emmaus (lines 153–90)
The Death of Mary (lines 1–63, 72–182, and 187–94)
The Death of Mary (lines 64–71 and 183–86)
 
A
A
A
A
A
A
A
A
D
D
A
A
B
B
B
B
 
GROUP F — HYBRID PLAYS  
Play 2
Play 17(e)
Play 32(c)
Play 36
Play 37
Play 43
Play 45
 
The Creation through the Fifth Day
Repetitive sequences in The Purification (lines 320–39, 354–73, 378–93, and 438–60)
The Remorse of Judas (lines 130–283)
Mortificacio Christi
The Harrowing of Hell
Pentecost
The Assumption of the Virgin
 
B
C
D
B
C
D
B
 
GROUP G — SEMI-ALLITERATIVE PLAYS  
Play 27
Play 29(a)
Play 34(b)
Play 35
Play 39
Play 47
 
The Last Supper
The Trial before Cayphas and Anna (remainder)
The Road to Calvary (remainder)
Crucifixio Christi
The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalen
Doomsday
 
D
D
C
C
D
B
 
GROUP H — PURELY SYLLABIC PLAYS:  
Play 25(a)
Play 38
Play 41
Play 42
Play 46
 
The Entry into Jerusalem (remainder)
The Resurrection
Doubting Thomas
The Ascension
The Coronation of the Virgin
 
D
C
D
D
D
 

We see that, relying on alliterative type alone, without considering linguistic structure, the attribution of the Group A plays to a single author is still reasonable, but not the Group B plays, which include fully alliterative, hybrid, and semi-alliterative plays. The plays attrib­uted to the Realist are all fully alliterative, although they do utilize a number of different stanzaic types. As one might expect, the Control Group is diverse, with the writers using alliteration only secondarily, if at all, while Plays 37 and 38, which Gayley believes the Realist “remodelled,” probably do not belong to him. Reese, following Greg and Chambers, is probably right to reject this attribution.19

Concerning the Metrist plays, however, we are left with a number of interpretations. There might not be a single Metrist, but rather a number of different playwrights involved who really have nothing in common with each other. Alternatively, there may be a Metrist, possibly the person who wrote or revised Plays 40 or 44 or both; however, some of the plays attributed to him are not his. On the other hand, if there were a single Metrist, we have to suppose that he was versatile enough to write in both alliterative, or at least hybrid, verse and syllabic verse. Further linguistic analysis might tell us the answer to this.

It must be said that this breakdown is really a starting point in our search for similarities and differences. Before exploring the rhyme evidence in my final section, however, I will proceed to describe the dialectal features that are found in the spellings of the plays, both ones where the texts of the plays seem to agree, and those that are more variable. These will constitute a mini-grammar of Yorkshire dialect of the late Middle English period — a dia­lect which tends to be conservative syntactically (at least in poetry) and innovative morpho­logically and phonologically, more akin in those respects to mainstream Early Modern English than, say, Chaucerian English or pre-Chaucerian Middle English.

2. THE FEATURES OF YORKSHIRE PHONOLOGY IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY: NORTHERN AND MIDLAND CONSONANTAL CHARACTERISTICS

In the next two sections, I will discuss in general what the spellings reveal about the phonology of the York dialect at the time when these plays were composed. In this analysis I have been guided by the glossary in Beadle’s edition of The York Plays along with my own observations of frequency made during my study. The statements made here refer to the corpus as a whole, unless otherwise indicated, and prominence is given to the sort of “occa­sional spellings” that form so much of the evidence on which traditional handbooks rely and which are, as the term implies, largely infrequent.

2.1 General Orthographical Characteristics

As usual in a manuscript from this period, <i> and <y> are virtually interchangeable, often with <y> found around letters made up of minims to break up any “forest of lines” that might appear if <i> were used. Whether used to represent consonants or vowels, <u> and <v> obey a rule whereby the shape <v> is found initially, and usually though not invariably <u> is present medially.

The letters <þ> and <3> still exist, but with restrictions. Thorn appears mostly for the initial consonant of th- pronominals and common adverbials — words such as the, that, this, there, then, and so on — and appears much less frequently in other words but never in final position. Since it is rare around the letter <y>, it is likely that thorn had its usual Northern <y>-like form with an open loop. Yogh is quite frequent for initial /j/, alternating with <y yh> and occasionally is found for /x/ in <xt> combinations (particularly in <no3t>), but is nowhere as frequent as <gh> for this sound.

2.2 Consonantal Phonemic Inventory

In English, the consonantal system is more stable than are the vowels so that many of the consonant values shown by the orthography in the plays are similar to other dialects of English at the time, particularly Older Scots. Like that dialect, the phonemic inventory was probably the stops /p b t d k g/ and affricates /ʧ ʤ/; the fricatives /f v ɵ ð s z ʃ h~x/; the nasals /m n/ and probably /ŋ/ by this time; and the approximants /l r j w/, with /ʍ/ as a possibility </xw/>. There are, however, some traces of earlier developments that are suggestive of a strong Norse adstratum, and a few imported Southern features.

2.3 The Stops and Affricates

The stops, represented by the same spellings as those found in any Middle English dialect, have not changed much to the present day, and exhibit very few developments that require comment: stop + stop clusters such as /kt/ are sometimes simplified to /k/ (contek, convik), and forms like accept for past participle accepted could indicate that /pt/ > /p/, if this is not a direct importation from Latin acceptum. The sequences /d/.../r/ and /ð /.../r/ interchange quite freely, a situation that produced the pronunciation of Standard father. In York, the solution is mainly in favor of /d/ in all cases (so mother becomes modir, etc.), but there are a few counter-examples such as elthers for elders. There are a few interesting examples of <th> spellings where we would expect a <t>. The word tidings can give thiding-, thithynges, tythandes (with confusion of verbal noun and participle forms), and <t> and <th> alliterate sporadically. Shetlandic and Orcadian, both dialects spoken in old Norse territory, have /θ/ and /ð/–stopping now, as did Gallovidian at this time;20 it is conceivable that York dialect had once had it, but was losing it.

More salient is the presence of /k/ sounds where southern dialects have /ʧ/ and a parallel /g/ for /j/, a still noticeable trait of Northern English and Scots. This is not due to sound change, however, but use of Norse cognates rather than natively-derived English words. Thus it is really a lexical phenomenon, and one can get doublets, such as carll and chorle, as well as purely Norse-influenced forms like skell for shell, gowling for yowling, and kirke for church. Again, there are a few Southern borrowings. Alongside the expected swilke and slyke, you can get suche as a minority form.

Apparently /kn/ is retained as a cluster since it alliterates with /k/ rather than /n/: kende/knave/knele (Play 26, line 124).

A final /t/ is occasionally written as <th>, as in comforth, fruth (fruit), hurth, and perfyth. It is not clear if this designates a fricative, an aspirated stop, or something else. Glottal stop is common in this position in the modern dialect, but is usually counted as a recent change.

The affricates /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ are spelled <ch> and <j> or <g> (depending on their French spelling, as in Standard English) initially, and <cch> or <tch> and <gg> or <dg> medially after short vowels, with <cch> and <gg> predominating. Besides the usual <saie>, say can take forms such as <segge>, which is a Southwestern or West Midland form in origin (compare Old English secgan), but this is the only word of this class that can. There is lexically-conditioned devoicing of /d3 / in words like grucche for grudge, but this is probably an extension of a more general rule applying mainly to fricatives.

2.4 The Fricatives

The fricative subsystem exhibits the most distinctively Northern forms of any subsection of the consonants, but also alternative outcomes for some of them. One typically Northern trait is /v/-deletion, which happens in Scots also.21 Examples include ene (evening), abowne, our (over), and nenes (names v. < nevenes). The first three are fairly widespread in Northern England and Scotland. Still, there seem to be fewer forms reflecting this change than one would expect; perhaps, since it is mainly present in low-style poems in Scots literature,22 it may have similar connotations here, which might be felt to be inappropriate for this kind of material. Instead, one might find spellings indicating that /v/ has devoiced to /f/ (see below). /θ/-deletion does not happen here, but /x/ is apparently weak and sporadically prone to disappear in /xt/ clusters: dite, hytyng, and wyte for more usual dight, hyghtyng, and wyght are attested. Otherwise, /x/ is retained, and is usually spelled <gh>, or, more rarely in /xt/ clusters, <3t>.

As in Older Scots, a morpheme-final /v/ or /z/ seems to be frequently devoiced, as spellings with <ff>, <ss> are quite common, and are responsible for many of the vowel-double consonant-e spellings of the language. This reflex of /v/ may compete with the voiced fricative (spelled <u>), so give may be giffe or giue~geue.

There is considerable variation in what spelling is used for /ʃ/ between the various plays. Some works show almost exclusively <sch> in all positions, while others may use <sh> or, medially and finally, <ssh>, which reflects Southern practice. Rarely, <(c)ch> occurs for this sound as in <fecche> = fish and possibly <mached>, if this represents mashed, which it seems to.

There is evidence of /s/–/ʃ/ interchange in a few cases,23 certainly in Scribe A’s drynesch for dryness, and perhaps in asse = ask, though aske, ax, and axke also occur. The Northern <sal(l)> for shall alternates with <s(c)hal(l)>, but the alliteration patterns show that the form with /s/ is the one truest to the author’s intentions.

As in modern Yorkshire dialect, initial /h/ has seemingly disappeared, though it is mostly present in spelling. The clearest indications of this is the alliteration of /h/ with initial vowels; the occasional occurrence of <til> for <to>, which is more frequent before vocalic onsets, before words beginning with /h/, and the occasional /h/-less spelling.

2.5 The Sonorants

Sonorants overall seem to have their modern values, though we usually cannot tell what allophony sonorant phonemes have. Where the nasals are concerned, we are in an area which is innovative as far as homorganic nasal + consonant clusters being simplified to nasals alone, as spellings showing the nasal like <lyme> (for /mb/), <fone> (for /nd/ in found) demonstrate. Given this, probably /ŋg/ has become a simple nasal also. Besides this, only two interesting developments involving the nasals occur: one concerns the cluster /mn/, where a /p/ or, at least, some sort of stop has been inserted in between the two nasals, shown in <dampne, solempnyte>, though /n/-less spellings implying modern pronunciation are also found for damn. The other one affects /gn/, taken in from French, where the <g> apparently nasalized to /ɲ/, as words like reign, deign, malign, sign, as well as dignity, as revealed by <ngn> spellings. The Scots-type palatal /n/ only is found in the word men3ie = <meyne>, which is sometimes spelled <men3e, men3he> as it is in Scots. Given what happens to words such as contain, <contene>, it is more likely that the /n/ lost its palatal timbre early, but raised the preceding vowel to /e:/.

In the North, /l/ apparently developed a velar or velarized allophone after back vowels when final or before consonants; this generated /u/ before it, just as /x/ did a century or so earlier, and then dropped to leave a diphthong. The full-blown outcome is already shown by one word, <bowde> = bold, but the intermediate stage, with the diphthong preceding the /l/, is found in several examples, such as <stawllis> = stalls. The modern dialects of the area traditionally had clear /l/ in other positions.

York dialect is now non-rhotic, but then /r/ seems to have been pronounced except possibly before /s/, as <socery> = sorcery attests.

The semivowels /j/ and /w/ generally seem to have had their modern values, although there is some /v/~/w/ interchange, illustrated by examples such as <wochesaff> = vouchsafe and <vill> = <will> (aux.). Since Old Norse /v/ actually was pronounced as [w], we cannot blame the Norse substratum for this alternation; in fact, it is more typical of a belt from Norfolk to Sussex.24 It may simply be scribal here, as there is a tendency to use <w> in nearly complementary distribution to <v> and <u> when the sound represented is a vowel, and it is easy to extend this to the consonant as well. More typical of Norse areas (though found as far down as Norfolk) is the simplification of /skw/ to /sw/ shown by square = <sware> and the use of a letter combination beginning with <q> to represent /hw/. <Qw> is the traditional spelling of this sound, occurring sporadically, but <wh> is by far the most common representation. Also there is one hyper-form which reveals that /hw/ was becoming /w/, namely <whe> = weigh, which also shows monophthongization of the vowel.

3. THE FEATURES OF YORKSHIRE PHONOLOGY IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY: NORTHERN AND MIDLAND VOCALIC CHARACTERISTICS

By the fifteenth century, Northern English and Older Scots were beginning to diverge, particularly in vocabulary, syntax, and orthographical representations of local pronunciation. However, the systems are still close enough that Aitken and Macafee’s classification of vowels,25 modified only slightly (Table III), can serve as an easy heuristic for describing the shape of Yorkshire vowel systems by assigning numbers (column 1). Pre-Great Vowel Shift values appear in column 2.


TABLE III: KEY FOR DESCRIBING NORTHERN VOWELS (MODIFIED)

 
VOWEL
NO.
 
PRE-GVS
VALUE
 
EXAMPLE

 
MAIN SOURCES

 
LONG VOWELS:
1
2

2a
3
3a
3b
4
4a
5
6
7
 
/i:/
/e:/

(ɪ:/)
/ɛ:/
(/ɛ:/)
(/ɛ:/)
/æ:/ or /a:/
/a:/
/ɔ:/
/u:/
/ʏ:/
 
myne = mine
sene = seen ppt.
felde = field
speyr = speir “ask”
lene = lean a.
bene = bean
ete =eat
bane = bone
name
cole = coal
downe
gude = good
 
OE/ON/OF /i:/; OE/ON /y:/
OE/ON/OF /e: e:o ø: æ:1/
OE /ɛ/ by HL
OE /ɪ/ by OSL
OE /æ:2/; OF /ɛ:/
OE /æ:ɑ/
OE/ON/OF /ɛ œ/ by OSL
OE/ON /ɑ:/
OE/ON/OF /a/ by OSL
OE/ON/OF /ɔ/ by OSL
OE/ON/OF /u:/
OE/ON/OF /o:/
 
DIPTHONGS:
8

9
10
11
12


12a
13

14a
14b
 
/ai/

i/
/oi/
/e:i/
u/


u/
/ɔu/

/eu/
u/
 
gayne = gain

boy
joyne =join
dye = die
law


knawe = know
growe

newe = new
bewte = beauty
 
OE /&230;j ɛj/; ON /ɛɪ œœʏ/;
OF /ai ɛi/
OF /ɔi/; Dutch /ɔ:j/
OF /oi ui/
OE/ON /e:jV/; ON /ø:jV/
OE /aɣ/, /aw/; OF /au/; OF /aC/;
OE /a/ + x
OE/ON/OF /a/+/lC/
OE /a:w aɣV aV/
OE /o:w, o:ɣV/; ON/OF / ɔu/;
OE /ɔx/; /ɔ/ + /lC/ (rare)
OE /i:w e:ow o:w/; OF /y: eu/
OE /æ:aw/; OF /ɛu ɛau/
 
SHORT VOWELS:
15
16
17
18
19
 
/ɪ/
/ɛ/
/a/
/ɔ/
/u/
 
bid
bedde = bed
blakkest = blackest
God
sonne = sun
 
OE/ON /ɪ ʏ/; OF /i/
OE/ON /ɛ/; OF /e ɛ/
OE/ON /æ a/; OF /a/
OE/ON/OF /ɔ/
OE/ON /u/; OF /u/
 

3.1 The Most Salient Northern Features

Numerous phonological isoglosses separate the Northern dialect region from the Midlands. In the modern period, the most important ones involve the old long vowel system and roughly followed the line of the Humber, Wharfe, and Lune before leveling set in during the mid-twentieth century: the STANE/STONE line (Vowel 4 and 12a and related changes; the Northern limit of the early Middle English rounding and raising of /ɑ:/ to /ɔ:/); the SPUNE/SPOON line (Vowel 7; the Southern limit of /o:/ fronting in the thirteenth century); and the OOT/OUT line (Vowel 6; the Northern limit of /u:/ diphthongization). York was on the Northern side of all of these, and the regular developments — [ɪə] for the first two (the second via [ɪɣ] > [ɪə] in the eighteenth century) and [u:] for the last, are in evidence in the Survey of English Dialects data for the city.26 We cannot tell whether diphthongization of /u:/ had taken place at the time of the plays, since both monophthongs and close diphthongs would be spelled <ou, ow>. However, for the other two, spellings implying both Northern and Midland solutions are in evidence in the plays, though for all texts the Midland spelling is much more common: <o(o)> for both vowels alternating with <a(a), ai, ay> for the first and <u> for the second.

In addition, there is another set of isoglosses separating the somewhat transitional North Midland dialects of West Yorkshire and Lindsey from the rest of the Midlands. These are the BLAW/BLOW and AULD/O(U)LD lines (Vowel 12a). Though these are really outcomes of conditioned developments of Vowel 4, they take a more southerly course than the abovementioned group, dipping down to include Southern Yorkshire, a corner of Nottinghamshire, and the whole of Lindsey within Lincolnshire. The course of these isoglosses may reflect the high-water mark of Northumbrian Old English, as there are a number of vocabulary isoglosses, and the southern limit of a very important morphological isogloss in Middle English, –is~-es vs. –ith~-eth, is found nearby.

The LANG/LONG isogloss is also associated with Vowel 4, since here the <o> forms result from an /ɑ:/ created by a late Old English process called Homorganic Lengthening (HL). Whatever the outcome, the vowel was reshortenened under influence from the inflected forms of the affected words, where the lengthening was blocked in most cases due to syllable division. The lengthening happens before /mb/ (comb, womb) and /nd/ (land) as well, but not all the /amb/ words reshorten. Lengthening before /nd/, though attested in the work of Robert Mannyng, best known for his Handlyng Synne, and other Lincolnshire writers, is rare in the plays, though there are a few examples of honde (hand, with a frequent umlaut plural hende), and stonde (stand), fonde (found pret.), and sonde (message; something sent) seem to be usual spellings. In any case, there is a considerable amount of variability in this feature.

Ironically, the change /ɑ/ > /ɔ/ before simple nasal, now as then associated with the West Midlands, was originally Northumbrian, but is only sporadic in the corpus. Any and many, frequently with <o> in Older Scots,27 have only <a> here. <Gome> for game, attested once, and tone for tane may belong here, if they are not hyper-Midland spellings associated with the /ɔ:/ reflex of Vowel 4. The nearest place where this backing and rounding can be found natively is Lancashire and perhaps a few villages along the Yorkshire/Lancashire and Yorkshire/Derbyshire boundary.

Even more variable, even in twentieth-century York dialect, is the outcome of Vowel 11 as in die, eye and the inflected forms of high. These can either monophthongize to /e:/, with simple dropping of /j/, as is usual in Scots,28 or develop, as in most of the Midlands, to /i:/, diphthongizing again in the Great Vowel Shift, as in Standard English. Occasionally encountered in the material are <egh> forms for this, and for the /e:xt/ class like right, night, as well as the spelling he for high.

Open Syllable Lengthening, by which short vowels in open syllables became long, operates in all English dialects, but the farther north one goes, the fewer constraints operate on the rule, and the differences can be quite noticeable. In York, we must assume that the low and low-mid vowels have been lengthened before an early Middle English final –e, which disappeared early, but there is variability in the lengthening of Vowel 15 to Vowel 2, which is not constrained by what the next syllable contains. Telltale <e> and <ei, ey> spellings appear in twenty-seven items, though many show <i> as well, and there is no way to tell this lengthening from a lowering without lengthening. However, though forms with modern /i:/ are not found in York today, they are common enough in Scots29 to mark this change as a Northern one that has receded since the Middle Ages.

3.2 Changes Involving the Long Vowels and Diphthongs

Yorkshire is the focal area for the monophthongization of /ai/ to /a:/,30 once thought to be an early change but now felt to be later and influenced by doublets of /a:/ and /ai/ due to either (1) English and Norse cognates of the same word, e.g., Old English hál vs. Old Norse heill, existing side by side, or (2) forms going back to earlier /a:j/ reflexes, with /j/ dropped between vowels when a sonorant follows (compare modern Received Pronunciation [fa:] < [faɪə] for a parallel process.31 Most of the <aCe> spellings for /ai/ do indeed occur in pre-sonorant environments, which is supported by the rhymes, parallel Scots developments, and in one case, <june> for join (attested in Survey of English Dialects for East Yorkshire),32 monophthongization is found for Vowel 12 as well as 8. It is hard to tell if the <e, ey> in words with –tain shows this monophthongization for mid front vowels also, or if it goes back to Vowel 3 or 2 forms in French. The much more frequent converse spellings <ai, ay> for /a:/ may be related to the monophthongization in part, but are more likely to reflect the use of <i, y> as a long mark, shared by Older Scots,33 as <ey, ei> are much more frequently found for both /e:/ and /ɛ:/ than any monophthongal spelling and <oy, oi> a little more rarely for Midland or Northern /ɔ:/.34

The spellings implying raising of long vowels, which are never in the majority, indicate that at least some Great Vowel Shift changes have taken place, a development supported by rhyme evidence (see Section 5). Surprisingly, there are few spellings supporting the raising of /a:/, since modern dialect evidence suggests that the change may have started in the vicinity,35 but there are clear indications of the raising of /e:/ particularly before /n/, in <tyne> = tene, <wyne> = ween, and diphthongization of /i:/ in <heynd, leyffe, leythly> and perhaps <neyne> = hind n., life, lightly (without /x/), nine.36 It is not clear if the spelling <tow> for two, which occurs only three times, is a transposition, a retention of Old English neuter or some sort of post-Great Vowel Shift spelling on a Midland base, but flood = <flowyd> (alongside <flode> and “native” <flud(d)e>) seems to show the modern West Yorkshire [ʊɪ], which is indeed a post-Great Vowel Shift reflex.

Otherwise, there is frequent interchange of the various subclasses of Vowel 3 with each other and Vowel 2 or 4, explored in detail in Section 5, since the outcome varies so much from play to play. The modern dialect has collapsed the various sources of Vowel 3 and merges it with at least 4a, but in the West Riding dialects next door, the reflexes of vowels lengthened by Open Syllable Lengthening never merge with any original vowel class except in very specific environments such as pre-rhotic position.

3.3 Changes Involving the Short Vowels

A peculiar characteristic in this land of frequent Open Syllable Lengthening involves spellings showing apparent shortening, particularly before the voiceless fricatives /f s/ (including where <ff> spellings alternate with <u>= /v/, e.g., giffe~giue) but also before /t d/ and even other consonants. Such shortenings are not unknown in the modern dialect where make, take = [mak tak]37 and shortenings of words such as close, yoke, throat occur in a number of Scots dialects,38 but the items in which the vowel-double consonant-e spellings occur are a completely different group of words, abate, bide, case, chief, (dis)ease, feet, gait, heave, life, live, and sweet among them.

Spellings showing raising of both short and long vowels are attested in the plays, but as far as we know, the two sets of changes have different causes. The raising of short /a/ to /ɛ/ and of /ɛ/ to /ɪ/ is implied by spellings such as <eftyr, contek, fest, gedir, wex, blisse (bless), gytt, ryst>, where in many cases the following consonant is an alveolar or velar obstruent. This seems to be a favored environment for raising all over North Britain,39 and in cases such as after, bless, and gather the raised forms can still be found.

Conversely, /ɛ/ + /r/ has a tendency to lower, giving <ar> spellings at times. This is a fairly frequent change in Old English — it is what gives us our pronunciation of words like farm and barn, after all — but in this area there was interplay at some point with a lengthening process of /ar/ (as in arm), giving doublets in Vowel 4, 16, and 17 in modern dialects. The spelling evidence suggests that the lengthening was a later process, with only lowering attested.

4. NORTHERN MORPHO-SYNTACTIC FEATURES

While it would take the space of a medium-sized monograph to do justice to the intricacies of the morphology and sentence structures exhibited in the plays, some of the more common and interesting features can be mentioned here.

Middle English was the time of decay of much of the rich inflectional morphology that characterized the old Germanic languages. The noun and adjective endings for the most part disappeared, destroying the old gender system and the case system. Verbal inflections survived better, particularly if they ended in consonants, but this led to only one ending surviving in the present tense in the North (–is~–es) and hence the loss of person and number cues in the verb. Since these simplifications were at least as much the product of language contact as of anything else, the North, which had been highly bilingual after the Viking invasions, was in the lead in these developments.

The result is that, where inflectional morphology is concerned, the plays are nearly at the point of Modern English, though the spellings and frequent use of final –e may not show that until one reads the plays and scans them. Nearly every such –e is silent, although it still has a tendency to appear in spelling where it once had signified something. In all the plays I examined, for instance, the infinitive overwhelmingly ends in –e unless the verbal stem already ends in a vowel — by this point signifying nothing.

There are a number of inflections that do survive, such as the three –s’s: the noun plural, the possessive, and the third (and, locally, second) person singular present tense ending. The localized form for all these appears to be –is~–ys, as in Older Scots, but this alternates with frequent –es. It can also be found in other verbal contexts due to a rule called the Northern Subject Agreement Rule, whereby any noun subject, or any subject when separated from the verb, triggers the –s ending. One can also get –is~–es, a regular outcome of Old English –as, in plural imperatives, and occasionally, by extension, into singular ones. Both these cases display much variability, though, and it remains to be seen what conditions besides those mentioned above trigger the ending. Southern –ith appears in some plays sporadically.

Weak verbs can take –id as a past tense and past participial ending, though, depending on which consonant precedes, this can alternate with both –t and –d, particularly the latter after sonorants, and all of these alternate with –ed.

The present participle –and(e) and the verbal noun and gerundive ending –ing(e) and –yng(e) are kept apart in most cases, though the beginnings of –ing being used for both functions, and the confusing of the two is found in some plays.

In all cases, more study is needed to explore which plays are more conservative morphologically and which are more innovative — and whether or not there is any correlation with increased numbers of Midland forms.

While not strictly a matter of inflectional morphology, all plays share the same personal pronoun system, variable as to spelling only in a few cases:
First person — singular: I, my~mi~myn, me; plural: we, oure~owre, vs.
Second person — singular: þou~þow(e)~thou~thow; þi~thy; þe; plural: 3e~ye; 3oure~3owre~youre~youre, 3ou~ 3ow(e)~you~yow(e).
Third person — singular, masculine: he, his, hym; feminine: scho, hir, hir; neuter: it, it, it.
Third person — plural: þei~þai~þey~þay; þaire~þare~þer; þame~þem. Southern hem appears at about the same frequency of other marked Southern forms.
The syntax of the plays, often convoluted because of the demands of meter, alliteration, and end rhyme, could be the subject of an independent monograph. By way of a general remark, it can be confidently said, however, that the grammar of these works contains highly conservative Old English-like traits such as a preference for object pronouns to precede the things of which they are objects, whether verbs or prepositions, combined with innovations such as the progressive verbal aspect.

5. RHYME EVIDENCE FOR LINGUISTIC VARIATION AMONG THE GROUPS OF PLAYS

Section 5 builds on the previous description of word form and spelling, and focuses on the important matter of rhyme evidence — and what rhymes can reveal about authorship and attribution, among other things.

5.1 General Layout and Questions of Attribution

To analyze the rhymes contained within the plays under study, the procedure was first to collect all rhymes in each play (or each part of the play, in cases where parts were assigned to different groups). These were then categorized by whether they were “general rhymes” (i.e., those that would work in either dialect); rhymes that would work in Northern, but not Midland varieties, regardless of what the spelling showed; the opposite, rhymes working in Midland dialects but not Northern ones; and totally inexact rhymes that would work in neither dialect — and in most cases, no dialect of English.

A further category, not assigned elsewhere, of “merger rhymes,” involving examples that would work if certain sound changes in progress were assumed to have been completed, was also added. This category is an important one since one can measure where individual playwrights or revisers stand with regard to these changes; it thus provides help in both grouping them and dating them. Light is also shed on how these sound changes worked and what phonological environments favored or disfavored them. A full subsection is thus devoted to looking closely at these mergers.

To test the value of basing work on attribution plus type and extent of alliteration rather than the traditional attribution, I have arranged Table IV in two sections. The first classifies the plays according to Table I above and lists the plays individually. The second classifies the totals according to the main groups of Table II. The percentages of the different sorts of rhymes are shown in Table IV, with the abbreviations N = Northern Alone, and M = Midland Alone.


TABLE IV: PERCENTAGE OF RHYME TYPES BY ATTRIBUTION AND ALLITERATION TYPE

 
GROUP A — GENERALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE REALIST:

Play 16(b)
Play 25(b)
Play 26
Play 28
Play 29(b)
Play 30
Play 31
Play 33
Play 34(a)
TOTAL
 
NUMBER
20
24
88
104
73
228
134
156
7
834
 
GENERAL
85.0%
83.3
63.6
68.8
84.9
75.4
76.1
76.9
100.0
75.3
 
N
0.0%
4.2
12.5
11.4
4.1
7.0
6.0
9.7
0.0
8.2
 
M
0.0%
0.0
4.6
5.8
1.4
3.1
5.9
4.5
0.0
4.0
 
INEXACT
5.0%
0.0
6.8
1.9
2.7
6.1
2.2
0.0
0.0
3.4
 
MERGER
10.0%
12.5
10.2
12.5
8.2
7.0
11.9
7.7
0.0
9.4
 
GROUP B — GENERALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE METRIST:
Play 2
Play 36
Play 40
Play 44
Play 45
Play 47
TOTAL
 
42
150
96
97
114
96
595
 
59.5%
80.0
82.3
86.6
78.9
75.0
80.1
 
11.9%
4.7
0.0
1.0
0.9
9.4
3.9
 
0.0%
5.3
3.1
3.1
3.5
2.1
3.4
 
2.4%
1.3
2.1
2.1
1.8
0.0
1.5
 
28.6%
8.7
10.4
2.1
10.5
14.6
10.6
 
GROUP C — SOMETIMES ATTRIBUTED TO EITHER METRIST OR REALIST:
Play 17(e)
Play 34(b)
Play 35
Play 37
Play 38
TOTAL
 
10
100
100
135
149
494
 
90.0%
81.0
74.0
79.3
79.9
79.0
 
0.0%
8.0
7.0
1.5
7.4
5.7
 
0.0%
9.0
6.0
4.4
1.3
4.9
 
0.0%
2.0
2.0
1.4
1.3
1.6
 
0.0%
3.0
10.0
4.4
11.4
6.6
 
GROUP D — CONTROL GROUP:
Play 25(a)
Play 27
Play 29(a)
Play 32
Play 39
Play 41
Play 42
Play 43
Play 46
TOTAL
 
176
58
113
164
36
62
70
74
68
821
 
80.7%
67.3
79.6
76.2
75.0
82.2
80.0
77.0
88.2
78.8
 
4.0%
13.8
6.2
10.4
5.6
1.6
8.6
6.8
3.0
6.2
 
2.3%
3.4
0.9
3.0
0.0
0.0
1.4
1.7
1.5
1.8
 
4.6%
5.2
3.5
5.5
2.8
0.0
1.4
1.4
0.0
3.3
 
9.1%
15.5
10.7
4.9
19.4
14.6
8.6
12.2
5.9
9.6
 
BY ALLITERATION TYPE (SEE TABLE II):
E
F
G
H
 
1114
597
477
531
 
76.8%
78.4
77.6
81.0
 
6.8%
4.5
8.6
5.3
 
3.7%
3.7
3.4
1.7
 
3.1%
1.8
2.3
2.3
 
8.6%
8.9
13.0
9.6
 

Looking first at the General Rhyme column, we see a remarkable degree of uniformity in the percentages of rhymes that would be valid in both Northern and Midland English: the average figure hovers around 75–85% of such rhymes, with only six out of the twenty-nine texts outside of this range, disregarding the two having only ten rhymes or fewer. Though one would assume that the scribe was less important in this regard than the author, it is interesting that the most deviant play is The Creation through the Fifth Day (Play 2), the only work among the pageants closely under study here that was copied by Scribe A, with only about 60% general rhymes. It also has both a high degree of Northern-only rhymes and no Midland-only ones, making it the most localized of the plays. As one might expect if the play is a highly vernacular example, the writer was sensitive to ongoing sound changes in progress with a truly enormous figure of 28.6% merger rhymes, which reflect completion of these sound changes. Whether the peculiar profile is scribal or authorial, in no way is it consistent with the rest of the plays ascribed to the York Metrist, or any other play analyzed here, and authorities are right to reject it as a Metrist play unless it was massively reworked.

Also interesting is the fact that Plays 26, 27, and 28 have low scores for general rhymes, if not as low as Play 2, and that they have completely different attributions. Plays 26 (The Conspiracy) and 28 (The Agony and Betrayal) present related material in the Passion plays and flank the story of The Last Supper in Play 27. However, the former two plays show a playwright, presumably the Realist, employing the classic alliterative long line, while Play 27 is syllabic, or rather only semi-alliterative. One can conceive of an author using more than one style, but the semi-alliterative plays look like the work of someone used to writing syllabic-metered poetry trying out alliteration, not the work of a master of the alliterative genre. Again, these plays have high proportions of Northern-only rhymes combined with high ratios of sound change rhymes. Perhaps this points to the later date usually assigned to them. They are also next to each other in the cycle, and that in itself is suspicious as one wonders whether someone, maybe before the final scribe, copied out parts of the cycle that were contiguous. We may be faced here with mere coincidence, but then we would still probably be dealing with two playwrights of similar background and different styles.

Setting aside the short extracts, we have, at the high end of general rhymes, Plays 46 (The Coronation of the Virgin) and 44 (The Death of Mary) with over 85% general rhymes. Again, we have different styles and attributions. Play 44 is fully alliterative and often ascribed to the Metrist, while 46 is totally syllabic. However, both of these are almost devoid of localized rhymes, and also have few reflecting mergers in progress, which may mark them as older plays. As we have seen, the Metrist may have been capable of utilizing different styles if all the plays usually attributed to him (except Play 2) really were his.

In fact, if one were to single out rhyme characteristics of the Metrist plays from those of the Realist, we could make a generalization that the Metrist is a better rhymer than the Realist and utilizes fewer markedly Northern or inexact rhymes. All of the Metrist plays but Play 44 have quite a noted sensitivity to the sound changes in progress, however. About 8–14% merger rhymes are shown, in fact slightly more on average than the Realist.

The question is: do we have more than one Realist, or Metrist? And where do the “maybe” plays go? Any answer to these questions depends greatly on how versatile we believe these putative playwrights/revisers to be, and for us to be absolutely certain, we would need at least a detailed study of the vocabulary and a total stylistic analysis, using both linguistic and literary methodology. It is easier to make negative than positive statements here — that is, to exclude, rather than to include. Nevertheless, there seems to be no reason at this point to exclude anything here attributed to the Realist that is usually attributed to him except perhaps Peter’s Denial in Play 29, and this is highly speculative. The Hails are too short to judge, though particularly the sequences at the end of Play 25 “sound like” the Realist’s work.

The Metrist is harder to pin down, but the syllabic Play 47, Doomsday, written in metrical verse, showcases neither his usual alliterative style nor his lack of localization. Its frequency of Northern rhymes is more like the Realist’s, or a work such as Play 38 or 42, so perhaps we are dealing with another person here. If there was a candidate that could be added to his repertoire on the basis of what we have here, it would be The Harrowing of Hell (Play 37), but again, given a 4% figure of merger rhymes,40 any conclusion would be tentative in the extreme.

There is only one linguistic feature that correlates with the extent and type of alliteration: the more alliterative the text is, the more Midland features appear in it: 3.7% for the fully alliterative texts vs. 1.7% for the wholly syllabic ones. The difference is tiny, but it makes perfect sense, seeing that the Midland dialect was the vehicle of the fourteenth-century alliterative revival. These forms may be used conventionally, just as the Scottish makars used Chaucerian language.

5.2 The York Plays and Sound Changes in Progress in the Fifteenth Century

The “merger rhymes” in the plays give a view of the cauldron of sound change that is going on not just in York but in the whole of Britain in the fifteenth century. The Great Vowel Shift is the best known component of the many transformations occurring at this time, by which process Vowel 1 diphthongized to something like [ëi], with Vowel 2 moving into the [i:] slot. Farther down in the system, Vowel 4 raised to either [ɛ:] or something like [ɛæ] (it is [ɪə] today) and Vowel 3 became [e:] or [eɛ], and Vowel 5 moved in parallel, though possibly somewhat later, to [o:] or [oɔ].41 The gap in the low vowels is filled by Vowel 12, which monophthongizes to [ɑ:].42 However, in contrast to Southern or Midland dialects, Vowel 7 is a front rounded vowel, and therefore does not push Vowel 6 to diphthongize, so these two nuclei stay where they are for the moment. Vowel 7 eventually does diphthongize to [ɪU], coming close enough to Vowel 14a, at [iu], to be able to rhyme with it, though there could not have been a true merger, as the two classes stay separate.43

On the whole, except for /ai/ > /a:/ and rarer examples of / ɛɪ ɔɪ ui/ > /ɛ: ɔ: u:/, the vowel change processes mentioned above do not cause mergers, at least in their first stages. Any rhyming of, say, Vowel 1 with Vowel 2 must be really a near-rhyme, of something like [ɪi] with [i:], and the proximity of the sounds caused them to be perceived as merged for a time until the diphthongization grew wider, at which point the rhymes of these classes die away. There may be true mergers of Vowels 4 and 3, however, due to the raising of the first, since today both vowels tend to have [ɪə].

However, by far the commonest merger shown in rhymes is of Vowel 3 with Vowel 2, an outcome made difficult to explain by the frequent interplay between the two vowels and by the multiple sources of 3.44 First, in Anglian dialects, we must count not only /e:/ but “original” or “Germanic” /æ:/ as in needle, street as an /e:/ sound, and so are cases of the French reflex of Latin /a:/ as in clear in this area. Second, it is not clear if the various sources of /ɛ:/ have fallen together in all positions, particularly because /ɛ/ lengthened by OSL is kept apart in the West Yorkshire dialects next door, and “umlaut” /æ:/, which exhibits some interplay with Vowel 2 in Older Scots to the north, with considerable allophony.45 Traditional modern York dialect does collapse all the sources of Vowel 3 together, but merges it with 2 only before /r/, no matter what the source is. However, Vowels 3 and 2 are kept apart in other environments. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the phonetic environment, especially the consonant following the vowel, to establish what is going on.46

Finally, and rarely, Vowel 14a goes to /u:/ after certain consonants, notably /j/ and other palatals, but also after /r/ and occasionally after alveolars. The first two changes are common to most dialects of English now. Table V outlines the patterns of merger spellings by play, attribution group, and alliteration type. The number of spellings, however, is only shown in the group totals; in the lines for the individual plays that which appears is the symbol for the following consonant. In the Post-Great Vowel Shift (Post-GVS) column the affected vowel (V) is given instead (ENV = following consonantal environment), and any patterns by environment are discussed in the text. The symbol # = final position.


TABLE V: PATTERNS OF MERGER SPELLINGS

 
Merger


 
4/8


 
EI/3


 
9/5


 
14/6


 
6/5


 
Post-
GVS
V
 
Post-
GVS
ENV
 
3/2


 
3a/2


 
3b/2


 
GROUP A
Play 16(b)
Play 25(b)
Play 26
Play 28
Play 29(b)
Play 30
Play 31
Play 33
Play 34(a)
TOTAL
 
-
l
-
-
nn
-
s
l
-
4
 
-
-
-
-
-
l
-
-
-
1
 
-
-
-
-
-
s
-
-
-
1
 
-
d
-
r
-
-
-
-
-
1
 
-
-
-
-
n
#n
#r
n
-
7
 
-
-
iio
i
e
a
eao
o (eu)
-
11
 
-
-
mn#
n
d
k
llr
m#
-
11
 
dl
-
nr
#lnn
l
ddklnnr
-
nnrrrr
-
21
 
-
-
l
r
r
rv
-
rrrrr
-
10
 
-
-
p
rrrr
r
rr
rv
-
-
10
 
GROUP B
Play 2
Play 36
Play 40
Play 44
Play 45
Play 47
TOTAL
 
n
nd
q
-
ndl
-
7
 
-
-
z
-
ds
-
3
 
-
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
t
-
-
-
-
-
1
 
#
#n
-
-
-
-
3
 
ei
i
-
-
-
ae
5
 
dn
#
-
-
-
t#
5
 
#dln
lnr
dnn
d
ddnn
ddddnnnr
22
 
-
ddr
rrr
-
rr
r
9
 
krr
drr
dr
r
dt
trr
14
 
GROUP C
Play 17(e)
Play 34(b)
Play 35
Play 37
Play 38
TOTAL
 
-
-
l
Dl
snn#
7
 
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
n
#
-
n
3
 
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
d
dddr
dr
ddddnnn
14
 
-
r
rr
r
dD
6
 
-
-
r
rr
dD
5
 
GROUP D
Play 25(a)
Play 27
Play 29(a)
Play 32
Play 39
Play 41
Play 42
Play 43
Play 46
TOTAL
 
m
-
ls
d
-
s
-
-
r
6
 
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
0
 
-
-
s
-
-
-
-
-
-
1
 
-
j
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
1
 
###
-
-
n
-
-
n
-
-
6
 
n
a
o
ee
-
ae
-
-
-
8
 
Ee
r
n
##
-
r#
-
-
-
8
 
d#
nnnvrr
n
dnr
dddr
tttnr
lnnn
ddllnrrr
nn
37
 
#lnn
r
d
-
d
-
r
-
-
5
 
rrrrr
-
d
vr
rr
r
-
r
-
11
 

By far, the most common merger pattern involves the falling together of the descendant of Old English “umlaut /æ:/” which generally is taken as a source of Middle English /ɛ:/ outside of Kentish and London dialects, and with /e:/. It is particularly prevalent in Plays 27, 38, 43, and 47, but is found to some degree in all the plays. It also exhibits noticeable conditioning, with all but five of the ninety-four examples involving positions before voiced alveolar sounds /d l n r/. Where /d n/ and probably /l/ are concerned, we are probably dealing with a raising, which may go back a long way; following /r/ tends to lower preceding vowels, however, so we are perhaps dealing with a lowering of /e:/ here. The same sort of pattern, though a little more restricted, is found in Older Scots poetry of the early sixteenth century in the work of Gavin Douglas.47

The other sources of Vowel 3 show some tendency to merge before /d/, particularly in the Metrist’s work, but mainly only fall together with Vowel 2 before /r/. We are therefore dealing with a merger of all instances of /ɛ:/ and /e:/ generally in pre-rhotic position, which persists into the twentieth century, as both classes give [ɪə], although there has been some restructuring and replacement of [ɪə] by [ɛə] where Received Pronunciation has this nucleus.

The Post-Great Vowel Shift spellings and those showing /ai/ > /a:/ are identical, twenty-four instances in each case, but they show quite different patterning. The Group C plays show no instances of Post-GVS rhymes, but they do show quite a few monophthongizations, particularly Play 38. The Metrist plays, if we exclude Plays 2 and 47 as suggested above, show the same pattern. Group A and some of D (25(a), 32, and 41) have more Post-GVS rhymes than ones showing monophthongization, while the rest of the D plays have few rhymes showing either change.

Monophthongization seems to be favored overall by alveolar consonants, particularly voiced ones, but also voiceless fricatives, and sonorancy of the following consonant is less of a factor than for the raising of /ɛ:/. This is interesting, because modern examples of the same change usually show monophthongization rates highest before sonorants and in final position, and also have sensitivity to voicing. Evidently, this change had different weighting constraints, and, since vowels are generally lengthened more before consonants high on the sonorancy scale, it must depend less on something like the lengthening of the first element of the diphthong as a cause of monophthongization. Aitken and Macafee mention an early monophthongization of /ai/ before anterior fricatives.48 Unless we take the view that words such as save went through a /saiv/ stage from the earlier /sauv-/, there is no record of this change before /f v/, but it is plain that /s/ and the dental fricatives could foster it, and the sporadic monophthongization of other vowels occurs in the same environments as /ai/ > /a:/.

The Great Vowel Shift has been “taken apart” subsequent to the debate in the 1980s of Roger Lass vs. Robert Stockwell and Donka Minkova about whether or not it really was a chain shift, or even a series of sound changes as we usually understand them.49 This author is on record as favoring a two-chain solution,50 with the low- and low-mid vowels in one chain with the raising of /a:/ as the initiator, and the high- and high-mid vowels in a separate, and more co-varying chain. While there are only two plays that have the bottom-half raisings alone (Plays 27 and 30), an important though not crucial piece of evidence for the theory, the changes were favored by different environments. The raising of /a:/ takes place before /r/ or voiceless coronal stops, with the first echoing the Vowel 3/2 merger pattern. The change of /e:/ or /i:/, however, is most common in final position, before sonorants or /d:/, all positions promoting length. If the Great Vowel Shift were a unified process, there would be similarities in conditioning processes between its various stages.

Other mergers are only sporadic, except for the strangest of all, the merger of Vowel 4 with Vowel 5. This happens finally and before /n/, with one case before /r/. In the South, this would be a routine Great Vowel Shift stage, and ironically it works in modern traditional York dialect too, but due to a change that must have appeared in the late eighteenth or nineteenth century. However, it should not happen in the North, because of /o:/-fronting. In the Midlands, it technically could, and in any case, the Vowel 4 forms would have to be Midland ones but the modern dialects do not show it: the only word that does is go, which takes [u:] in much of the East Midlands and East Anglia.51 In West Yorkshire, the two classes are separate as [ʊə] and [u:] finally, and [ʊə] and [ʊɪ] before /n/. We are left with various hypotheses, none of which are very satisfying: perhaps there were sociolects where, as today in Standard varieties, Middle English /o:/ was never fronted, or perhaps these rhymes were eye-rhymes only, since the two classes are spelled alike for the most part.

While there is much room for further study, it is clear that the plays do furnish us with a snapshot of sorts of the York dialect of the late medieval period and suggest some ways in which other dialects were an influence on it. This implies that the speakers, or at least the literate ones, at this time did not always speak vernacular. Medieval York, which is shown not to have been an island unto itself but rather a city sustained in part by residents originally coming from outside its boundaries, had both Northern and Midland speakers. Writers took advantage of the sociolinguistic variation, though what the social meaning of using forms from each is yet something that needs to be further elucidated. We see a number of sound changes at an early enough time in their life cycle to be conditioned changes, and from examining the rhyme types, we can make some extremely tentative statements about attribution. Apparently, a Realist and a Metrist did exist, though they may not have written every play that modern authorities want to claim for them, and there may be Group C plays that one of them may have written, notably Play 37. The Metrist, in particular, was able to write in several alliterative styles. Alternatively, there seems to be a multitude of playwrights, but more variables require study before the question of which one wrote what plays can be conclusively answered.

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