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Appendix 2: A Note On Gower's French By Brian Merrilees


1 Gower, Complete Works, 1:xvi–xxxiv. Also still of value for morphology, phonology, and orthography is Pope, From Latin to Modern French, part 5. An update of some of Pope’s material can be found in Short’s Manual of Anglo-Norman.

The form of French spoken and written in England following the Conquest is usually called Anglo-Norman (AN) but this term is not always applied to the period of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for which Anglo-French (AF) is sometimes preferred. Anglo-French is a very broad term nonetheless and covers a variety of kinds of insular French, depending on the nature of the text and the training of the writer. Many admini­strative, legal, and commercial documents survive where the language is quite different from its continental counterpart, though it has been shown that many scribes and clerks were aware of the differences. Gower’s French is of course highly literary, and the poet was very familiar with contemporary continental writing: his language is an interesting mixture of insular and continental elements. My remarks are limited to the Balades, and my examples are not exhaustive. I recommend reading Macaulay’s admirable description of language and versification in the introduction to volume one of his editions.1


Declension and flexion. Gower seems aware that there was a two-case system in medieval French, though fast being reduced in most instances to a single case based on the objective rather than the nominative forms. In Cinkante Balades Dedication I.16 I find Vostre Gower, q’est trestout vos soubgitz where the past participle adjective soubgitz retains nominative singular s, yet clearly to suit the rhyme pattern he has chosen. Similarly in Cinkante Balades IX.4 the poet describes his heart as Parfit, verai, loial, entalentis, the last adjective only with s rhyming with the following line amis as well as other adjectives in the same balade: vifs, faillis, esbaubis, mendis, poestis. There is even a form with s used in the object case where none would be expected, Cinkante Balades IX.36: tanqu’il m’avera guaris, again suiting the rhyme. In Cinkante Balades XI.2 he writes li coers where both article and noun are in the old nominative, without any versificational influence. In Cinkante Balades XVIII.1 Les goutes d’eaue qe cheont menu might have had menues, feminine plural nominative, but again the rhyme (avenu, defendu, etc.) forces the poet’s hand.

The relative pronouns qui and qe are both used in the nominative, the latter more frequently. Personal pronouns which maintain nominative, direct and indirect objective forms into modern French are mostly standard, but occasionally there are insular usages: qe jeo lui aime (Cinkante Balades XXIII.13) where the indirect (also a tonic) form replaces the direct. Another example of AF usage is the neuter demonstrative pronoun as an adjective: ce/ceo lettre (Cinkante Balades II.25/III.23). Possessive adejctives mon and son are often written moun and soun. Earlier AN mun and sun do not appear. The possessive singular vostre and plural vos can both be found as vo without distinction of number. The a of feminine ma and sa can both be elided before a vowel.

Gender distinctions and agreements are not always kept as they would be in standard medieval French and again meter and rhyme can explain some of the examples though not all: Du providence (Cinkante Balades Dedication I.3), ce lettre (Cinkante Balades II.25), corps humeine (Cinkante Balades XIIII.3), du bouche (Cinkante Balades XIIII.23), le fin (Cinkante Balades XIX.18), maint question (XXIIII.20), chose humein (Cinkante Balades XXIIII.22), celle appetit (Cinkante Balades XXVI.21), le defalte (Cinkante Balades XXVIII.12), [l] a cliere Estée (Cinkante Balades XXXII.8), [m]a belle oisel (Cinkante Balades XXXIIII.25), mon chançoun (Cinkante Balades XXXV.24), un chaunçon verrai (Cinkante Balades XL.22), les herbes sont floris (Cinkante Balades XXXVI.4), etc. The definite article le is feminine in Picard and often too in AF. The enclitic du is sometimes the equivalent of de: Du quelle (Cinkante Balades XLV.10), and perhaps du bouche (Cinkante Balades XIIII.23, compare the remark on gender). Similarly au stands for a in au peine (Cinkante Balades XXII.13).

Verbs. Verbs present little in the way of insular or unusual forms. The older AN distinction between first conjugation verbs ending in -er and -ier has disappeared in rhyme and often in spelling in infinitives and past participles: envoier/amer (Cinkante Balades VIII.22/24), recomencer (Cinkante Balades Dedication II.23), adrescée/ymaginée (Cinkante Balades VI.17/VI.15), eslongée/desirée, (Cinkante Balades VII.2/VII.4), etc. Infinitives in the other conjugations are in -ir and -oir, close to modern endings. One oddly-spelled infinitive used as a substantive is poair.

Some first person present indicatives of the first conjugation in -er (and thus -ier) have acquired a final e: aime (Cinkante Balades XXIII.13), quide (Cinkante Balades XXIIII.1), etc., but not all: pri (Cinkante Balades II.19), asseur (Cinkante Balades IIII.5), j’aim (Cinkante Balades IIII*.2), etc.; several third conjugation verbs which acquired s in the first person during Middle French remain without the s: sui, sai, voi, doi, di, quier, etc., though I do find j’escrits (Cinkante Balades LI.25) which is followed by Henris in the objective case and thus does not provide a proven rhyme, and rens (Cinkante Balades I.25) which rhymes with serementz (obj. pl., Cinkante Balades I.27), etc. More archaic forms are retained in truis (Cinkante Balades XVI.23), trieus (Cinkante Balades XXXIX.15), puiss (Cinkante Balades XVI.21), etc. First person plural can follow the insular and Norman ending -om(s): joioms (Cinkante Balades Dedication II.26). Second person plurals often end in -tz: avetz, fuissetz, croietz, etc. Third person plural endings are almost always -ent but there are several examples in the Balades of the AN/AF ending -ont: vienont (Cinkante Balades II.8), cheont (Cinkante Balades XVIII.1), parlont, diont (Cinkante Balades XXXI.22), provont (Cinkante Balades XL.8), etc.

A number of future forms have an intrusive e between v and r which can or not be counted as a syllable, depending on the line: avera (Cinkante Balades I.21), devera (Cinkante Balades V.9), viverai (Cinkante Balades X.18), etc. In AN this e was sometimes an indicator that the manuscript u was indeed a v. Futures and conditionals of some third conjugation verbs double r orthographically but they can rhyme with single r: plerra/semblera (Cinkante Balades II.20/21), irra/remembrera (Cinkante Balades, II.25/27), querroie/changeroie (Cinkante Balades V.22/24), etc.

Past tense forms are mostly regular and because of the nature of the text, centered on the present and future, Gower thus uses the present perfect more than the simple past. Of the latter I find such forms as: di (< dire) fis (< faire), esta (< ester), fuismes, fuist (confusion of ui and u), vi (< voir), passa, eschapa, etc. Past participles are also regular though gender agreement is not always observed: qe jeo vous ai amé (i.e., his lady) (Cinkante Balades XXXVII.13): lié masc. (Cinkante Balades XXXVII.14).

Phonology and orthography

Gower’s text looks very different in spelling from AN texts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, especially in reintroducing dipthongs that had earlier been reduced to simple vowels. Some of this is the result of the influence of continental French, some the characteristics of later AN and AF. For example the oi diphthong which had been ei or simple e is used frequently: reçoit, doit, esploit, decevoir, manoir, coie, etc., as in modern French. In earlier AN one might have found reçeit (compare English receipt), deit, espleit or esplet (among many others), etc. As I discuss below, the dipthongs ei and ai are also found before nasals and in rhymes which suggest these are principally orthographic. Gower does retain the insular ou, especially before r and s and in the nasal oun. There are few uses, however, of single u instead of ou or single o, a main feature of AN.

Simple vowels. Most simple vowels are unexceptional though there is some ortho­graphical confusion with digraphs: ie for e in la [n]ief (Cinkante Balades XXX.1), [l]a cliere Estée (Cinkante Balades XXXII.8), miere (Cinkante Balades XLIX.25), etc. Similarly ui is sometimes used for u: fuismes (Cinkante Balades Dedication I.6), fuist and ou for o, especially before a nasal: moun (Cinkante Balades II.10), soun (Cinkante Balades II.3), comparisoun (Cinkante Balades XXI.2), resoun (Cinkante Balades XXI.4)n , bandoun (Cinkante Balades XXI.5), etc., The simple nasal an is sometimes aun: sufficaunce (Cinkante Balades IIII.11), fiaunce (Cinkante Balades IIII.12), etc. but an is strongly maintained graphically: plesance (Cinkante Balades I.17), continuance (Cinkante Balades I.19), etc.

The so-called feminine or weak (atonic) e was unstable even in early AN and certainly by Gower’s time. Final e in particular at word end could be pronounced or suppressed according to meter:
Pité, prouesse. humblesse, honour roial
Se sont en vous, mon liege seignour, mis
                 (Cinkante Balades Dedication I.1-2)
Final e of a line is not counted in the meter and can even be dropped to assure a rhyme: conspir (ind. pres.3)/plesir (Cinkante Balades XXV.3/1). The loss of e can eliminate masculine and feminine distinctions in past participles ending in -é and -ée; the confusion is evident when one encounters -ée for -é: eslongée masc. (Cinkante Balades VII.2): honourée fem. (Cinkante Balades VII.5), prée masc. (Cinkante Balades VII.9): pensée fem. (Cinkante Balades VII.11). An unstressed e is written i in chivaler (Cinkante Balades VII.14), etc.

Diphthongs. Diphthong reduction was a feature of AN from the twelfth century on and there is some evidence here of its continuation in rhyme, but mostly diphthongs are maintained or reproduced from contemporary French.

ie is reduced to e though often maintained in spelling: Messager/conter, (Cinkante Balades VIII.12/11), danger/mirer (Cinkante Balades XII.19/17), pleniere/amiere = amer “bitter” (Cinkante Balades XVI.9/11), requiere (Cinkante Balades XVIII.16): matiere (Cinkante Balades XVIII.18): quarere (Cinkante Balades XVIII.19), etc. There is no graphic reduction before a nasal: bien.

ei is almost always found before a nasal where there is often confusion with what was once ai: peigne/compleigne, compare English complain (Cinkante Balades III.1/3), peine/sovereine (Cinkante Balades X.15/17), peine/humeine (Cinkante Balades XIIII.6/3), asseine/capiteine (Cinkante Balades XXXIX.9/11), etc., ei can also stand for oi: aqueintai (Cinkante Balades X.4), s’aqueinte/queinte/meinte (Cinkante Balades XLII.2/4/5), etc., ai is found for ei in s’oraille (Cinkante Balades XVIII.18).

ai can be written e: jammes/pres, compare Modern French jamais (Cinkante Balades II.14/16), pes/pres, compare Modern French paix (Cinkante Balades II.22/24), etc. as well as the expected ai: compaignie (Cinkante Balades IIII.13), fait (Cinkante Balades IIII.17), debonaire, maire (Cinkante Balades IIII*.6, IIII*.7), etc. and in the verb forms: amerai (Cinkante Balades IIII*.2), viverai (Cinkante Balades IIII*.4), ai (Cinkante Balades IIII*.5), sai (Cinkante Balades IIII*.9), etc. Occasionally the diphthong is written ay: mesprendray (Cinkante Balades IIII*.16), etc. and ea: ease (Cinkante Balades XIII.7), peas (Cinkante Balades XLI.7). There is also the more unusual substitution of ie: sciet (Cinkante Balades V.20). Pretonic ai is often e: plesance, lerra, feture, etc. but not always: plaisir, forsfaiture, etc.

oi from earlier ei (sometimes just e in AN) is frequent and helps give the text a more “continental” appearance: foi, quoique, ainçois, voloir, avoit, espoir, etc. (Cinkante Balades I.19, I.22). oi that comes from Latin o < au + palatal remains intact: oisel, esjoiera, joies (Cinkante Balades II.3, II.4, II.28), etc.

ou, however, did not become eu as was the case in central French: dolour, dolçour, valour, amorouse, honour (Cinkante Balades II.24, III.3, III.9, III.1, III.15), etc. In AN ou and o were often written u, a distinctive insular feature of early texts. Gower has few examples of this u in the Balades but occasionally they are in rhyme: hure/nature (Cinkante Balades VII.3/1), plure/figure (Cinkante Balades XII.23/21), etc.

ui is regular in such forms as: sui, puis(s), truis but is sometimes used, as noted above, for u: pluis, fuist, etc.; ui for oi is found in vuill, bienvuillance.

True triphthongs are present in lieu , eaue, etc. but orthographic only in trieus, dieurté, scieussetz, etc.

Consonants. There is little to comment on concerning consonants. As already mentioned, single and double r are found in rhyme and tz is used for s and for z: toutz, tormentz, tenetz, croietz, etc. Rhymes also show that the palatal nasal gn has been depalatalized to n: enseigne/certeine (Cinkante Balades XL.2/4), pleigne/Heleine (Cinkante Balades XL.7/5), etc., and gn is sometimes used for simple n: peigne (Cinkante Balades III.1), [l]oigns (Cinkante Balades XIX.17), etc. Central French gu as in guardé, guarderai, can be w: oftlinerewardise (Cinkante Balades LI.19). Initial h from Latin h is kept: humble, heritance, and dropped: oure (‘hour’), etc. Gower follows the practice of introducing etymological letters recalling the Latin from which the word is derived — or thought to have been — that would be silent in pronunciation: doulce, soubgis, sciet (a confusion of scire with sapere), oultre, escript, longtein, etc.

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