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How did the Middle English adapted itself to the Latin script?

As I read it, Latin script didn't really suit the sounds in this language.

Was the adaptation authoritative, ruled by a central authority (the Norman kings), or was it very progressive, with a lot of alternative spellings and a real confusion?

What are the respective role of Christian missionaries and the Norman authority on the adoption of the Latin script in English?

Was it on a very long period, with some oppositions, or tries to oppose?

  • When you say "the Middle English" do you mean "the people who spoke Middle English" or "the Middle English language itself"? – Draconis Nov 14 at 15:56
  • The ones and the others are linked. If people didn't adapt, the language neither, it seems to me. – Quidam Nov 14 at 16:04
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English was written in the Latin alphabet even in the Old English period. Latin letters were introduced in the OE period by Irish missionaries around the 7th-8th century. The Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity relatively early, and literacy was a consequence of conversion, so the populace already was predisposed to the Latin alphabet given that that is what is used in the Bible. There is no record of a "struggle" to overthrow futhark.

There is variation in ancient manuscripts, some of which is plain copying error, some being dialect differences including change in the language. Some variation reflects orthographic practices, such as the introduction of letters not originally in Latin (some taken from futhark: ð,æ,þ,ƿ (wynn), as well as macrons to mark stress, j, w when they were invented, velar vs. palatal dots (ċ,ġ) etc.

Literacy and orthography was top-down, primarily driven by the church, much later under the post-Norman regime secondarily driven by the bureaucratic functions of government. English does appear in some manuscripts. Generally, though, Latin and then Anglo-Norman / French were the "official" languages, with English officially re-emerging in 1258.

  • "the populace" couldn't read Latin script, or at all, as far as I know, which has implications for the kind of ""struggle"" (BTW, I don't know who you are quoting) one would look for. Although, you wrote "Literacy was a consequence of conversion", which is perhaps the biggest surprise in this answer. A bit of doubt remains. – vectory Nov 14 at 20:22
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    I think the use of dots to mark palatal consonants is not an Old English orthographic practice. Daniel Paul O'Donnell says that the distinction between palatal ċ, ġ and velar c, g is "a modern convention not found in the manuscripts" ("The Pronunciation of Old English"). – ewawe Nov 14 at 20:45
  • I'm not sure that Latin script was used to write English "English was written in the Latin alphabet even in the old English period = I would need sources, as it seemed very difficult to adapt old English and Latin. We often read than Irish monks brought the script, but it was for Latin texts. – Quidam Nov 15 at 22:49
  • @Quidam Would a picture of the original manuscript of Beowulf qualify? – Denis Nardin Nov 30 at 16:04

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