Edit: looking at this again, I wonder if the editors of the Wikipedia article mentioned below (from which the transcription comes) just transcribed the manuscript incorrectly, and the “ogonek” I am speaking of is actually just a flourish on the following “r”. If this is the case, please excuse my question below. Given the Wikipedia editors’ attention to detail with the other archaic letters Yogh and the Tironian et in the same transcription, however, I just assumed that this was an actual orthographic feature of the text.

There is a widely shared Middle English manuscript, originally reproduced by the prolific collector of medieval artifacts, Henry Shaw in his 1843 book, Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages, later included by Paul Lacroix in his 1874 book, Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period, which appears in a lot of Internet content describing the archaic letter Yogh, probably because the Wikipedia article for Yogh also contains the same print by Shaw (and Lacroix) of this manuscript. The original manuscript and image is from a c. 1377 poem by William Langland called Piers Plowman. The text (as transcribed by editors on Wikipedia—and this may be incorrect) is as follows:

God spede þe plouȝ: ⁊ sende us kǫrne inolk.

Object R.3.14, Trinity College, Cambridge Print from Henry Shaw’s 1843 book, “Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages”

My question concerns the ogonek under the “o” in the word kǫrne.—was this a common feature of Middle English, or limited to Early Middle English, and what sound did it represent?

My understanding is that this diacritic may be borrowed from Old Norse, which also used an ogonek under “o” in its orthography, but I have never seen it used in writing what is otherwise an EME manuscript. Is kǫrne a literal ON word that found its way into this text, or did writers of EME (and possibly ME?) also claim this character as their own and use it in other EME words?


Note: a color version of the manuscript printed by Shaw also appears as the frontispiece to the 1887 work by Thomas Wright, The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman. The first image above is from the original manuscript, the c. 1377 poem Piers Plowman by William Langland, item number R.3.14 in the collection at Trinity College, Cambridge. The second is from Shaw’s aforementioned 1843 book, Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages, which I included to give a clearer view of the manuscript.

  • 1
    Well, it’s certainly not a literal ON word, because kǫrne is not a word in ON. For one thing, no cases (and very few words in general) end in -e in Old Norse, and for another, the ON word for ‘corn/grain’ is korn with no ogonek. In ON, ⟨ǫ⟩ represents /ɔ/, the outcome of u-umlauted /a/, but the o in korn is the reverse: an a-umlauted /u/. Jun 6 at 10:15
  • Ok, so I would say for sure that this is an argument for a bad transcription in the Wikipedia caption. It’s moderately surprising—surprising given the attention to detail with the Yogh and the Tironian et, but only moderately so because it is, after all, Wikipedia.
    – Avana Vana
    Jun 8 at 12:52
  • I’m not sure it’s a bad transcription – there’s definitely a squiggle there, and it certainly looks like an o caudata (or possibly an r caudata with a somewhat misplaced tail). I’m just not sure what the meaning of the squiggle is. I’m no palaeographer, but I don’t recall ever seeing tailed r or o in Middle English before; it’s possible it’s simply a meaningless flourish here, or even a mistake by the scribe. Transcribing it with an ogonek would then be reasonable enough, even if it has no actual meaning. Jun 8 at 14:01
  • So in your opinion, there is little chance that the tail is a flourish that belongs to the following “r”? It is unfortunate that the letters are ligatured in this case. Or you mentioned “r caudata”—is that just another name for a flourish on the “r”, or does this term carry additional meaning?
    – Avana Vana
    Jun 8 at 15:00
  • I’d say that if it does belong to the r, it must have been misplaced by mistake. It’s located completely to the left of the r and doesn’t even come close to touching it, and even in mediaeval manuscripts, diacritics normally touch or abut their base letter (note that the r rotunda (ꝛ) doesn’t have a vertical stem). It does look like it says ⟨ǫꝛ⟩, whatever exactly that was intended to mean. (‘Caudata’ just means ‘tailed’, so it’s the same thing as the tailed r shown in the image in Alex’ now-deleted answer.) Jun 8 at 15:16


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