Resisting the Linguistic Hierarchy: Heretical Language and the Rise of Middle English (Thesis)
Shannon River Gaylor, Spring 2020
Director: Kathryn McKinley
Committee Members: Stanley McCray and Michele Osherow
In the 14th and 15th centuries, English went from a vernacular language to one used in literary and religious contexts. As a vernacular, English was the language of the lower and middle classes, and Latin was the language of religion and academia. The Lollards were early Christian reformers that argued for vernacular translations of the Bible as a class issue of access to religion. This thesis explores the impact and interaction Lollards had on England’s linguistic landscape. Early Middle English authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, and the Gawain-poet made linguistic choices that reflect Lollard influence in their writings. The Catholic church responded to the use of the vernacular by limiting English teaching on religion and English translations of the Bible in order to maintain their linguistic power, and this led to the heresy trials of the 15th century, but failed to halt the increasing use of English.