Contact theory and the history of English

ANTHONY GRANT, Laura Wright, Susan Fox

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter discusses the ways in which language contact theory has illuminated the history of English, especially Middle and Early Modern English. In this chapter, we bring together contemporary sociolinguistic and historical approaches to language contact as a means of furthering our understanding of the general effects that multilingualism had on the development of medieval English. We start with an overview of some of the important theories of language contact that have developed from the study of historical documents. We then move to contemporary sociolinguistic studies that have focused on spoken language in language contact contexts, presenting London as a case study. We find that some of the processes of language change reported in contemporary sociolinguistic work in contact situations could equally explain some of the linguistic outcomes that occurred during the development of English in medieval times. We conclude that both approaches offer important insights into the ways that multilingualism has had an impact on the development of English.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedieval English in a Multilingual Context
Subtitle of host publicationCurrent Methodologies and Approaches
EditorsSara M. Pons-Sanz, Louise Sylvester
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-30947-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-30946-5, 978-3-031-30949-6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2023

Publication series

NameNew Approaches to English Historical Linguistics (NAEHL)
ISSN (Print)2946-4056
ISSN (Electronic)2946-4064


  • language contact
  • Historical Linguistics
  • Research Methods in Language and Linguistics
  • Multilingualism
  • History of Medieval Europe
  • Linguistics
  • General
  • lexical borrowing
  • code-switching
  • morphosyntactic change
  • medieval textual culture
  • history of English
  • manuscript studies
  • semantics
  • lexis


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