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Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”


The English language, like many other languages, has its own history. It can be shaped in points on division into several periods. It is necessary to admit that English originates from the Anglo-Saxon people who came to the Albion after the Celts settled the land. In this respect one should bear in mind the strict division of the English language into Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English. Each of them designates particular events and changes that were apparent in the historical cut. In this respect, the paper is devoted to the research provided in terms of the Middle English (ME) period which is indicated to be between 1100 and 1500. The trendy influences and changes in the structural estimation of the language are depicted in the example of the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which represents the language in its poetical and literature outlook with points on the morphology, phonology, orthography, and diction of the language at that period of time.

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General estimation

The poem under analysis is the representation of the Middle English language maintained in the form of narrative and some points on difficult versification and style of it. Alliteration is seen in it, but actually before analyzing the linguistic aspects of the verse, one should note that the work is a vivid description of the Medieval England of the Arthurian epoch when knights, brevity, honor, and courage were obvious for representatives of Anglo-Saxon people. Here the emergence of an unknown green knight is depicted to be the core of the problematic features of great splendor in the poem. In this respect the nephew of King Arthur, Sir Gawain takes up the challenge coming from the Green Knight. The story renders the reality of that time and that every event. Nonetheless, it is vital to approach the poem with particular enthusiasm as for the linguistic concernment and analysis of the poem.


The morphological change in the English language in its Middle period presupposes the appearance of several suffixes and prefixes which made language with more identities to the grammatical categories of parts of speech, gender. Furthermore, the words and the nouns began displaying their state of materiality and process with such suffixes as –able, -ness, -ful, and others (Moats, 1999). In this respect, the poem has many features where new suffixes appear. For instance, the line Þe borne blubred Þ as hit boyled hade is, first of all, translated into Modern English as burn bubbled; boiled (Treharne, 2004, p. 642). Here the inflectional suffix –ed can be outlined. Moreover, its significance became vital for the representation of the Past tenses and Participle II. Moreover, the morphology and its development during the whole poem is considered with the influence of French lexical units (almost 62% of the whole text) with their direct relation to the Latin language from which English borrowed at this period more than 50% of words (Glenn, 1970).

Line number 2220 shows the appearance of some new elements in morphology: And with quettyng awharf, er he wolde lyζt which is grinding; returned; come down (Treharne, 2004, p. 643). Here the Latin impacts are felt in emergence of the suffix –ing for description of Participle I and other –ing forms which were developed later. All in all, the poem represents rather distinctive morphological changes due to the process of communication and constant conquests.


In this very period the language was peculiar in its Germanic relation. This is why many sounds were described due to the word combinations which were particular for the German language. One of them is “gh” which should be pronounced in some respect to the middle sound between modern sounds “g” and a modern “k” (Menzer, 2009). In this respect, one element from the title of the poem should follow this phonological pattern, namely the word knight knight. In the first graphical representation letter “k” should also be pronounced.

Þene herde he of Þat hyζe hil, in a harde roche
Biζonde Þe broke, in a bonk, a wonder breme noyse (Treharne, 2004, p. 643).

In the above-represented excerpt, the ending vowel “e” can be sounded if it fits the rhyming of the poem (Menzer, 2009). Thus, the similarities with the Germanic hade also contemplate pronunciation of this word with sound “e” in the end. All in all, some rules of pronunciation presupposed the reading of words in the way they were graphically depicted.

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The orthographical peculiarity of letters in the Middle English can be compared by linguists today in some points with the transcriptional representation of sounds. This idea can be simply assumed when looking at the poem. The orthography is particular in such combinations of letters as are changing into in words like why, who, what (Everson, 2007). Such Cornish orthography was dominating since the early Middle English period. In the poem it is vital to admit such peculiarities in orthography on the example of the following line: ‘Who stiζtlez in Þis sted me steven to holde (Treharne, 2004, p. 643)? However, in line 2244 the process of replacement or substitution of letters has apparently an old outlook: Nwe ζere (New Year) (Treharne, 2004, p. 644). Furthermore, the orthographical composition provided in the poem describes the manner of particular rhyming of the words and phrases in it.


The dictionary of the Middle English is peculiar for its urge in borrowing foreign words. The period actually begins with the event of 1066 when William the Conqueror began Norman invasion of England and also French words appeared along with the genuine graphical implementation of Latin terms. For example, in 2177 there are two examples of French loans which are obvious in the following representation riche and braunche (Treharne, 2004). The Latin approach is seen in the line 2179 on the example of word Debatande (Treharne, 2004). In fact, the dictionary of the excerpt from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is full of French and Latin words in most cases.


The poem under analysis shows the representation of the Middle English language in terms of its four main constituents, such as: morphology, phonology, orthography, and dictionary. The medieval story about the deeds of sir Gawain provide a scope of linguistic features which distinctively depict the peculiarities about the epoch before the Great Vowel Shift and root changes of the English language and its spread throughout the world. The Germanic origin of English showed also its ability to borrow new words for new implementation. It is not surprising why the English language is Lingua Franca today owing to its long history of loaning new words and changing in turn the structure of the language.


Everson, M. (2007). On and in Cornish orthography. Web.

Glenn, J. A. (1970). Notes on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Web.

Menzer, M. J. (2009). Middle English Vowels (Before the “Great Vowel Shift” [c. 1400-1500]). Web.

Moats, P. (1999). Language Structure. Web.

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Treharne, E. M. (2004). Old and Middle English c.890-c.1400: an anthology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 27). Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.

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"Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”." StudyCorgi, 27 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Middle English Analysis on the Example of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”'. 27 October.

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