First text in Middle English?

12th Century

First text in Middle English?


  • Intro

    Most sermons (or homilies) in this collection are copies of earlier ones in Old English. But this one is different. It is an English translation of a Latin sermon in which we can see many of the changes that signal the end of Old English. The rhythm and pattern of the sentences are beginning to sound distinctly modern. That is why linguists have called it the first text in Middle English. The sermon was given by Ralph d’Escures, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 12th century.


    The homily begins Se godspellere Lucas sægð on þyssen godspelle (The evangelist Luke says in this gospel). Word order is identical to present-day English, and remains so across much of the text. The origins of the word ‘gospel’ would have been clearer in the 12th century: god (good) combined with spel (news or story).

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