Article published in:Middle and Modern English Corpus Linguistics: A multi-dimensional approach
Edited by Manfred Markus, Yoko Iyeiri, Reinhard Heuberger and Emil Chamson
[Studies in Corpus Linguistics 50] 2012
► pp. 157–176
Interjections in Middle English
Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale” and the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse
In “The Reeve’s Tale” (ReevT) from his Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1345–1400) uses 27–41 different interjections (depending on how one counts). In the present article these are described, analyzed and interpreted. Moreover, I look into the extent to which they are typical of Middle English (ME) interjections in general or of Chaucer and his ReevT in particular. A brief preliminary discussion of the term “interjection“ (or “exclamation”) is given in Section 1, a short review of research on ME interjections in Section 2, and a thumbnail sketch of ReevT in Section 3. The interjections that occur in ReevT are listed in Section 4, where some problematic cases are also discussed. After that, details of their use and origin are described. Section 5 looks at how Chaucer uses interjections to characterize his figures, Section 6 at phonologic and morphologic aspects (e.g. the distinction between primary and secondary interjections), Section 7 at their position in the sentence (initial, medial, final, consecutively, or variable), and Section 8 at semantic and pragmatic aspects, i.e. their use as expressions of emotion, but also as greeting and farewell formulae, as attention and response getters (including cries for help), as response forms, as emphasizers and corroboratives (merging into swear words), etc. Section 9 discusses their etymology and distinguishes between native and borrowed interjections. Section 10 investigates the frequency of the interjections in ReevT and compares it with their general frequency in ME. The numbers for the general frequency are based on the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse (CMEPV), which is available on the internet. The range is from very frequent interjections such as lo/loo, which is attested almost 5,000 times, and alas/allas (ca. 3,800 times), to interjections of medium frequency, for example harrow with ca. 55 attestations, and to some seven hapax legomena, such as by Goddes herte, for Cristes peyne, and jossa. It is difficult to tell whether the latter were coined by Chaucer or more commonly used but not otherwise attested due to the vagaries of transmission and the nature of the texts that were normally committed to writing and did not favour emphasizers and swear words. To complete the picture, Section 11 lists other interjections that Chaucer uses elsewhere, but not in ReevT.
Published online: 11 April 2012