Reviews of Latin in Medieval Britain

There have been three reviews of Latin in Medieval Britain that have come out in the last few weeks.

In the TLS of 17 January there was a brief notice by Philip Hardie:

There is a fuller review by Ralph Hanna for The English Historical Review now available in advance of its print publication:

The third is by Tristan Franklinos for Classics For All:

We would be very pleased to be informed of any others.


New Three-Volume Edition

Four years ago today we celebrated the publication of the final fascicule of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, completed after decades of painstaking work and a century after it was first proposed. Since that time the DMLBS has also been made available electronically with full electronic searching on the Brepolis platform and with more limited functionality on the free-to-use Logeion website.

The British Academy and OUP are now pleased to announce the publication in early 2018 of a consolidated three-volume edition of the DMLBS. This edition incorporates the previously published additions and corrections into the text of the first edition of the dictionary, together with a number of further additions and corrections. The text has been typeset afresh and the opportunity has been taken to increase typographical consistency throughout the dictionary.

In addition to being supplied conveniently bound as three hardback volumes, the new publication will represent increased value for purchasers, with a significant saving on the previous cost of a complete unbound set of fascicules of the first printing.


Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources Dictionary cover vol I

Edited by Richard Ashdowne, David Howlett, and Ronald Latham

Published by OUP for the British Academy

£500 | 3 vols | 305 × 230mm

I (A–G) lxxxiii + 1402 [ISBN 978-0-19-726630-4]

II (H–P) iv + 1544 [ISBN 978-0-19-726631-1]

III (Q–Z) iv + 1154 [ISBN 978-0-19-726632-8]

Whole set ISBN 978-0-19-726633-5


Holders of incomplete sets of the publication in fascicules may wish to note that copies of individual fascicules will remain available now only until existing stocks are exhausted.

Latin in Medieval Britain now on British Academy Scholarship Online

9780197266083Our companion volume Latin in Medieval Britain has now been added to British Academy Scholarship Online, to which many university and other libraries subscribe.

The introduction to the volume can be read without subscription on the OUP catalogue page.

Printed copies of the whole book are available from OUP.

We would be pleased to hear of any reviews of the book.

Latin in Medieval Britain: Part III

Part III of Latin in Medieval Britain examines the relationship of Latin in Britain to the chief local native spoken languages, English, French, and Welsh. Here are the abstracts of the chapters in this part.

10. ‘Go and look in the Latin books’: Latin and the Vernacular in Medieval Wales

Paul Russell

In one form or another Latin and Welsh have co-existed and interacted in Wales from the Roman period onwards: whether in the quasi-charters of the Lichfield/Llandeilo Gospels, Braint Teilo ‘The Privilege of Teilo’ in the Book of Llandaf, the verse of the family of Sulien in Llanbadarn, the lament for the Lord Rhys in the Peniarth 20 Brut, the various chronicles, or the laws of Hywel Dda (the last two preserved in both Latin and Welsh). This chapter explores some consequences of that co-existence, and in particular how in some contexts medieval Welsh became distinctively Latinate and how in certain respects the Latin of medieval Wales arguably became Cambricized.

keywords: Wales, Welsh, the Lord Rhys, Boethius, Ovid, medieval Welsh law, Cronica de Wallia, Brut y Tywysogion

11. Official and Unofficial Latin Words in 11th- and 12th-Century England

Richard Sharpe

The terminology of official documents in England changed with the Norman Conquest, and this chapter focuses on the words used for ealdorman, earl, and count, thegn and baron, sheriff and reeve, and shire during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Unofficial texts sometimes preferred not to use the official terms but drew instead on a more classical vocabulary, investing words with the specific connotations of the underlying terms for which they were substitutes. Words that carry such specific meanings are identified by using unofficial Latin translations of official documents in Old English, law tracts that translate or reflect Old English terms, and translations or reworkings of narrative sources in both languages. Examples of the unofficial vocabulary are then reviewed, and how far both the Dictionary and modern editions of texts have recognized their use is appraised. Such lexical substitution has not been treated as a semantic category by dictionaries, but the argument here shows how important it is to recognise it if one is to arrive at a true contextual understand of the words used in primary sources. The examples shed light on categories of office and rank across this period, and the argument will lead to much rethinking of how passages in the sources are understood. The linguistic implications extend beyond the words used to make the argument.

key words: Old English, medieval Latin, translation, substitution, lexicography

12. On Non-integrated Vocabulary in the Mixed-language Accounts of St Paul’s Cathedral, 1315–1405

Laura Wright

Accounts of institutions and private individuals between the Norman Conquest and about 1500 were routinely written in a non-random mixture of Medieval Latin, Anglo-Norman and Middle English—by non-random is meant that only certain parts of speech could appear in each language. If the base language was Medieval Latin, then only nouns, stems of verbs and certain semantic fields such as weights and measures could appear in English or French, with all the grammatical material in Latin and English and Anglo-Norman nouns, verbs and adjectives Latinised by means of adding a suffix, or an abbreviation sign representing a suffix. If the base language was Anglo-Norman, then, in the same way, only the same restricted semantic fields and nouns and stems of verbs could appear in English. This situation changed over time as do all languages in use, but was essentially stable for the best part of five hundred years. The chapter asks the question: why, if English words could easily be assimilated into a Latin or French matrix by means of suffixes or abbreviations representing suffixes, were all English words not so assimilated? Why did letter graphies such as wr-, -ck, -ght  persist in mixed-language business writing? One effect is to make the text-type of business writing very unlike any other genre—half a glance is all it takes to recognise a mixed-language business document and that may perhaps have been an advantage.

keywords: mixed-language business accounts, St Paul’s Cathedral, diamorphs, emblems, abbreviations, codeswitching, Medieval Latin, Middle English, Anglo-Norman

13. Anglo-Norman, Medieval Latin, and Words of Germanic Origin

David Trotter

This chapter examines words of Germanic origin found in the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources and considers them especially with respect to the relationship between three languages of medieval Britain, namely medieval Latin, middle English, and Anglo-Norman French. A detailed examination of numerous examples reveals complex routes of transmission of items from Germanic sources which demand consideration of multiple sources over many centuries. In particular, because of the way the vernaculars developed and the nature of the extant evidence, it is often the case that the earliest evidence for an English or French word is found in a Latin word. The circuitous and overlapping interaction between these languages can be seen very clearly in the example of warda, and the discussion shows, by reference to the theory of etimologia prossima and etimologia remota, how the Latin word must be analysed with regard both to etymology and semantics in order to reveal the different layers of influence at different stages of the word’s development in this multilingual society.

keywords: Anglo-Norman, Germanic, etymology, language contact, semantics

14. The DMLBS and the OED: Medieval Latin and the Lexicon of English

Philip Durkin and Samantha Schad

This chapter explores and illustrates the ways in which the DMLBS enriches English lexicography, concentrating on use of data from the DMLBS in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED3) currently in progress. Data from the DMLBS has often provided a Latin etymon in instances where the OED previously gave a starred form or derived a word directly from its constituent Latin or English elements. It also often provides evidence for Latin words which probably acted as intermediaries in borrowings ultimately from Greek or Arabic. In each of the major classes of borrowings—words borrowed from Latin with some degree of morphological naturalisation, words borrowed without such naturalisation, and semantic loans—evidence from the DMLBS has enriched huge numbers of OED etymologies, typically allowing etymologies to cite Latin forms supported by glosses and dates of first attestation in British sources. In many cases it is uncertain whether the immediate donor or source was Latin or French (typically Anglo-Norman), or perhaps both; the circumstances of trilingual late medieval English society must be taken into account in assessing the data. It is often unclear whether vernacular words embedded in Latin documents show French or English words, and, indeed, the procedures of the printed editions of many of the everyday records in which such evidence occurs often leaves uncertainty as to whether a Latin word (i.e. with Latin inflections) or an embedded vernacular item occurs in a particular location. Editors of the dictionaries of all of the languages of medieval England need to tread warily in using and interpreting such evidence.

keywords: English, lexicography, etymology, borrowing, morphological naturalisation

15. Making the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources

David Howlett

The chapter considers the making of the Dictionary, expansion of the bibliography and refining of etymological and lexicographical conventions, with illustrations of ways in which presentation of origins and meanings of words improved with progress through the lexicon.

keywords: Latin, lexicography, etymology

You can read about the chapters in Part I here and the chapters in Part II here.

Latin in Medieval Britain: Part II

Part II of Latin in Medieval Britain examines aspects of the use of Latin in Britain in different contexts and genres. Here are the abstracts of the four chapters in this part.

6. The Latin of the Early English Common Law

Paul Brand

A distinctive feature of the English royal courts created in the last quarter of the twelfth century was that they kept a full record of their business in Latin and the clerks who did this developed a distinctive vocabulary to translate the Anglo-Norman French they heard in court. This paper looks at some of that lexical store: the development of specific terms for litigants and their representatives and justices; for the writs for initiating litigation and to secure the appearance of opponents; for the plaintiff’s claim or complaint and the defendant’s defence; for the modes of proof and judgment. The paper concludes with a more detailed examination of the specific terminology of a single action (of replevin) which allowed someone whose property had been taken in distraint to challenge the justice of that distraint.

keywords: early English Common Law, medieval Latin lexicography, judges, legal profession, litigation, unjust distraint

7. English Music Theory in Medieval Latin

Leofranc Holford-Strevens

Medieval English music theory, almost always expressed in Latin, though not isolated from Continental—in particular French—developments, has a strong tendency to resist them and go its own way in both language and content; moreover, despite the early establishment of the name proprius cantus (‘properchant’) for the natural hexachord, it is more characteristically marked by divergence from one writer to another, so that even when doctrines are compatible the same thing may be called by different names and the same name may be applied to different things. This chapter studies the variations in conception, notation, and terminology exhibited in the works of numerous English authors from the 13th to the 16th centuries, noting differences from the far more standardised French Ars nova associated with the names of Philippe de Vitry and Jean des Murs.

key words: Ars nova, Jean des Murs, music theory, notation, Philippe de Vitry, proprius cantus

8. Latin in Ecclesiastical Contexts

Carolinne White

The murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 and its aftermath provide the starting point for a brief survey of various genres of Latin writing associated with the church and its administration in Britain over subsequent centuries. These genres include letters, biographical works, chronicles, miracle accounts, sermons, verse, charters, wills, accounts, registers, customaries and liturgy. These serve to demonstrate many varieties of style and developments in vocabulary and syntax, including examples where Latin was affected by contact with the vernaculars. They not only provide insights into life on different social levels, both within and outside the church, but also provide evidence that church Latin was able to adapt to new developments while working within a rich tradition.

keywords: Thomas Becket, church, letters, chronicles, biography, miracles, wills, charters, accounts, customaries, spoken Latin

9. The Introduction of Arabic Words in Medieval British Latin Scientific Writings

Charles Burnett

Latin was the key language for scientific discourse in writing in medieval Britain. It frequently had need of new terminology to capture new developments within the various fields. Arabic sources were important in the period for both ideas and terminology. This article discusses the stages by which Arabic words were assimilated into Latin, from being strange foreign words to becoming familiar Latin terms, and addresses the question of at what stage they should be included in a Latin dictionary.

keywords: Arabic, Latin, British Latin, transliteration, calque, lexicography

Read about the chapters in Part I here and the chapters in Part III here.