French was the medium of a great deal of official and private written communication in the British Isles in the later medieval period. This variety of French is often known as Anglo-Norman, Anglo-French, or insular French. This corpus uses the label Anglo-Norman, in keeping with the major published resources available (ANOH, AN dictionary, ANTS). It has left copious surviving materials and is of interest to students of language history for a variety of reasons, not least because it exemplifies traits of contact between languages, especially in word choice, grammar and - as far as we can tell from spelling forms - pronunciation.
For anyone wishing to carry out linguistic analysis on the use of Anglo-Norman as a routine means of communication among literate language users, a problem with existing print resources is that they have tended to focus on literary texts, especially verse. This may not represent aspects of more ordinary language use, especially where syntax and discourse analysis are concerned.
Wishing to create a resource that would overcome this difficulty, we have created a small corpus of Anglo-Norman personal correspondence, of about 150 personal letters written by users of Anglo-Norman in the later 13th and early 14th centuries. Scholars conventionally recognise that, of the types of written language available to us from historical periods, it is the genre of personal letters that comes closest to characteristics of vernacular language use. Writers were usually seeking above all to communicate a message, rather than being concerned with the stylistic form of what they were writing. There is a private addressee who was known to the writer, and hence there was a tendency towards a less formal register than would have been the case with a public audience. Correspondents were therefore probably less inclined to monitor their language in terms of any supra-vernacular norms.
Correspondence offers students of language history additional advantages. It is normally dated, or datable from internal evidence, so the period of the language’s history it represents can be securely established, as can the place where it originated. It usually exists in a single contemporary manuscript, rather than having been re-written by a later hand, perhaps with interference from another dialect. Literary texts of the medieval period, by contrast, are often hard to localise, or even to date securely, and may indeed represent a re-working of an original text, leaving it uncertain what period or region the language forms witnessed in the surviving manuscripts should be taken to represent.
The purpose of this resource is to make available examples of the use of insular French in the later medieval period, in domains outside the King’s court, where French is known to have been maintained and probably learnt as a native language, at least by the monarch. The selection of letters from within these sources has been made so as to eliminate those from and to members of the reigning royal family. It also excludes letters not written to a personal addressee or group of addressees.
At present, for reasons of copyright restrictions, the corpus happens to contain texts mainly originating from ecclesiastical writers, but in further versions it is hoped to include a wider range of sources.
Richard Ingham, September 2011
The ANCC was compiled from these sources:-