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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 12, 2012

Dialect and Word Choice in Old English: Two Case Studies with Old English Perception Verbs

Thomas Klein


This article examines the textual distribution of two sets of Old English verbs, hrepian versus hrīnan (‘to touch’), and frēdan versus fēlan (‘to feel’). In both pairs, their etymologies reveal cognates that are widely distributed in Germanic languages, and their range of meanings in Old English show a close synonymy, suggesting that they fulfilled similar semantic needs within larger semantic fields. However, while their distribution in Late West Saxon texts and elsewhere seem to conform to a Winchester (or Ælfrician) vs. non-Winchester pattern, the presence of frēdan in Early West Saxon is a marked variation from the norm. The article thus suggests that the distribution of these verb pairs reflects genuine dialectal variation (rather than deliberately selected linguistic forms), thereby giving evidence of speech divisions that vary from traditionally recognized dialectal areas. The behavior of these verbs may also illustrate the need for a more nuanced description of the nature of the ‘Winchester vocabulary’.

Published Online: 2012-12-12
Published in Print: 2012-11

© 2012 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co.