A path from worthiness in Anglo-Saxon period to nobility and chivalric valour in Middle English

Abstract: 

The paper explores interrelations between historical, cultural and socially biased mechanisms, affecting the conceptualization of a noble man, and, consequently, the way they were reflected in language. The semantic development of words, belonging to the lexical-semantic category of nobility, is traced from Old English period to Middle English on an extended corpus of texts and lexicographic data. The article focuses on the use of the older words in novel contexts and the appearance of both novel words and meanings at the stage when Middle English succeeded Old English. This marked the substitution of æðel by noble, ousting worthy to the periphery, as well as a considerable rearrangement and expansion of meanings with regard to words belonging to the category of nobility in English and the emergence of a class of words with similar meanings. The adjectives worthy and gentle also established new positions within the “nobility” category, undergoing transformations. We show that once the conceptual domain of “knighthood” was fully developed in real life and in fiction in the 13th – 15th centuries, it triggered large-scale semantic shifts caused by cultural and social changes.

Key words: 

English language, lexico-semantic changes, notional category, re-categorization, socio-cultural factors.

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