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AHRC South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership: Collaborative Doctoral Award: French Influence on the English Legal Language of the Chancery in the First Half of the Fifteenth Century

Project Description

The AHRC South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership 2 (SWW-DTP2) invites applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Award. For more information please visit the SWW-DTP 2 site at

The documents from the late medieval Chancery (the governmental secretariat) have been scrutinised by linguists mainly in relation to the standardisation of English, as the influence of their linguistic features on this process and their interaction with urban vernaculars of major regional centres is still unclear. However, these documents remain to be explored with regard to the interface between French and English linguistic practices, an approach that has borne much fruit in literary texts (e.g. Jefferson & Putter 2013).

The government was at the core of medieval England’s multilingual culture. While administrative processes had been dominated by French and Latin for most of the post-Conquest period, English started to assert itself as a language of government administration in the late fourteenth century. As scribes switched to English, they imported into their mother tongue many of the same legal phrases and words that they had used when writing these same kinds of documents in French. Durkin (2014) has shown that most French loanwords entered the English language between 1350 and 1500, but no work has been done on the contribution to this process by the switch from French to English in government administration. This project aims to explore the lexical debts to French legal practices in early fifteenth-century Chancery documents. Thus, the project will bring together historical linguistics, historical sociolinguistics and the understanding of the mechanics of government; and will further complement and advance current work on the interaction between the two languages in specific lexico-semantic domains.

Research questions:
• The main research question of the project is: What is the French lexical basis of fifteenth-century governmental English?

This question is, in turn, related to a number of further questions:
• To what extent can we still see the contribution of Anglo-Saxon legal terminology in these fifteenth-century texts?
• Are there specific areas of government that are particularly prone to borrowing or retention of traditional terminology? If so, what can this tell us about the mechanics of government?
• How can fifteenth-century Chancery documents help us understand the multilingualism of late-medieval England and vice-versa?

The supervisory team:
Home supervisor: Dr Sara M. Pons-Sanz, Cardiff University ()
Co-supervisor: Prof. Ad Putter, University of Bristol ()
Non-HEI supervisor: Dr Paul Dryburgh, The National Archives ()

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a first or strong upper second-class honours degree in a relevant field, and should normally have, or be studying for, a Master's degree or similar postgraduate qualification.The studentship award commences in October 2020 covering tuition fees and a maintenance grant at the RCUK-rate. Normal residency requirements apply.

Interested applicants should firstly email the project supervisors, copied to SWW DTP2 hub (), to discuss the project and develop an application to be considered by the supervisors, before formally submitting a full application to the SWW-DTP2 by 11.59 p.m. on 27 January 2020. For further information see View Website


Durkin, P. Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English (Oxford, 2014)
Fischer, John H. ‘Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century’, Speculum 52 (1977): 870-99
Jefferson, J., and A. Putter (eds). Multilingualism in Medieval Britain (c. 1066-1520): Sources and Analysis (Turnhout, 2013)

How good is research at Cardiff University in English Language and Literature?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.01

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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