Title Background

Genealogical Terms in <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Genealogical Terms in Piers Plowman

Quantitative analysis of genealogical terms, i.e., words for blood and marital relationships in the A, B, and C versions of PPl, shows some eighty-seven nouns, adjectives, and verbs, mostly in English though eleven in Latin, used about 1156 times. There seems to be no significant difference in their meanings or importance from version to version. Comparing L’s use of this lexical set with standard Latin lists of kindred and with uses of genealogical terms in Chaucer, Gower, the Pearl Poet, and St. Erkenwald suggests that PPl uses such terms more than any other Middle English poet. He introduces eight genealogical terms into Middle English and is among the first users of fifteen other terms of this kind. Through these terms, physical kinship is emphasized much more than spiritual kinship; terms for the latter, like baptisme, baptize, and godfader, occur infrequently. The richness of genealogical terms creates a familiar world of people and conveys a vivid, detailed sense of personal and public life in a kynde society and universe, where animals, plants, and even God are spoken of in genealogical terms. (MCD)