Despite the absence of holographs, we can ascertain with some assurance the poet’s native dialect. Biographical evidence indicates that the poet was born in Shropshire, spent part of his youth in Malvern, and later lived in London. This evidence can be corroborated by (1) linguistic forrns determined by rhyme or alliteration, (2) the dialectical distribution of surviving copies of PPl, and (3) the detection of “relicts” (forms belonging to earlier layers of copying and potentially archetypal or authorial). From (1) it can be seen that (i) WL’s alliteration requires “heo” more frequently than “sche” or “scheo,” restricting provenance to western and southern dialects and excluding London. Also (ii) “ar(e)n” is alliterated as well as forms in “b-” (“beþ,” “ben” etc.). This restricts provenance to the W. Midlands only. Moreover, (iii) /f/ is voiced to /v/. When combined with (i) and (ii), this evidence points to Herefordshire and southwest Worcestershire. Finally, (iv) alliteration of “h-” with initial vowels excludes Herefordshire. As for (2), while the A and B manuscripts offer little of value concerning dialectal distribution, virtually all C manuscripts show strong southwest Midland features. Furthermore, “relict” evidence (3) from B manuscripts R and L confirms that the archetypal dialect of the B and C versions was that of southwest Worcestershire. Reconstructing WL’s dialect could best be achieved by adopting X (C-version manuscript) and modifying it in a conservative direction.
MAE 54 (1985): 232-47.
Samuels, M. L.