Middle Dutch Sentence and Word Phonology Project

Introduction | Project objectives | People | Acknowledgements


Our knowledge of the linguistic systems of early Germanic comes from manuscripts. For Middle Dutch quite a few literairy manuscripts have been handed down and most of them were made available in excellent diplomatic editions, especially in the series  Middeleeuwse verzamelhandschriften uit de Nederlanden. One major manuscript that was never edited diplomatically is Ms.Marshall 29 from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. This manuscript is of special interest to linguists, since it is complete, written as a codicological unity, and relatively little studied. The manuscript dates back to around 1375 and contains texts by Jan van Boendale, Hein van Aken and Lodewijk van Velthem. It provides excellent material for the study of phonological changes that took place from Proto-Germanic to Modern Dutch since it is a good length (over 18.000 lines) and does not show signs of corruption. Written in rhyming verse the manuscript allows for drawing conclusions about prosody and quality and quantity changes based on metre and rhyme. Comparison to other manuscripts that were written earlier  (Lutgart) or slightly later (the Comburg manuscript) in the Middle Dutch period will help us establish more precisely when certain changes in the phonological system had taken place. We are especially interested in the Comburg manuscript, dated between 1380-1425, written in Flemish and fairly close to Marshall-29 in content. Since the dialects are different, varying changes in different social contact situations will be of special interest.

Pilot work on a three-month British Academy grant led to the realisation of the richness of the data available. It has set the stage for a comprehensive segmental phonological study, and more remarkably, an analysis of the sentence phonology of 14th century Dutch. This level of detail for a particular period of Middle Dutch has not been attempted so far.

Based on the analysis, we plan to put forward a comprehensive account of the triggers that initiate, and restrictions that constrain phonological changes. From a general theoretical perspective, we plan to provide a model which allows for the default mapping between phonological phrasing and word formation, and syntactic phrasing, and a story of the way in which these phrasing algorithms may alter in the course of time.

Project objectives

  1. Provide a full, diplomatic transcription of ms.Marshall 29 (Oxford, Bodleian Library) and make it accessible as an e-publication. The existing critical edition by Snellaert (Snellaert, F.A. 1869. Nederlandsche gedichten uit de veertiende eeuw van Jan Boendale, Hein van Aken en anderen. Brussel.)  no longer complies with modern linguistic requirements. Our transcription is meant for research into diachronic linguistic changes and is therefore a diplomatic edition. On the contents page, we provide a transcription with the original image. For searches across the whole text, an html version is provided in addition. Other Middle Dutch manuscripts will be used to help us establish the time frame of certain changes that took place from Proto-Germanic to Modern Dutch.
  2. On the basis of the transcription, provide a comprehensive synchronic analysis of 14th-century Middle Dutch sentence phonology ( including cliticisation, prosodic word formation and and prosodic phrasing) and trace the development to Modern Dutch.
  3. Analyse the segmental phonology of Middle Dutch and trace its development to Modern Dutch, with emphasis on both qualitative and quantitative aspects. By segmental phonology we also cover across-word as well as within-word phonological alternations.
  4. Analysis of the 14th century Middle Dutch vowel system, investigating quality and quantity changes from Proto-Germanic to Middle Dutch.


Principal Investigator: Prof.Aditi Lahiri (University of Oxford)

Research Associate and Text Editor: Dr.Johanneke Sytsema (University of Oxford)

External Consultant: Prof.Janet Grijzenhout (University of Konstanz)


A pilot study comprising a transcription of 10% of the manuscript and initial research into vowel changes and cliticisation, was partly funded by the British Academy (grant SG-54423). Based on the pilot study, a larger grant was awarded by AHRC (grant AH/I003754/1) which enabled us to provide a full diplomatic edition of Ms/Marshall 29 and conduct more in depth research. The Bodleian Library kindly provided the digital images of ms.Marshall 29.