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Language Myths and the History of English$
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Richard J. Watts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327601.001.0001

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Breaking the unbroken tradition

Breaking the unbroken tradition

(p.53) Chapter 3 Breaking the unbroken tradition
Language Myths and the History of English

Richard J. Watts (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The second major myth, the “myth of the unbroken tradition”, is the focus of Chapter 3 and it is closely associated with the establishment of an ancient pedigree for English. The unbroken tradition myth, considered discursively, is the myth of an unbroken discourse archive. The argument in this chapter is that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, rather than representing continuity, display clear signs of discursive transformation up till the accession of Henry II to the throne of England in 1154. The transformation, particularly after the reign of Æthelred II, is revealed in a marked increase in inscribed orality, which reaches its peak in the Second Continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle. The final break in the discourse archive of Anglo-Saxon England is marked by a temporary halt in vernacular chronicle writing and a political break in the process of law-making, in both of which a significant shift occurs from written English to Latin and Anglo-Norman French.

Keywords:   Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, inscribed orality, unbroken tradition myth, archive breakdown, discursive transformation, law-making

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