This talk will explore the role of individual social actors and their communities and networks in the formation, maintenance and dissolution of linguistic norms. It will consider several standardisation episodes in the history of Old and Early Middle English and connect them to other unification processes in the political and cultural history of England at the time. It will be suggested that the suppression of variability on the linguistic level often accompanies, or is a symptom of, a similar suppression on the ideological level. Political, religious, legal, and linguistic processes mingle in various ways in this period (as they do today) to replicate and enhance the social order, to support a reform movement, or to refute dissent.
Three case studies will offer insights into these processes: 1) shire courts and the ‘standardised’ lexis of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the reign of King Alfred and Edward the Elder; 2) chancery norms and charters of the eleventh century; and 3) religious reform and linguistic focusing in the thirteenth century.