Words, Words, Words … but what exactly is a 'word' in Anglo-Norman?

David Trotter


Anglo-Norman (and doubtless medieval French more generally) is characterized by a level of orthographical variation which can easily be a source of confusion to the modern reader, and of delirium-inducing exasperation to the modern lexicographer. Just as any one word can have a bewildering range of spellings, so the same spelling can be used for equally bewildering numbers of different words. It seems clear that orthography is not a means of determining word boundaries at all: the word unit is not defined formally but semantically (and sometimes etymologically). The implications of this go beyond lexicography and extend into the interpretation of texts and of the functioning of the language itself. This article draws on materials and experience gained during the compilation of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary to explore these issues.

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