3.2. The Dialect of the Poems and of the Gawain-Poet

The native dialect of the Gawain-Poet must have been that of the northwest.  McIntosh locates the home region of the scribe (not the poet) who produced the Nero A.x manuscript near Holmes Chapel in eastern Cheshire, south of Manchester.  Others have located the dialect somewhat further north in Lancashire or east in Derbyshire.  The use of Old Norse vocabulary, particularly in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [WINNY92] (which is hardly likely to be scribal variation) and the frequent use of qu and qw in place of wh both suggest very strongly that the author came from somewhat farther north than the scribe.  Earlier etymological studies agreed that 8-10 percent of the words in the Nero A.x manuscript are of Old Norse origin:  Oakden [OAKDEN30] (vol. 1, pp.85-86), Gordon [GORDON53] (pp.97-106), Anderson [ANDERSON69] (p.73), [ANDERSON77] (p.108), Davis [DAVIS67] (pp.138-143), Vantuono [VANTUONO84] (vol.1, pp.373-374), whilst more recently Hinton [HINTON87] found only 5-6 percent.  In either case a significant proportion of the vocabulary of the Gawain-Poet has strong ties to Old Norse.  Duggan, in an attempt to distinguish between the dialect of the scribe and the Gawain-Poet, has argued that the Gawain-Poet came from somewhat further south than his scribe [DUGGAN97], which is hard to reconcile with the extensive use of Old Norse words.  Turville-Petre [TURPET77] discusses the origin of words in alliterative poetry of the fourteenth century is some detail, and almost all his examples from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight come from Old Norse and he notes the prevalence of Old Norse in the Lancahire and Cumberland area.[7]

The importance of a north western dialect is obviously very high, no-one could have written the poems unless that was his native dialect.  The family of James Cottrell originated in east Lancashire, on the northern banks of the Ribble around Goosnargh (from Old English, cnearr, origin, about four miles north-east of Preston, also Grimsargh and Cumeragh nearby), but spread locally in the thirteenth and the first decade of the fourteenth centuries, and appeared by about 1330 close to the boundary of south east Cheshire with north west Staffordshire at Horton, about 3 miles slightly north of east from Leek.  James Cottrell had close connections with both the area of Old Norse (Amounderness) and the area attributed to the scribe of the Nero A.x manuscript.  He certainly would have had a thorough grounding in the dialect of the north west.[8]

[7] The north west of England, particularly Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland and the extreme west of Cheshire were settled by Norse Vikings from Dublin and the Isle of Man from 900 onwards, in contrast to the somewhat earlier Danish settlers of 875 onwards in the south and east.  There is a dense concentration of parish and settlement names of Norse origin in the Bowland Forest area between Whalley and Lancaster, very few around the Cheshire-Staffordshire border, and none at all to the south west of a line between the Dee estuary and London [SWANTON98] (esp. the map on p.297).  The “snawe” had “snitered ful snart” (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2003) in the Whalley area for 450 years prior to the advent of the Gawain-Poet, and Athelstan only purchased Amounderness (roughly Lancashire between the Ribble and the Lune) from the “pagans” (vikings) about 930.  The largest Viking treasure hoard (dated to the first decade of the tenth century) ever discovered was found in 1840 [WHITAKER72] v.II p.336, in a long footnote extending to p.340, and [HIGHAM93] p.185) at Cuerdale on the south bank of the the Ribble about two miles east of Preston (about the limit of navigability by sea-going craft) and ten miles west of Whalley.

[8] An interesing possibility is the use of the word torre by the Gawain-Poet:  the word is from Old English, but was borrowed (one of the few) from the original celtic language.  It also migrated from celtic into the Portuguese lanaguage - the national records are held in the Torre do Tombo.