Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Linguistics (Interdepartmental Program)

First Advisor

Lyle Campbell


A significant factor in the rise of Standard English was the importance of London as a center of commerce and government, yet the foundation for Modern Standard English is not derived from the Southern dialects, which heavily influenced London in the late Old English and early Middle English period. The variety of English we speak and write today is derived mainly from the East Midland dialect and, to a lesser extent, the North in late Middle English. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the socio-historical causes behind this change in the distribution of features of the London dialect. This is accomplished by employing aspects of William Labov's sociolinguistic methodology, which are pertinent to a diachronic study. I argue that a combination of various social, economic, and historical factors are responsible for both increased mobility of the English population to the London area, resulting in a more north-eastern character for the London dialect; such events include the Great Famine, the Black Death, and the growth and expansion of trade and commerce in England. I compare a number of phonological, morphological, and lexical traits of the major regional dialects, including London, before the first major outbreak of famine and plague with the same dialects in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. I correlate the change in the distribution of linguistic features of the London dialect with the increased migration and mobility of the population due to the growth of commerce and catastrophic famine and plague. Thus, I conclude that the mobile population originating in the heavily populated regions of the East Midlands and the North, often escaping the hardships wrought by famine and plague and seeking to better their economic situation, brought their dialectal features into the London area. This thesis is an important contribution to socio-historical linguistics because it demonstrates that sociolinguistic studies, which typically examine synchronic or contemporary phenomena, can be undertaken in a historical setting. Furthermore, this thesis shows that socio-historical factors can be utilized in historical linguistic studies to help explain linguistic change by other than just internal or linguistic factors.