To begin with the familiar: Piers Plowman is loaded with Latin. There are Latin verses, Latin proverbs, and quotations from the Latin Bible. There are allegorical characters like Concupiscencia Carnis, one of Fortune's daughters, whose very names are in Latin, and there are scattered Latin words and phrases. Even the structural divisions of the poem, according to manuscript rubrication, bear the Latin title passus and not the native fit.
Linguistic history, like all history, is written retrospectively. It is written from some historical vantage that allows a critic to survey what has been previously spoken and written and to decide which forms are representative, which aberrant, which tangential, and which proleptic in the ways they figure in a coherent account of language change and development. While speakers use language to accomplish specific tasks in specific situations, historians assemble these utterances into moments of stasis and narratives of change. Classifying the (...) linguistic record in this way, language historians make possible large conceptualizations of a sort that typically eludes speakers in ordinary conversation. (shrink)