Why the East Midland Dialect became the most influential of all the Midland Dialects during the Middle English Period?
(i) The northern group of dialects and the southern group of dialects represented the two extreme ends of the spectrum of divergence in Middle English. The east Midland dialect was the medial point of that spectrum of divergence. It was a compromise between the two extremes and was therefore acceptable and easily intelligible to people in all different areas.
(ii) The Midland area was considerably larger and more prosperous than any other dialect area of England. As Baugh and Cable (1972:192) have pointed out, the land in this area was “more valuable than the hilly country to the north and west and in an agricultural age this advantage was reflected in both the number and the prosperity of the inhabitants”.
The influence that a dialect has in society depends to a large extent on the influence of its users and as the inhabitants of the Midland region wielded a great deal of influence because of their prosperity, their dialect turned out to be more influential than the other dialects.
(iii) Perhaps the most important of all the factors was the silent but profound influence of the universities of Cambridge and Oxford located in the Midland area. These two universities were not that well-known during the Middle Ages but they had started playing an important role in determining the intellectual climate of the country. Wycliffe, who was on the staff of the University of Oxford, became known for his revolutionary ideas about religious reforms.
He and his followers translated the Bible into English and it was for the first time that the whole Bible was translated into English. This translation influenced all subsequent translations and in that sense operated like a strong but imperceptible seminal influence.
So, although there are differences of opinion regarding the magnitude of Wycliffe’s contribution, the significance of his contribution to the formation of a standard variety of English cannot be completely denied.
The medium of instruction in these universities was Latin and not English but the scholars engaged in scholastic studies in these universities used English for their day-to-day communication. It was in this day-to-day use in and around Oxford and Cambridge that the east Midland dialect acquired a great deal of vitality and also influence.