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The kings of Britain did not speak the language of the people until the early fourteen hundreds. Slowly, Norman French was used less and less until it disappeared. The English language was strongly influenced by an event that took place more than one thousand four hundred years ago. In the year five ninety-seven, the Roman Catholic Church began its attempt to make Christianity the religion of Britain.

The language of the Catholic Church was Latin.

The Development of Early Modern English

Latin was not spoken as a language in any country at that time. But it was still used by some people. Latin made it possible for a church member from Rome to speak to a church member from Britain. Educated people from different countries could communicate using Latin. Latin had a great affect on the English language. Here are a few examples. So do some medical words such as cancer. English is a little like a living thing that continues to grow. English began to grow more quickly when William Caxton returned to Britain in the year fourteen seventy-six. He had been in Holland and other areas of Europe where he had learned printing.

He returned to Britain with the first printing press. The printing press made it possible for almost anyone to buy a book. It helped spread education and the English language. Slowly, during the fifteen hundreds English became the modern language we would recognize. English speakers today would be able to communicate with English speakers in the last part of the Sixteenth Century. It was during this time period that the greatest writer in English produced his work.

His name was William Shakespeare.


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His plays continue to be printed, acted in theaters, and seen in motion pictures almost four hundred years after his death. Yet every sound of his words can produce word pictures, and provide feelings of anger, fear, and laughter. The story of the power hungry King Richard the Third is another very popular play by Shakespeare. Three small British ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean in sixteen-oh-seven. They landed in an area that would later become the southern American state of Virginia. Many other consonants ceased to be pronounced at all e.


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The English of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the late 16th and early 17th Century, on the other hand, would be accented, but quite understandable, and it has much more in common with our language today than it does with the language of Chaucer. The additions to English vocabulary during this period were deliberate borrowings, and not the result of any invasion or influx of new nationalities or any top-down decrees.

Latin and to a lesser extent Greek and French was still very much considered the language of education and scholarship at this time, and the great enthusiasm for the classical languages during the English Renaissance brought thousands of new words into the language, peaking around A huge number of classical works were being translated into English during the 16th Century, and many new terms were introduced where a satisfactory English equivalent did not exist. Words from Latin or Greek often via Latin were imported wholesale during this period, either intact e.

Sometimes, Latin-based adjectives were introduced to plug "lexical gaps" where no adjective was available for an existing Germanic noun e. Examples of inkhorn terms include revoluting , ingent , devulgate , attemptate , obtestate , fatigate , deruncinate , subsecive , nidulate , abstergify , arreption , suppeditate , eximious , illecebrous , cohibit , dispraise and other such inventions.

Sydney Smith was one writer of the period with a particular penchant for such inkhorn terms, including gems like frugiverous , mastigophorus , plumigerous , suspirous , anserous and fugacious , The so-called Inkhorn Controversy was the first of several such ongoing arguments over language use which began to erupt in the salons of England and, later, America. Among those strongly in favour of the use of such "foreign" terms in English were Thomas Elyot and George Pettie; just as strongly opposed were Thomas Wilson and John Cheke. However, it is interesting to note that some words initially branded as inkhorn terms have stayed in the language and now remain in common use e.

An indication of the arbitrariness of this process is that impede survived while its opposite, expede , did not; commit and transmit were allowed to continue, while demit was not; and disabuse and disagree survived, while disaccustom and disacquaint , which were coined around the same time, did not. It is also sobering to realize that some of the greatest writers in the language have suffered from the same vagaries of fashion and fate.

There was even a self-conscious reaction to this perceived foreign incursion into the English language, and some writers tried to deliberately resurrect older English words e. Most of these were also short-lived. John Cheke even made a valiant attempt to translate the entire "New Testament" using only native English words.

However, this perhaps laudable attempt to bring logic and reason into the apparent chaos of the language has actually had the effect of just adding to the chaos. Whichever side of the debate one favours, however, it is fair to say that, by the end of the 16th Century, English had finally become widely accepted as a language of learning, equal if not superior to the classical languages. Vernacular language, once scorned as suitable for popular literature and little else - and still criticized throughout much of Europe as crude, limited and immature - had become recognized for its inherent qualities.

As mass-produced books became cheaper and more commonly available, literacy mushroomed, and soon works in English became even more popular than books in Latin. At the time of the introduction of printing, there were five major dialect divisions within England - Northern, West Midlands, East Midlands a region which extended down to include London , Southern and Kentish - and even within these demarcations, there was a huge variety of different spellings.

For example, the word church could be spelled in 30 different ways, people in 22, receive in 45, she in 60 and though in an almost unbelievable variations. The "-eth" and "-th" verb endings used in the south of the country e. The Chancery of Westminster made some efforts from the s onwards to set standard spellings for official documents, specifying I instead of ich and various other common variants of the first person pronoun, land instead of lond , and modern spellings of such , right , not , but , these , any , many , can , cannot , but , shall , should , could , ought , thorough , etc, all of which previously appeared in many variants.

Chancery Standard contributed significantly to the development of a Standard English, and the political, commercial and cultural dominance of the "East Midlands triangle" London-Oxford-Cambridge was well established long before the 15th Century, but it was the printing press that was really responsible for carrying through the standardization process.

With the advent of mass printing, the dialect and spelling of the East Midlands and, more specifically, that of the national capital, London, where most publishing houses were located became the de facto standard and, over time, spelling and grammar gradually became more and more fixed.

IMAGE Early printing was a very labour-intensive process from EHistLing Some of the decisions made by the early publishers had long-lasting repercussions for the language. One such example is the use of the northern English they , their and them in preference to the London equivalents hi , hir and hem which were more easily confused with singular pronouns like he , her and him. Caxton himself complained about the difficulties of finding forms which would be understood throughout the country, a difficult task even for simple little words like eggs.

But his own work was far from consistent e. Many of his successors were just as inconsistent, particularly as many of them were Europeans and not native English speakers. Sometimes different spellings were used for purely practical reasons, such as adding or omitting letters merely to help the layout or justification of printed lines. A good part of the reason for many of the vagaries and inconsistencies of English spelling has been attributed to the fact that words were fixed on the printed page before any orthographic consensus had emerged among teachers and writers. It is only since the archaic spelling was revived for store signs e.

Ye Olde Pubbe that the "modern" pronunciation of ye has been used. As the Early Modern period progressed, there was an increased use of double vowels e. The letters "u" and "v", which had been more or less interchangeable in Middle English , gradually became established as a vowel and a consonant respectively, as did "i" and "j". The grammarian John Hart was particularly influential in these punctuation reforms. Standardization was well under way by around , but it was a slow and halting process and names in particular were often rendered in a variety of ways.

But, in , William Tyndale printed his New Testament, which he had translated directly from the original Greek and Hebrew. By the time of his death he had only completed part of the Old Testament, but others carried on his labours. It appears to be deliberately conservative, even backward-looking, both in its vocabulary and its grammar, and presents many forms which had already largely fallen out of use, or were at least in the process of dying out e. The "-eth" ending is used throughout for third person singular verbs, even though "-es" was becoming much more common by the early 17th Century, and ye is used for the second person plural pronoun, rather than the more common you.

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Matthew in the Wycliffe, Tyndale and Authorized versions respectively gives an idea of the way the language developed over the period:. Matthew Ch. Much of its real power, though, was in exposing the written language to many more of the common people. Several other dictionaries, as well as grammar, pronunciation and spelling guides, followed during the 17th and 18th Century.

Johnson also deliberately omitted from his dictionary several words he disliked or considered vulgar including bang , budge , fuss , gambler , shabby and touchy , but these useful words have clearly survived intact regardless of his opinions. A number of seventeenth-century poets imitated Spenser, although they did not always use his archaic and dialectal words correctly. Even errors, however, played a part in the formation of poetic vocabulary: derrynge do derring do n.

An eloquent language was one which made use of the devices of classical rhetoric. Rhetoric, originally referring to the art of public speaking, had come to be applied to literature in general.

Changes in Language : Early Modern English

It was a normal part of the study of Latin and was carried over by educated writers into their use of English. The figures of rhetoric covered a wide range of literary devices and their presence in a work was noticed and praised. Back to top Regulation and spelling reform The classical languages, not being current spoken languages, do not change, and can therefore be described by a set of fixed grammatical rules.

This was frequently regarded as the ideal condition of a language. From Jonsons time to ours, it [English] has been in a continual declination. John Dryden Defence of the Epilogue Dryden criticizes Ben Jonson himself for such mistakes as placing a preposition at the end of a sentence and using the plural ones. This desire for regulation was to some extent met by the expansion of the number and coverage of dictionaries and by the development of English grammars, most of which, however, were modelled on grammars of Latin and had very little to say about sentence structure.

For more on this see the related article on grammar in early modern English. The Restoration period also saw the beginnings of criticism of affected vocabulary, focusing initially on the adoption of French expressions. We meet daily with those Fopps, who value themselves on their Travelling, and pretend they cannot express their meaning in English, because they would put off to us some French Phrase of the last Edition. Dryden, Defence Between about and there was a movement for spelling reform in England. Early advocates were Sir John Cheke see above and Sir Thomas Smith, who as classical philologists were conscious of the disparity in spelling between English and Latin.

John Hart produced three works on the subject between and and proposed a phonetic spelling system using a number of additional symbols. In opposition to this approach, Richard Mulcaster above advocated only mild reform, and there are very few improvements in his word-lists when compared with modern spelling.

For more, see early modern English pronunciation and spelling. Manuscripts were collected and Old English texts published. The first Old English dictionary edited by William Somner appeared in and the first grammar of the language edited by George Hickes in The original motivations for the undertaking were mixed: either to demonstrate the continuity of the Church of England, to show that the English legal system descended from Anglo-Saxon law, or to support the cause of biblical translation.

Nevertheless it had the effect of introducing a historical understanding of the English language and paved the way for later etymological and philological investigation. At the same time the seventeenth-century scientific movement, heralded pre-eminently by Francis Bacon, had the effect of establishing English finally as an adequate medium of technical writing in place of Latin. It also led to the cultivation of a plain style of writing, without the use of the devices of rhetoric. Bacon, who wrote in both English and Latin, himself criticized the valuing of style above matter.

His followers carried the attack much further. The Royal Society, according to its historian, Bishop Thomas Sprat, was to be praised for correcting stylistic excesses in writing. How do I search for these? With subscriber access to the OED Online you can search for entries by date, usage, origin, region, and subject using the Advanced Search option.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press. Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor, OED. Find Out More Continue.

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Boundaries of time and place The early modern English period follows the Middle English period towards the end of the fifteenth century and coincides closely with the Tudor — and Stuart dynasties. Richard Carew, The Survey of Cornwall Wales was integrated administratively and legally into England by parliamentary acts of and ; the former made English the only language of the law courts and excluded those who used Welsh from any public office in Wales.

Attitudes to English Early in the period, English was frequently compared unfavourably as a literary language with Latin. The inferiority of English was often explained in terms of the mixed origin of its vocabulary.

Vocabulary expansion The vocabulary of English expanded greatly during the early modern period. Archaism and rhetoric The poet Edmund Spenser was the leading proponent of the use of archaic and dialectal words, especially in The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene Regulation and spelling reform The classical languages, not being current spoken languages, do not change, and can therefore be described by a set of fixed grammatical rules.

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