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PART III (Early Modern English)

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PART III (Early Modern English). Factors affecting the development of Early Modern English: printing (1476) spread of popular education improved means of communication growth of specialized knowledge (Latin became less and less the vehicle for learned discourse)

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(Early Modern English)

Factors affecting the development of Early Modern English:
  • printing (1476)
  • spread of popular education
  • improved means of communication
  • growth of specialized knowledge (Latin became less and less the vehicle for learned discourse)
  • self-consciousness about language (awareness of language standards; “language policy”)
Problems for modern European languages in the 16th c.:
  • scholarly recognition (i.e. in the fields where Latin had been used);

(2) establishment of a more uniform orthography;

(3) enrichment of the vocabulary

scholarly recognition of English:
  • translations from Greek and Latin
  • slavish imitation of Cicero
  • the Protestant Reformation
  • book market (English books sell more!)

At first, writers often justified choosing English over Latin in their scholarly works (see B&C: 207). By the close of the 16th c., various writers praised The Excellency of the English Tongue (Richard Carew, 1595).

(2) orthography

Various attempts at phonetic writing:

Thomas Smith’s (1568) Dialogue concerning the Correct and Emended Writing of the English Language (in Latin)

John Hart, An Orthographie (1569), A Method or Comfortable Beginning for All Unlearned, Whereby They May Bee Taught to Read English (1570)

William Bullokar, Booke at Large, for the Amendment of Orthographie for English Speech (1580)

Charles Butler, The English Grammar, or the Institution of Letters, Syllables, and Woords in the English Tung (1634)

The most important treatise on English spelling is:

Richard Mulcaster’s Elementarie (1582)

He doesn’t devise a new phonetic system but makes use of the letters already available in English. He pays attention to usage (which sometimes clashes with phonetic consistency) and analogy.

It is impossible to say how influential Mulcaster’s work was, though. To be sure, the tendency towards spelling uniformity increased steadily in the first half of the 17th c. Your book claims, rather controversially, that the modern system was practically settled by about 1650 (at least in the case of printed English).

(3) enrichment:

new words mainly from Latin, but also, French, Greek, Italian, Spanish

(sometimes it’s difficult to say whether a word came from Latin directly or via French)

Various people reacted against classical borrowings (even classical scholars such as “purist” Sir John Cheke), disparagingly referred to as “inkhorn terms” (e.g. by Sir Thomas Chaloner, translator of Erasmus’ Praise of Folly in 1549). Such words were often felt to be obscure (see Thomas Wilson’s 1553 Arte of Rhetorique, see B&C: 218-20).

Others defended classical borrowings. Among them are Dryden, Mulcaster, Sir Thomas Elyot, George Pettie and Bullokar.

By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the opposition to inkhorn terms had spent its force. The attack was then directed at the abuse of the procedure rather than the procedure itself.

‘Inkhorn’ terms advanced a ‘foreign’ English which was, above all, associated with an educated elite.
  • Thus, elite writers could mock those ‘guilty’ of malapropism – the misunderstanding of the new, Latinate English – and create class distinctions through language.
Some inkhorn terms:

democracy, encyclopedia, allusion; external, habitual, hereditary, impersonal, insane; adapt, assassinate, benefit, consolidate, disregard, emancipate, eradicate, erupt, excavate, exist, extinguish, harass, meditate

Remember that purists not only objected to inkhorn terms but also

oversea terms (words from French, Italian, Spanish)



By the 16th c., old (i.e. especially Middle English) words (from Chaucer) were often set as alternatives to inkhorn terms.
  • Even those who objected to such archaisms conceded that poets were allowed to use them.
  • Edmund Spenser’s (1552-1599) language is for example deliberately archaic.
  • Literary English emerged as a dialect in its own right, see Alexander Gil’s Logonomia Anglica (1619): “There are six major dialects: the general, the Northern, the Southern, the Eastern, the Western, and the Poetic.”
Western English was usually portrayed as the most “barbarous”, “rustic”, uneducated, as a kind of corrupted English.
  • Richard Carew (The Survey of Cornwall, 1602), by contrast, viewed the English spoken in Cornwall as the oldest, purest surviving descendant of the “Saxon, our natural language”.
The representations of northern English were more complex.
  • Comedy often prevails in the representations of northern provincialism.
  • But northern English also had its own (modest) literary tradition.
  • Further, it was also, at times, regarded as the most authentic of dialects because Old English words still survived in it.
  • The observation that elements of a language, long out of use in the standard written variety, survive in non-standard speech was first due to Lawrence Nowell. In 1565, he began to compile the first Old English dictionary, the Vocabularium Saxonicum.
The language of beggars and thieves (the ‘underworld’) was known as the ‘canting’ language (or ‘pedlar’s French’) and was first described by Thomas Harman in his A Caveat or Warening for Common Cursetors (1567). [Interestingly, glossaries of the canting language preceded the first English-English dictionaries!]
  • Cant was viewed as a sort of English mingled with other languages. For example, Thomas Dekker (1608) claims that many words were Latin in origin:

“As for example, they call a Cloake (in the Canting tongue) a Togeman, and in Latine, toga signifies a gowne, or an upper garment. Pannam is bread: and Panis in Lattin is likewise bread. Cassan is Cheese, and is a word barbarously coynde out of the substantiue Caseus which also signifies Cheese. And so of others.”

  • In fact, as Robert Greene suggested in 1591, cant is probably best viewed as a jargon: “If you maruail at these misteries and queynt words, consider, as tge Carpenter hath many termes familiar inough to his prentices, that other vunderstand not at al, so haue the[y].’
Dictionaries of hard words:

Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Words (1604)

John Bullokar, English Expositor (1616)

Henry Cockeram, English Dictionary (1623)

Thomas Blount, Glossographia (1656)

Edward Philipps, New World of Words (1658)

Nathaniel Bailey, Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721)  the first ‘real’ dictionary

Numerous Renaissance ‘English-English’ dictionaries specialize in the terms of arts and sciences.
  • For many writers, the ‘multicultural’ nature of Early Modern English was a ‘Babellish confusion’ (Carew). This led to the call, in the middle of the 17th c., for a language academy, see John Evelyn (1665):

“a Lexicon or collection of all the pure English words by themselves; then those which are derivative from others, with their prime, certaine, and natural signification ... all the technical words, especially those of the more generous employments ... a full catalogue of exotic words, such as are daily minted by our Logodaedalie ... and that it were resolved on what should be sufficient to render them current ... since, without restraining that same indomitam novandi verba licentiam, it will in time quite disguise the language.”

Some important grammatical changes in Early Modern English (see Nevalainen 2006 for more details):
  • Verbal ending –(e)s in place of –(e)th. It gained ground first in everyday speech and informal writings. This change is usually viewed as being due to language contact (e.g. immigration into London from the north).

(Remember also that –s is found occasionally in the 3rd personal plural.)

  • The spread of auxiliary do in affirmative sentences was well under way but suddenly came to a halt. This change has also been related to dialect contact.
  • The spread of you at the expense of thou illustrates a deferential practice being adopted in the private sphere.

(Remember also that the Nominative form ye was lost.)

The plural of nouns is consistently marked by –s but a few exceptions are found, e.g. Shakespeare’s eyen, shoon, kine.
  • the his-genitive:

ME stonis – ston his  stone’s

  • the group genitive:

the Wife of Bath’s Tale

the Wyves Tale of Bathe

Replacement of neuter genitive pronoun his with its (originally it’s). It gained acceptance rapidly towards the close of the 17th c. Some alternatives:

Two cubits and a half was the length of it (Bible)

nine cubits was the length thereof (Bible)

It lifted up it head (Shakespeare)

growing of the own accord (Holland)

The use of who as a relative pronoun.
  • Variation in the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives (e.g. more larger, most boldest)
  • Other features: double negatives, prepositions (see Companion)

time /ti:[email protected]//taIm/

green /gre:n//gri:n/

clean /klE:n//kli:n/

break /brE:k//breIk/

name /na:[email protected]//neIm/

loud /lu:d//laUd/

boot /bo:t//bu:t/

boat /bO:t//[email protected]/


2nd step raisings:

/E:/ > /e:/ > /i:/clean

  • (but great, break, steak)
  • /a:/ > /E:/ > /e:/ name
Simplifications of some ME diphthongs:

/EI/ > /E:/ > /e:/ day

/OU/ > /o:/ grow

/aU/ > /OU/ > /O:/ law

Further development of diphthongs:

/@I/ (or /eI/) > /EI/ > /aI/ time (ME /i:/)

/@U/ (or /oU/) > /OU/ > /aU/ loud (ME /u:/)

  • Lass (see Luick): close-mid vowel raising
  • McMahan: open-mid vowel raising
  • Stockwell and Minkova (see Jespersen): lowering and centralization of pre-existing diphthongs
  • Jespersen: close vowel diphthongization