Language Contact in Early Modern English

Standardisation of English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2013 21 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Sociolinguistic Background of Early Modern English

3. Borrowing
3.1. Borrowing Factors
3.2. Donor Languages in the EME Period
3.3.1. Borrowings from Latin
3.2.2. Borrowings From French
3.2.3. Borrowings from Other Languages

4. Standardisation
4.1. The Beginning of a Standard Language
4.2. Chancery English
4.3. London English
4.4. Standardisation of Spelling
4.5. Inkhorn Terms and Linguistic Purism

5. Conclusion

Language Contact in Early Modern English

Standardisation of English

1. Introduction

The following term paper is based on the presentation hold in class. It deals with the sociolinguistic background, borrowing factors and the standardisation of the English language in Early Modern Period.

In former periods English came into contact with a lot of foreign languages like French, Latin, Greek and Scandinavian (Old Norse). In this Early Modern Period we will examine and understand how other languages influenced English, how intense the language contact was, which borrowing forms occurred at that time and what the consequences were. Does a Standard English arise from all these language contacts? Therefore, if we consider this time as a period of standardisation, it is important to know that the Early Modern Period plays an important role in standardisation of the English language in general.

The term paper is divided into three sections. The first one is about the sociolinguistic background of Early Modern English, the second part is about borrowing, borrowing factors and borrowings from other languages focusing mostly on Latin and French and finally the third part about standardisation. How was the Standard English born? Under which circumstances do we have reached the Early Modern Standard English? Then we will precede with the Chancery- and London English and come finally to an end with inkhorn terms versus linguistic purism.

2. Sociolinguistic Background of Early Modern English

The Early Modern English period, also called the Renaissance, the rebirth of the Antic, is usually dated between 1500 and 1650. During this period of time historical events occurred not the way it was used to be like in Old and Middle English in form of battles, diseases and invasions but in the social sector like in printing, education, globalisation and the standardisation of the English language.

Thus, the former invasions of different languages in former periods and the inventions and progresses in the Early Modern Period lead in the competition between several languages to a result of the birth of a Standard English.

The most important fact was that Britain was the empire on which the sun never set. Therefore, London and its dialect were in the centre of a huge empire. Thus, the contacts between more countries lead to the exchange of new ideas and commodities brought into the mother country. Moreover, the expansion of the empire and intense global trade also enlarged the English vocabulary by words taken over from several parts of the world. The progress in the industry like the inventions of the steamship, railroad, automobile and the airplane resulted in language contact because people were brought together from different backgrounds and cultures. Additionally, the post office, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the movies, televisions and other electronic devices were also influential in the mixture of language at that time. So, by that way a global communicational network was build all over the world.

Another factor was the introduction of the first printing press in 1476 by William Caxton, which resulted the rapid spread of popular education and the growth of socialised knowledge. For instance, the number of books printed before 1500 reached an astonishing amount of 35,000. These books were mostly written in Latin, because Latin still had had a constant influence on English. But by 1640 over 20,000 books were published in English. The huge amount of books printed in English (or Latin) made it possible that the lower class had the chance to get to books, which were used to be reachable only for the upper educated class. So, the lower class also got the opportunity to get the education they longed for.

The invention of the printing press gave rise to the next factor: the spread of education. Now, education played a different role in everyman’s life and literacy was becoming much more common. So, it is clear to say that in Shakespeare's London at least one third of the population could at least read. The popular education as a result of the invention of the printing press had both its influence upon language and thought (Baugh & Cable 2002).

3. Borrowing

3.1. Borrowing Factors

A loan word or loanwords are words borrowed from donor languages to a recipient language. The progress is called borrowing. Now, we will take a closer look into borrowing types and shortly mention the difference between lexical and structural borrowing. Moreover, we will precede with several loanwords from different languages like Latin, Greek, French, etc. (Radford et al. 2009:224).

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Tab. 1: Types of Borrowing

After giving a short introduction to borrowing type's we may continue with the definition and difference of structural and lexical borrowings.

Lexical borrowing as it says itself is the adaptation of new words from a donor language and structural borrowing occurs when phonological, morphological and syntactic features are borrowed from another language. The most important factor that affects the borrowing progress is the intensity of contact. That means the closer the contact the more intensive is the structural and lexical borrowing. And the difference between both of them is that lexical borrowing only requires low intensity contact. Whereas structural borrowing requires more intense contact, as knowledge of the language is needed for the borrowing to occur. Another factor might be the prestige or power of a language (Kaufmann 1988).

3.2. Donor Languages in Early Modern English

However, there are a lot of languages, which affected the English language throughout different time of periods in history, we will focus on donor languages in Early Modern English.

It is known that the English language has a characteristic of borrowing words from abroad like French in Middle English. Even though French continues its influence on Early Modern English, we will start with the dominant source of borrowed words: the Latin. Afterwards we will precede with French and other languages.

3.2.1. Borrowings from Latin

During 1560 and 1670 it was attested that over half of the loanwords in the CED came from Latin. The morphological adaptation of loan words into the English morphological system occurred by resulting the loss of verbal inflection of loans. Nevertheless, there remained some Latin features such as the plural forms fungus: fungi, cactus: cacti/cactuses (Hogg and Denison 2010:257).In the following list English words of Latin origins are provided chronologically.



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language contact early modern english standardisation



Title: Language Contact in Early Modern English