Broken English: Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings

Synopsis

The 'triumph of English' in the Renaissance - the success of efforts to advance the status of English over Latin and the continental vernaculars - has long been considered the major linguistic event of the period. Too often, Paula Blank argues, this has obscured the fact that English itself was divided by internal contests.By investigating the ways that early modern writers represented dialects, Blank reveals how 'English' itself was a construct of the Renaissance, produced by discriminations made among alternative 'Englishes' then current. Blank shows how the idea of dialect conditioned the production of reform, and then examines how Renaissance literature became a major arena for competing Englishes of the period. Renaissance authors such as Spenser, Shakespeare and Jonson, Blank argues, produced the idea of a national language, variously known as 'true' English or 'pure' English or the 'King's' English, by distinguishing its dialect - and sometimes by creating those dialects themselves. Broken English shows how the Renaissance 'invention' of dialect helped forge modern alliances of language and cultural authority.