Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

10

Women's writings asevidence for linguistic continuity and change in Early Modern English

Terttu Nevalainen

Honored Deare Brother,

You are, I see, resolved, I must never answer you in your owne language, tis pride enouf to understand itt; and equall comfort to find my stamering understood so well by you.

(CEEC, Tixall: 25; Winifred Thimelby to Herbert Aston, 1660s)

LOVELESS: Will you then make no difference, Amanda, between the Language of our Sex and yours? There is a Modesty restrains your Tongues, which makes you speak by halves when you commend; but roving Flattery gives a loose to ours, which makes us still speak double what we think:

(Vanbrugh 1697:25)


Introduction

The section heading 'The history of non-formal styles and registers in English' raises a number of questions to do with the reconstruction of the spoken language of the past. As audio recordings only go back a century or so, historical linguists' data sources are necessarily limited to written materials. With no direct access to even interviewed speech, let alone to the vernacular, 1 there are obvious problems in using written data sources to access the less formal end of the stylistic continuum at any given time. And the further back in time we go, the narrower the range necessarily becomes.

The history of the English language is therefore largely based on formal and/or literary texts. Until recently, most of these texts were produced by men, which makes the history of English to a great extent a male domain. There are only a few notable exceptions such as Henry Cecil Wyld's A History of Modern Colloquial English (3rd edn, 1936). Wyld basically assumed that people wrote as they spoke - except in the case of spelling. Spelling was standardised quite early and no longer reflected the actual pronunciation of English in Tudor and Stuart times. Looking for materials that could reveal the writer's pronunciation, Wyld has this to say about the sources best suited for studying the spoken word of the sixteenth century:

-191-

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