An Introduction to Early Modern English

An Introduction to Early Modern English

An Introduction to Early Modern English

An Introduction to Early Modern English

Synopsis

An introduction to Early Modern English, this book helps students of English and linguistics to place the language of the period 1500-1700 in its historical context as a language with a common core but also as one which varies across time, regionally and socially, and according to register. The volume focuses on the structure of what contemporaries called the General Dialect - its spelling, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation - and on its dialectal origins. The book also discusses the language situation and linguistic anxieties in England at a time when Latin exerted a strong influence on the rising standard language. The volume includes:
• The major changes in English from the 15th to the 18th century
• Emphasis on long-term linguistic developments
• Sources for the study of Early Modern English
• Illustrations ranging from drama and personal letters to trials and early science
• Exercises encouraging further exploration of the changing English language.

Excerpt

Early Modern English provides the modern student with much ampler textual and metalinguistic materials than any earlier period. For the first time, we have contemporary analyses of the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary of English, and can read descriptions of its regional and social varieties in teaching manuals and textbooks of different kinds. All this information is valuable in that it gives the modern reader and researcher a window on the period and its linguistic concerns.

Precious though this contemporary metalinguistic evidence may be, it is not enough to provide a detailed picture of the language of the period. There are several reasons for this. The material that has come down to us is often insufficient, or it may be conflicting and therefore hard to interpret, especially where phonetic details are concerned. Early Modern English pronunciation was typically discussed by teachers and spelling reformers, who did not have the use of an International Phonetic Alphabet, but had to devise their own transcription conventions. In an age without recording equipment and no one standard pronunciation this was a great challenge.

The problem faced by early English grammarians was quite the opposite. There was a grammar model that was in common use throughout Europe, the traditional teaching grammar based on Latin. It was this model that Early Modern English schoolboys were taught in grammar schools, where they studied the classical languages. It also provided the framework that English grammarians followed in their first descriptions of their mother tongue. But as English was grammatically different from an inflectional language like Latin, the exercise often proved artificial, introducing non-existent categories and contrasts into descriptions of English, while at the same time omitting relevant grammatical distinctions. Section 2.3 will discuss and illustrate some of these grammars. Latin also contributed prominently to the first monolingual English dic-

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