The Oxford History of the English Language

By Lynda Mugglestone | Go to book overview

10
ENGLISH IN THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY

Lynda Mugglestone


TRANSITIONS

‘EVERY age may be called an age of transition’, the novelist and statesman Edward Bulwer Lytton stated in 1833. Transitions have of course emerged as a significant topic in many chapters in this volume; as Lytton noted, ‘the passing-on, as it were, from one state to another never ceases’. Nevertheless, he made one important distinction for the nineteenth century alone. ‘In our age’, he added, ‘the transition is visible’.

For those who lived in the nineteenth century, this ‘visibility’ of change could hardly be denied. Industrialization and new patterns of transport transformed the British landscape at an unprecedented rate while, both directly and indirectly, language mapped and consolidated the advances being made. In dustrialism, according to the OED (itself one of the great achievements of the age) was first used in 1833; industrialize as a verb appeared in 1882. Urbaniza tion was later still, first being recorded in 1888, although its processes were widely apparently throughout the century; Manchester almost quadrupled in size between 1801 and 1871, Birmingham expanded by 73 per cent, and Leeds by 99 per cent. Countless acts of individual migration moreover underpinned these patterns of change, bringing a whole range of regional speakers into new (and unexpected) proximities as a result. Meanwhile, urbanize lost dominant eighteenth-century senses in which it had signified ‘To render urbane or civil; to make more refined or polished’. Instead, by association, it gradually assumed meanings with which modern speakers are more familiar: ‘The Government

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