English Language A2


Search For Stability

Date: Estimated between 1530 – 1660

Nearly half of new words coming into the English Language were borrowings from other cultures

There were many semantic changes and new meanings for old words

Many critics were concerned about the random growth of English and lack of standardization in spelling and grammar

Most people continued to write phonetically, while others observed the more classical settings of words

‘Swift’ proposed an Academy for English to standardize the language

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Johnsons Dictionary

Date: Completed in 1755

Contained over 40,000 words

Was similar to Bailey’s dictionary in 1721, which contained descriptions but no examples

Johnson’s dictionary was more sophisticated and discriminating with a wider range of selection

Johnson’s dictionary also included preliminaries with a short history of language and prosody – with exact quotes from authors

Johnson was threatened to be sued for his dictionary due to his opinionated definitions and prescriptive attitudes

His dictionary took him over 9 years to write, starting in 1746

Johnson had a larger range of ordinary words also

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Introduction to Modern English

Date: 18th Century

In 1774, the Pronouncing Dictionary of English was written

It showed how pronunciation, contemporary sound changes and major regional accents

Describes that we can understand words in our contemporary society – but syntax and meaning can confuse us

Example includes ‘Regard’ which was understood as a very strong sense of affection, like love

Also ‘Made her first essay’ instead of saying ‘Made her first attempt

Breakthrough in English Literature with Jane Austen writing Emma

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Introduction of America

Date: 2nd half of the 18th Century

Noah Webster wrote the American Standard Dictionary out of honor and practicality

His aims were to accommodate the written spoken language and recommended spellings

Words ending in OUR turned into OR i.e. color or favor in Webster’s Blue Backed Speller that Americans still use today

Dropping the ‘e’ at the end of the word never caught on in America

Webster introduced new scientific and technical terms in his dictionary of American Culture and Webster’s etymologies

The word ‘Americanisms’ was coined by John Witherspoon in his 1781 ‘Essay on English in America’

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Old English

Old English: 500 - 1100

  • Short, sharp words
  • Many words are now unrecognisable
  • Reliance on rhyme and rhythm 
  • Profusion of Y's
  • Evidence of Anglo-Saxon rules i.e. 'th'
  • Runes or runic looking letters
  • Words from Germanic, Celtic, Latin or Old Norse sources
  • OE inflections like -ian or -dom
  • Word order is noticeably different from Late Modern
  • No evidence of standardisation - more reliant on rhythms of oral tradition

Words derived from Old English:

  • Pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, this, that, those
  • Nouns: friend, husband, anger, window, cake, bull, dirt, sun
  • Adjectives: happy, cold, black, bloody, tight, low, ill
  • Verbs: can, shall, get, give, want, call... and Adverbs: while, when, where
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Middle English

Middle English: 1100 - 1500

  • Extra 'e' at the end of the word
  • Vowels not pronounced as they are today i.e. 'shew' for 'show' 
  • Lexical fields of courtly love or interest in religious thoughts with evidence of runes
  • Old English 'sc' was replaced with 'sch', '**' or 'sh'
  • Old English 'cw' replaced 'qu' 
  • Old English marked long vowels replaced by double vowels
  • U/V and I/Y still interchangeable 
  • French and Latin word sources
  • Lexical fields of church, administration, law, military, art and learning emerging
  • Old English words replaced by French equivilant
  • Plural nouns marked with '-s', '-es', or '-en' 
  • Word order still noticeably different but becoming easier to understand

Words of French Origin: Government: Government, court, state, city, citizen... Relationships: aunt, uncle, cousin, sir, madam...Food: dinner, supper, sauce, beef, sugar... Fashion: coat, dre**, button, bracelet, cotton... Recreation: dance, tennis, amusement, entertain, audience

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Early Modern English

Early Modern English: 1500 - 1700

  • Evidence of affixation and Latin words (violin)
  • Lexical fields of science and exploration
  • Many words recognisable but differently spelled, or undergone a semantic shift
  • Widening sources of words i.e. Spanish, Portugese, Indian, African etc. 
  • New coinages, frequent compounding, affixation, conversion, as interest in English is revived
  • Possessives marked '-es', '-ys' or '-'s' 
  • More evidence of comparitives and superlatives 'better', 'best' 
  • Combinations of archaic and Late Modern pronouns 'ye', 'you', 'thou', 'thee', 'your'
  • Possessive pronoun 'its' and relative pronoun 'who' introduced
  • Negatives formed differently to Late Modern 'I think not...' 
  • Prepositions make sense but are used differently to Late Modern 
  • Spelling still inconsistent
  • Creative use of language used frequently
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Modern English

Modern English: 1700 - 1900

  • Evidence of simplified spellings i.e. 'color' and 'check' instead of 'cheque'
  • Evidence of American English
  • British Empire and class divides give rise to new lexis
  • Wider variety of verb forms and tenses
  • Auxiliary 'do' now used for emphasis
  • Evidence of the subjunctive i.e. 'Alex enjoyed the movie more than Phil did'
  • Dictionary is invented and spelling starts to become more consistent
  • Spelling also now more similar to Late Modern
  • Evidence of prescriptive grammar 
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Late Modern English

Late Modern: 1900 - Present 

  • New vocabulary coming from military, political, media and recent technology
  • Rise in the use of slang, euphemisms, idions and rhetoric
  • Prepositions are used in familiar ways
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Bible Language

The 1st Bible that was translated into English was in 1526

William Tyndale was a leading figure throughout the period of protestant reform, and is known for his translation of the Bible into English. He was influenced by the work of Desiderius Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, and by Martin Luther. Tyndale's translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first to take advantage of the printing press, and of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. Tyndale's translation was deemed illegal and therefore he was strangled and burnt alive. However, during his life he came up with 257 idioms. 

The Authorized Version, known as the King James Bible, is an English translation of the Christian Bible by the Church of England. It began in 1604 and was completed in 1611. This was the 3rd official translation of the Bible into English. King James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England. The translation was done by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the church of England. 

Bible Idioms include: 'A leopard cannot change its spots', 'An eye for an eye', 'As white as snow', 'By the skin of your teeth' and 'Love of money is the root of all evil'. 

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Bible of King James

Key Facts of The King James Bible:

  • More copies have been made than any other book in the English language
  • There are 2 competing versions of the Bible - The Geneva Bible 1560 (which was drawn up from William Tyndale's translation) and The Bishops Bible 1568 (which was the base text for The King James Bible) 
  • The Geneva Bible was seen as pompous and the Bishops Bible was seen as 'too royal', hence why King James created his own version
  • There were ground rules when creating the K.J. Bible i.e. no language inaccessible to common people, must be as truthful and accurate as possible etc. 
  • 54 scholars were committed to the job but only 47 made the translation. Some of the scholars included an alcoholic, George Abbott and John Overall (whose wife left him for another scholar during the process - it was widely publicized) 
  • 6 subcommittees translated a part, then checked the other subcommittees translations
  • Visualizing the text was not allowed when finally being checked, only the ears - they wanted it to sound right and flow easily
  • There was a Wicked Bible of 1631, which printed 'Thou shall commit adultery' - the printers were then heavily fined
  • The K.J. Bible shipped more than 100 million copies within the 80 years of publication
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Shakespeare was one of the largest influences for the English Language. He has the most quoted words in the Oxford Dictionary and he is also the most quoted English speaking writer. 

At the time of writing his plays (roughly between 1589 and 1610) the English Language was in a flux. Shakespeare took lexis from different languages and incorporated them into his works. We still use his words today such as: champion, generous, blushing, addiction, blanket, countless, elbow, hint, gossip, lonely, secure and unreal. He invented over 1700 words. 

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Affixation: Adding affixes (prefixes of suffixes) to an existing word i.e. nation, nation-al, national-ise 

Compounding: 2 words are stuck together in their entirety to make a new word i.e. skateboard, gearhead, cross-trainer

Blending: 2 words are moulded together to form a new word, usually by sticking together the start and end of 2 words i.e. brunch, alcopop, electrocute, camcorder

Shortening: Chopping a bit off the end of a word i.e. bro, schizo, diss

Backformation: When you follow a regular rule for the formation of a word, and assume that all words that appear to be the same follow this rule. So language users form a new word by going backwards in the rule i.e. Revision = Revise+ion

Conversion: Changing a word class, (from a noun to a verb or a verb to a noun) i.e. to veg out or laugh (noun) 'she is a right laugh'

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Neologisms - Part 2

Coinage: The creation of words that are completely new and have not derived in any other way from other words

Borrowing: Occurs when words are taken from other languages a.k.a. loan words i.e. soprano (Italian), prince (French), lager (German) and alcohol (Arabic)

Initialisms: Words are abbreviated to their initial letters, but the resulting set of letters is not pronounced as a word i.e. MP (Member of Parliament), CD (compact disk) or BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

Archaisms: Words and phrases that become obsolete. Shakespeares plays are full of them i.e. enow (enough), forsooth (in truth) and bark (ship) 

Acronymisation: Taking the initial letters of words and making them into a combination pronounceable as a new word i.e. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

Proper Names: When the brand name of a product becomes synonymous with the product itself i.e. Hoover, Scuba, Sellotape 

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Semantic Shift

Broadening: When the meaning of a word broadens, so that it retains its old meaning, but takes on an added meaning as well i.e. 'Holiday' originally meant 'Holy Day' - a day or religous importance, now it can mean any day where one does not have to go to work

Narrowing: The opposite of 'broadening' - here a word becomes more specific in its meaning i.e. 'Meat' originally meant food in general, but now only applies to animal flesh

Amelioration: When a word changes to have a more positive or pleasant meaning i.e. 'Pretty' used to mean to be sly or cunning, but now means attractive

Pejoration: When the change in a meaning becomes less favourable i.e. 'Cowboy' is now often used to indicate incompetence or dishonesty (e.g. those cowboy builders)

Weakening: When words lose some of their original force or strength i.e. 'Soon' now means in the near future, but used to mean immediately

Metaphor: Words often acquire new meanings because they begin to be used metaphorically i.e. 'Onion Bag' refers to the net of a goal in football as well as a bag containing onions. 

Euphenism: A mild or inoffensive way of describing something distateful or unpleasant i.e. bombing raids are 'surgical strikes' or civilian casualties are 'collateral damage'

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