Midland, the dialect of Middle English derived from the Mercian dialect of Old English, became important during the 14th century, when the counties in which it was spoken developed into centres of university, economic, and courtly life. East Midland, one of the subdivisions of Midland, had by that time become the speech of the entire metropolitan area of the capital, London, and probably had spread south of the Thames River into Kent and Surrey. The influence of East Midland was strengthened by its use in the government offices of London, by its literary dissemination in the works of the 14th-century poets Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and John Lydgate, and ultimately by its adoption for printed works by William Caxton. These and other circumstances gradually contributed to the direct development of the East Midland dialect into the Modern English language.
During the period of this linguistic transformation the other Middle English dialects continued to exist, and dialects descending from them are still spoken in the 20th century. Lowland Scottish, for example, is a development of the Northern dialect.
8.3The Great Vowel Shift
The transition from Middle English to Modern English was marked by a major change in the pronunciation of vowels during the 15th and 16th centuries. This change, termed the Great Vowel Shift by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen, consisted of a shift in the articulation of vowels with respect to the positions assumed by the tongue and the lips. The Great Vowel Shift changed the pronunciation of 18 of the 20 distinctive vowels and diphthongs of Middle English. Spelling, however, remained unchanged and was preserved from then on as a result of the advent of printing in England in about 1475, during the shift. (In general, Middle English orthography was much more phonetic than Modern English; all consonants, for example, were pronounced, whereas now letters such as the l preserved in walking are silent).
All long vowels, with the exception of /i:/ (pronounced in Middle English somewhat like ee in need) and /u:/ (pronounced in Middle English like oo in food), came to be pronounced with the jaw position one degree higher. Pronounced previously in the highest possible position, the/i:/ became diphthongized to “ah-ee”, and the/u:/ to “ee-oo”. The Great Vowel Shift, which is still in progress, caused the pronunciation in English of the letters a, e, i, o, and u to differ from that used in most other languages of Western Europe. The approximate date when words were borrowed from other languages can be ascertained by means of these and other sound changes. Thus it is known that the old French word dame was borrowed before the shift, since its vowel shifted with the Middle English /e:/ from a pronunciation like that of the vowel in calm to that of the vowel in name.
8.4.Modern English Period
In the early part of the Modern English period the vocabulary was enlarged by the widespread use of one part of speech for another and by increased borrowings from other languages. The revival of interest in Latin and Greek during the Renaissance brought new words into English from those languages. Other words were introduced by English travellers and merchants after their return from journeys on the Continent. From Italian came cameo, stanza, and violin; from Spanish and Portuguese, alligator, peccadillo, and sombrero. During its development, Modern English borrowed words from more than 50 different languages.
In the late 17th century and during the 18th century, certain important grammatical changes occurred. The formal rules of English grammar were established during that period. The pronoun its came into use, replacing the genitive form his, which was the only form used by the translators of the King James Bible (1611). The progressive tenses developed from the use of the participle as a noun preceded by the preposition on; the preposition gradually weakened to a and finally disappeared. Thereafter only the simple ing form of the verb remained in use. After the 18th century this process of development culminated in the creation of the progressive passive form, for example, “The job is being done”.
The most important development begun during this period and continued without interruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries concerned vocabulary. As a result of colonial expansion, notably in North America but also in other areas of the world, many new words entered the English language. From the indigenous peoples of North America, the words raccoon and wigwam were borrowed; from Peru, llama and quinine; from the West Indies, barbecue and cannibal; from Africa, chimpanzee and zebra; from India, bandanna, curry, and punch; and from Australia, kangaroo and boomerang. In addition, thousands of scientific terms were developed to denote new concepts, discoveries, and inventions. Many of these terms, such as neutron, penicillin, and supersonic, were formed from Greek and Latin roots; others were borrowed from modern languages, as with blitzkrieg from German and sputnik from Russian.
In Great Britain at present the speech of educated persons is known as Received Pronunciation. A class dialect rather than a regional dialect, it is based on the type of speech cultivated at public schools and at such of the older universities as Oxford and Cambridge. Many English people who speak regional dialects in their childhood acquire Received Pronunciation while attending school and university. Its influence has become even stronger in recent years because of its use by such public media as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
RP is not intrinsically superior to other varieties of English, and is, itself, only one particular dialect. It has just achieved more extensive use than others.
Widely differing regional and local dialects are still employed in the various counties of Great Britain. Other important regional dialects have also developed; for example, the English language in Ireland has retained certain individual peculiarities of pronunciation, such as the pronunciation of lave for leave and fluther for flutter; certain syntactical peculiarities, such as the use of after following forms of the verb be; and certain differences in vocabulary, including the use of archaic words such as adown (for down) and Celtic borrowings such as banshee. The Lowland Scottish dialect, sometimes called Lallans, first made known throughout the English-speaking world by the songs of the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, contains differences in pronunciation also, such as neebour (“neighbour”) and guid (“good”), and words of Scandinavian origin peculiar to the dialect, such as braw and bairn. The English spoken in Australia, with its marked diphthongization of vowels, also makes use of special words, retained from English regional dialect usages, or taken over from indigenous Australian terms.
An important development of English outside Great Britain occurred with the colonization of North America. American English may be considered to include the English spoken in Canada, although the Canadian variety retains some features of British pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary. The most distinguishing differences between American English and British English are in pronunciation and vocabulary. There are slighter differences in spelling, pitch, and stress as well. Written American English also has a tendency to be more rigid in matters of grammar and syntax, but at the same time appears to be more tolerant of the use of neologisms. Despite these differences, it is often difficult to determine—apart from context—whether serious literary works have been written in Great Britain or the United States/Canada—or, for that matter, in Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.
A simplified form of the English language based on 850 key words was developed in the late 1920s by the English psychologist Charles Kay Ogden and publicized by the English educator I. A. Richards. Known as Basic English, it was used mainly to teach English to non-English-speaking persons and promoted as an international language. The complexities of English spelling and grammar, however, were major hindrances to the adoption of Basic English as a second language.
The fundamental principle of Basic English was that any idea, however complex, may be reduced to simple units of thought and expressed clearly by a limited number of everyday words. The 850-word primary vocabulary was composed of 600 nouns (representing things or events), 150 adjectives (for qualities and properties), and 100 general “operational” words, mainly verbs and prepositions. Almost all the words were in common use in English-speaking countries; more than 60 per cent were one-syllable words. The abbreviated vocabulary was created in part by eliminating numerous synonyms and by extending the use of 18 “basic” verbs, such as make, get, do, have, and be. These verbs were generally combined with prepositions, such as up, among, under, in, and forward. For example, a Basic English student would use the expression “go up” instead of “ascend”.
English also enters into a number of simplified languages that arose among non-English-speaking peoples. Pidgin English, spoken in the Melanesian islands, New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii and on the Asian shores of the Pacific Ocean, developed as a means of communication between Chinese and English traders. The Chinese adopted many English words and a few indispensable non-English words and created a means of discourse, using a simple grammatical apparatus. Bкche-de-Mer, a pidgin spoken in the southern and western Pacific islands, is predominantly English in structure, although it includes many Polynesian words. Chinook Jargon, used as a lingua franca by the Native Americans, French, and English on the North American Pacific coast, contains English, French, and Native American words; its grammatical structure is based on that of the Chinook language. The use of pidgin is growing in Africa, notably in Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and East Africa.
9.Future of the English Language
The influence of the mass media appears likely to result in a more standardized pronunciation, more uniform spelling, and eventually a spelling closer to actual pronunciation. Despite the likelihood of such standardization, a unique feature of the English language remains its tendency to grow and change. Despite the warnings of linguistic purists, new words are constantly being coined and usages modified to express new concepts. Its vocabulary is constantly enriched by linguistic borrowings, particularly by cross-fertilizations from American English. Because it is capable of infinite possibilities of communication, the English language has become the chief international language.i