The ascribed social position of an individual can lead them to achieve a higher status through accomplishments in life. A person’s ascribed social position can allow them greater access to services such as health care, education and lawyers. People in professions such as law, medicine and university lecturers, have their status through instrumental power and they have more influential, political and social group power. For many years society has been controlled by the politicians, monarchy, law, the church and the educated. It is no surprise that these are the groups who make the many important decisions to contribute to the effective running of our society. When discussing English Lexicon and the manner in which it was created, we can again see the power of one’s social status and the influences we live under today.
Historically the English had a long battle to create and maintain a standard version of their language. Of the three recorded periods of English language, Old English the first recorded language was between years 450 to 1150. Middle English followed from 1150 to 1500 which was developed into Modern English from 1500 to the present day. Standardisation of the English language did not take place until somewhere between 1550 and 1750; there is no definite reason why it occurred. A theory was that it was to distance England from France after the One Hundred Years War, the English wanted to maintain their own language. This was following a period of approximately three hundred years when people in England spoke French under the Norman rule when England was conquered after invasion.
Between the years 1340 and 1345 Geoffrey Chaucer was born into a prosperous middle class family in London. He went on to write the Canterbury Tales a most famous piece that contributed to the history of English language, following his efforts, in the early 1420’s, William Caxton was born in Kent and by the age of sixteen had been appointed as an apprentice to a wealthy London merchant.; Caxton was also the acting diplomat for the king. As Chaucer did, Caxton grew up in wealthy and politically powerful surroundings. This again paved the way for him to become an extremely important figure in the development of English language. In 1476 after studying the art of printing in Cologne, William Caxton introduced the first printing press in Westminster, England. The beginning of printing had a great effect on language, not only did it enforce the ‘standard’ acceptable version of English language it helped spread knowledge and the literacy level amongst the population increased.
The printers had to decide on which dialect to use with regions outside London, for example the Midlands, East Midlands and South East. It was eventually decided that the East Midlands dialect would be the ’standard’ version as that were the most influential socially and economically. Though East Midlands dialect was the basis on standardisation there were influences from other dialects in the country. The language that was spoken by the merchant class in London was the East Midlands dialect while the lower class spoke a South Eastern dialect, now known as ‘Cockney’.
In the 1700’s the modern English language we are familiar with was almost completed, the patterns of speech were in place that we would recognise and understand today. An approximate amount of ten thousand words were included with the English vocabulary. The words were taken from the Greek and Latin affixes and the distinction between class and accents began to neutralize. Jonathon Swift was a great English satirist who once suggested that the Irish should eat their own children! Despite his unorthodox manner Swift, was an advocate of standardising the English language as he felt the language had been decaying and he pursued the uniformity of the words. He sought to make the English language durable and indeed had profound influence on the language. Jonathon Swift had instrumental, social, political and personal power confirming once again that the process of standardisation is associated with social class. The changes that have been made to the language have all been made by prominent members of society, those with money and upper class connections, if they are not in the upper class themselves. It was in 1712 that Swift introduced us to ‘A proposal for an Academy of the English Language’ but it was outvoted by parliament. After this suggestion by Swift, many linguists began to put forward their thoughts on how the English language should and should not be used. It was not until 1755 that the first dictionary was published.
The son of a bookseller, Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 in Staffordshire. Johnson was not in any powerful social groups but from his humble origins he went on to compile and write the first English dictionary. There were previous versions of the dictionary although they had not been specifically created to distinguish English from the other bilingual words. An attempt of standardising the language in the form of a book written in Latin, by scholar Sir Thomas Smith (1568). It is Samuel Johnson’s version that we have accepted as our ‘standard’ spellings for the present day. Johnson had put the explanations for over 40,000 words with 114,000 examples to justify his explanations. Johnson’s position as a great lexicographer was founded upon his production of the dictionary. It was not until over one hundred and fifty years later that the Oxford English dictionary was produced, using around two thousand of Johnson’s wordings exactly as he had explained them. Though the larger part of the process of standardisation was associated with power in society; Samuel Johnson is an example of an individual not born into to the middle and upper classes, his life was blighted by ill health and poverty yet he still massively contributed to our modern language.
There had been in excess of ten thousand words ‘borrowed’ from French language during their occupation of England. Many of these words are still in use today for example ’au pair’ meaning ’at par’ or ‘cuisine’. In early English church services were conducted in Latin and many Latin words prefixes are incorporated within our language. Latin was used by people in positions of power, the priests, doctors’ lawyers and upper class members of society, through them the words entered the English lexicon. The word ‘script’ or ’scribo’ is the Latin word meaning ’to write’ or ’compose’, similarly the English words ’prescription’ and ’transcribe’ are words connected with writing. The first recorded meaning of prescription is “written directions from a doctor” (1570) The word ’transcribe’ means ’to copy’ or ‘write over, transfer’ and the legal ’transcript of record’ is a printed record of a court case. This is further evidence of the ways in which words enter the English lexicon. It supports the theory of words entering the English language through the powerful in society, initiating the changes that led to standardisation.
The During the English renaissance many Greek and Latin words entered the English language. It was a period when people were encouraged to embrace the arts, literature and architecture from other parts of the world. This period between the 16th and 17th century is also referred to as ‘The Age of Shakespeare’ or the ‘Elizabethan Era’ many more new words were introduced into English language. The spellings and punctuation of certain words changed for example ‘?’ were the letters used for the word “ash”, the symbol ‘?’ was used for “eth” while ‘?’ was for the word “thorn”. None of these letters are used in the modern English of today’s language; they were all derived from the Roman alphabet. Within this period of modern English a verb change was made replacing the ‘th’ sound with the ‘s’ sound. For example hath became ’has’ and loveth became ‘loves’. The increase of travel, printing and the arts gave cause for further words to be created to keep up with the developing world; around one hundred words a year were added to English language. Despite all of the additions and alterations to the language it has retained its Germanic ‘three genders’ basis of ‘he, she and it’ with simple verbs.
Shakespeare created many new words and phrases for English language such as ‘vanish into thin air’ and ‘flesh and blood’, ‘critical’ ‘majestic’ ‘dwindle and ‘pendant’. Though Shakespeare wrote in modern English it would still be difficult to understand today as it’s form was ‘Early Modern English’, the period of ‘Late Modern English’ began after 1800’s and continues to develop it the present day. William Shakespeare is known as one of the greatest authors making a huge contribution to English language. Shakespeare wrote in early modern English, it would not be quite as easy for us to understand as the late modern English we have today but it is much more distinguished from Middle English. As society changes and technology improves the availability of television, internet and music is more widely available, more words are created to encompass the different meanings and explanations. Spellings and meanings have changed as time has expanded our lexical fields due to travel and science. English language has become a global language where it appears that all world literature is in English; there are critics of this as it leaves room for translations from any other language, only to English which leaves us quite limited. Of the many different languages of the world English remains to be one which has made the most percussion and many debates over its correct form will be analysed, as more words enter our complex vocabulary.
B) Data set 1. Language change
The changes in the language since it was first recorded have been easier to compare due to the vast amount of literature there is available in modern society. The Working-Class Tea’ is an excerpt from the Jean Rey book ‘The Whole Art of Dining’, Jean Rey emphasises the link between social status and dining etiquette. The book was written in an age of mass production, in which a growing sector of society was being encouraged to enter into a life of materialism and consumerism. The book refers to Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin a politician, doctor and lawyer who became renowned for his Epicureanism. Again the presentation of a powerful, educated member of societies opinions are taken into consideration. He described the working class tea as foods that were not normal foods and he suggested that they would shock anyone with real class. Though the language used in 1921 is more recognisable, how they wrote is not seen in that type of literature in modern society. The constant reference to class was still evident. Technology was improving but there was still no television, situational factors allowed distinct groups in society to have specific literature available to them. The intended audience of the book is in the title ‘Working Class Tea’, written in capital letters is a bold statement as if it were being shouted. The text is aimed at the middle or upper class as the mentioning of Jean Anthelme Brillat Sauvin would have no bearing on the lower classes. It is a mockery of the foods of the less wealthy, it is informative to the upper and middle classes about how the ’other half’ live. There is no further use of bold face through the text though it refers to the working class as ’they’, separating the audience from the intended subject of the text. The word ’they’ again being a plural pronoun addressing the working classes in general terms. Eighty seven years later in 2008 a piece in a left-wing London newspaper uses a softer font for the title and use of a personal pronoun is to directly address the audience. People are referred to as ‘Britons’ rather than being defined by class. There is also an inclusion of the poorer members of society and concern that they may not be getting the correct nutritional foods due to lack of income, rather than the previous language used to demean. It is a lengthy piece due to there being more words added to the English language over the years. A ’TV dinner’ or ’ready meal’ as they are now known was not heard of until after 1953 and the word pizza was thought to have been first used in 1935. The two comments regarding healthy eating from different perspectives shows another class divide with the more affluent being able to eat healthier. The situational factors do affect the language used to describe the eating habits of both families. There is no mention of takeaway or pizza with one of the families. Pizza was and still is considered to be ‘poor’ food, described as for the ‘working man and his family because it was a thrifty and convenient food’. The word possibly stemmed from Latin language but it has been suggested that it could have originated from Greece. Some of the foods described from the more affluent family are more exotic for example ‘purple sprouting broccoli’ which was used in the Roman Empire, records state that it was used over here in the 18th century. Ravioli was known to England in the 14th century and is mentioned it the ‘Forme of Cury’ a cook book for the King from the 14th century, with the name ‘rauioles’. The different foods we eat from around the world have caused further addition of words, to the English language.
To conclude it is clear that English language is made from many other sources with the estimate of 90,000 words being added to the English dictionary in the twentieth century. The language is constantly evolving and there are around five thousand original words from Old English. With the standardisation that took place it made it easier for us to communicate with the ‘standard’ English as a basis. We now add to the created Standard English each year with further ‘street’ slang and common phrasing being more frequently used and added to our ever evolving language, each year. The process of standardisation was heavily influenced by the wealthy, powerful educated members of society; it was described as a bureaucracy rather than a natural forming or language through time. All the decisions that were made were by influentially powerful people in society which is how we remained to be governed in current modern times.
Author: Elly Van Gelderen
Title: A History of the English Language
Publisher: John Benjamin
date of publication: 2006
Author: Eli Hinkel
Title: Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum
date of publication: 2005
Author: Allen Hilliard Reddick
Title: The Making of Johnsons Dictionary
Publisher: Press Syndicate of The University of Cambridge
date of publication: 1990(1st)
Author: John Considine
Title: The Lexicographer as Hero: Samuel Johnson and Henry Estienne
Publisher: Philological Quarterly
date of publication: 2000
?Internet source: Online Etymology Dictionary
?Publisher: Douglas Harper
?Date of Publication: 2001-2010
Author: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
Title: article, “What is the Great Vowel Shift?”
Date of Publication: 2003
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