Dept. of English, Nadelberg 6, Great Lecture Hall
The Emergence of Written Standard English (1400-1700): An Alternative Perspective
The emergence of what is often referred to as written Standard English has already received much attention by historians of the English language and historical linguists. Until today, the variety of English used in administrative texts from London and propagated by Chancery clerks is often considered to be the source of what developed into written Standard English (cf. Fisher 1977; Fisher et al. 1984). Even though this truism has been convincingly challenged by for instance Wright (2000) and Benskin (2004), the processes involved in the uniformisation of written English are not yet fully understood.
The aim of the project Emerging Standards: Urbanisation and the Development of Standard English, c.1400-1700 is to shed light on the complex processes that are involved in the emergence and development of what became written Standard English. Even though London as the metropolis was undoubtedly of great importance for the actuation and diffusion of many linguistic features, other written varieties of English also need to be considered in order to gain a more complete picture. For this reason, the project focuses on regional urban varieties between 1400-1700, notably those of York, Bristol, Coventry, and Norwich, which constituted the largest communities and important regional centres at the time (cf. Kermode 2000: 442; Trudgill 2010: 53). As literacy rates were significantly higher in these places, it is possible to investigate and compare various text types from the different urban centres.
In this presentation, new findings on the diffusion of linguistic features will be presented. More precisely, based on data from York, Bristol and Coventry, the presentation focuses on (1) the shift from Latin and Anglo-Norman to English in civic records, i.e. to determine in which text types English was used first in the surviving data, and (2) the variation and change of the present indicative 3rd person singular variable. The systematic investigation of this linguistic variable and the comparison across text types and region allows us to gain a better understanding of the beginnings of written Standard English.
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