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Transcript of Modern English
The Polite 1700s
The Personal Letter
Hard to understand?
Spelling still differed greatly to present-day writing. The King James Bible began to be published only a decade after the Shakespearean Era, and the language used is still rather difficult to comprehend, largely due to the spelling and syntactical structures.
Grammar and Syntax
The relative pronoun 'which' was used in reference to people, whereas now 'proper grammar' is using 'who'
(Lord’s Prayer) ‘Our father which art in heauen’
The indefinite article ‘an’ was used before nouns beginning with ‘h’
(4:6) ‘…Better is an handful with quietness…’
Negatives follow verbs
and rarely use the 'do' form (e.g. I did not)
(2:10) ‘And whatsoever mine eyes desired I
from them, I
my heart from any joy…
How was speech influenced?
The shown extract is a three-part text written by Jonathan Swift, author of the famous Gulliver's Travels. The full title also includes ‘Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England’.
Indeed, 'Polite Conversation' is full of catch phrases, colloquialisms, exclamations, and greetings which were considered polite -or even over-polite- speech in the 18th century.
Certain polite phrases and expressions present in 'Polite Conversation' have not fallen out of use:
Modern Polite Conversation
General conversation between two people today no longer takes the form of such formal register. Indeed, when speaking to an elder, a person of important standing, or a stranger, the degree of formality increases. Yet conversation with a friend, family member, or even a teacher, is spoken in a far more informal manner than was done 300 years ago.
While certain expressions remain labelled as 'formal language' (for instance 'I beg your pardon?' instead of 'what?'), English in general has narrowed formality to significantly less situations than in the past.
Why so serious?
The lexical choices and syntactical structure seen in Jane Austen's letters undoubtedly creates a register far more formal than would be used today for written communication between two siblings or friends. Indeed, what we now categorise as an 'informal context' was in fact rather former in the 19th century.
Sentences were often very long and complex:
What lies behind this change?
We no longer structure long, elaborate sentences to recount events to our friends, and this is because technology has made communication so much faster than it has ever been. A letter may have taken days, weeks, or even months to be received and replied to, whereas a text message or email is received almost instantaly after pressing 'send'.
Due to this rapid exchange, formality, elaborate lexemes, and long syntactical structures have gradually weakened in use and become obsolete for purposes of written communication between friends or family.
Age of Technology
In the age of social networking and instant messaging, communication is fast and straight to the point. Modern technology, such as phones and social media, has aided language to evolve and adapt to fit the characteristics of speed and efficiency.
Sentences are now short, lack grammar and even correct spelling, and oftentimes consist of just several words or phrases, rather than an elaborate and detailed recount as is present in Austen's letters and similar writings of others in her time.
Emoticons and features of spontaneous speech entering the written mode have replaced heavy descriptions, hence further blurring the rules of syntax.
Language reflecting attitudes
As language is alive and constantly changing, numerous words used in Shakespeare's era have inevitably disappeared or gradually weakened over time, and are no longer used today. Unecessary words have become obsolete. In this extract from Hamlet alone, many of these lost words can be found:
Contumely - rudeness
Bodkin - sharp knife
Fardels - burdens
Disprized - rejected
Ay - yes
"there's the rub" - "'There's the catch' or 'there's the trouble'
Our journey begins during the Early Modern English period, which lasted roughly from 1450 to 1700. This was a time of immense change in English, with development in spelling and grammar rules, and events such as The Great Vowel Shift influencing pronunciation.
The 'Shakespearean Era', or Elizabethan Era, occurred during the English Renaissance period - a cultural and artistic movement in England from the late 15th century to the early 17th century.
At a time when the English language was highly unstable and discredited among its 'superior' neighbours French and Latin, Shakespeare used its weaknesses to his advantage, manipulating language to create an innovative span of new words and phrases. Through inventing and borrowing words to express new ideas, Shakespeare proved English to be flexible, adaptable, and a great language.
Same word, different meaning
Not only has vocabulary changed since the Shakespearean Era, but so have word meanings. Certain words of the period which are abundant in Shakespeare's works have experienced a semantic change. Note the following exmples from Hamlet:
'soft' was used as a command meaning 'not so fast' or 'wait'
Now means tender, gentle, or something not firm to the touch
'Fair' as an adjective meant 'honest' or 'truthful'
It now means 'just' and in accordance with rules
These are examples of semantic shift, or words changing sideways to a related meaning.
'Pray' was used in polite conversation to mean 'please'
Shakespeare broke grammar rules of the time in order to create vivid descriptions and express new ideas for which words did not yet exist. In total, Shakespeare added around 1700 new words to the English vocabulary. Yet how was one man alone able to do this?
Simple. Art and drama were becoming increasingly important in England, and all levels of social class were able to attend the theatre. As Shakespeare's words reached the ears of thousands of people, his fresh vocabulary was gradually adopted into speech.
"The harlots cheeke
with plastring art" - (Hamlet, 1603)
Abstract noun changed to a verb
(Romeo and Juliet, 1599), inaudible (All's Well That Ends Well, 1604)
Addition of negative prefix 'un-' and 'in-'
(Measure For Measure, 1603)
Verb 'to belong' changed to a noun
(Romeo & Juliet, 1599)
"To be or not to be"
"A sea of troubles"
"All's well that ends well"
"You are not worth another word"
Other words and phrases coined by Shakespeare:
While many of Shakespeare's creations remain in English language today, some of his vocabulary has died over time.
Words which were new then, are considered out-dated now.
Particularly, his creative insults:
Thou'rt poison to my blood
More of your conversation would infect my brain
The meanings of many of these words have weakened in force and intensity (rascal, villain, senseless), while other words now have different connotations (swagger). Hence, they are no longer effective as insults.
You are a tedious fool!
This is an instance of narrowing, where the word is now only used in reference to religious prayer.
Spelling and Grammar
The Great Vowel Shift not only affected pronunciations, but was likely to have also brought along some structural influence on spelling.
Other spelling change:
Why the change?
Such contractions were likely to have been used by Shakespeare to maintain the meter, rhyme, and overall flow of dialogue, as unstressed vowel sounds were deleted.
The final silent 'e' was commonly found throughout Early Modern English, marking a long vowel sound in the preceding syllable and also placed after a double consonant. Examples from the extract of Hamlet include:
^ Long vowel sounds
Other times, an 'e' has been noticably removed or replaced by an apostrophe:
^ Double consonant
The letter 'y' was commonly used where an 'I' is now present, especially in the vicinity of 'minim' letters, which include letters such as i, m, n, u
• Dye Die
The English language was nearing a golden age of standrdisation. Rules and structure were becoming more concrete, and after the first dictionaries were created, it was deemed 'un-standard' for the same word to be spelled differently as the writer pleased, depending on aesthetics or rhyme.
The King James Bible
'long Latin s' (ſ) ewas used, such as in the word 'Goſpel' - this 's' lasted in print until the 1700s and now is only used as a symbol in mathematics
'j' had not fully grown away from 'i' ('Iohn' vs. 'John')
'v' had not developed from 'u' such as in 'heauen', 'euill', 'forgiue' (Lord's Prayer)
two alternative forms of the lowercase 'r' existed (see 'preferred')
The King James Bible, first published in 1611, remains the most widely published text in the English language. The Bible was issued to be translated into English by King James I of England, using the Bishop's Bible in its 1602 edition as the main source. Previously, the Bible had only been available in traditional languages, these being Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Much of the Bible was a very literal translation of the original transcript, and hence was likely to not make perfect sense at the time. Yet phrases from the Bible were slowly implemented into language, and are now rarely used literally, but often metaphorically or as idioms.
A thorn in the flesh
White as snow
Woe is me
Turn the other cheek
At the time, religion held great value and influence - much more so than it does in the English-speaking world of today. God's word was powerful, and people not only had the desire to have knowledge and understanding of it, but also to be able to use it themselves.
The Bible was a public text read aloud in churches and masses, which all people were expected to attend during the era, as the power of religion was still in its prime. As prayers and passages were repeated and memorised, over time, the language of the Bible was imprinted in the minds of people.
Later writers of literature and theatre pieces further incorporated aspects of the Bible's language into their works, further amplifying the effect. The language was grasped and people began utilising it in their own way, now in the form of idioms
"I beg your Lordship's Pardon"
I beg your pardon (literally to beg to be
"How do you do"
How are you
"Never the better"
'never better' or 'never been better'
These well-known sayings and proverbs were used even 300 years ago!
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good"
"Talk of the Devil"
Capitalisation of nouns
"your Friends" "the Porter" "the Honour"
Up until the early 18th century, capitalisation of nouns was abundant. Capitalisation occured for common nouns important to the particular sentence, personified nouns, and emphasised nouns.
As English became more standardised, and grammarians of the 18th century became displeased by the spontaneous and lack of discipline in language, capitalisation of random words died down.
From Swift's other works, words such as
had a 'ck' ending. This was likely because the sound was pronounced more prominently, as derived from Old and Middle English.
A change to a 'c' ending may have occurred as the pronunciation became softer.
Features of Cockney Speech
Cockney = Non-standard?
During the 16th and 17th centuries, archaic pronouns, as well as verb conjugations for the second and third person singular form, were still utilised.
"Speech doth give" He goeth - he goes He hath - he has
Others, such as
for it is, were commonly used at the time, but have now changed. ''Tis' has now become
, due to standardised grammar rules, and
due to changed personal pronouns.
Linguists desired to clean up the messy English language, and greater consistency in spelling as we know it today was eventually reached.
Samuel Johnson's Dicionary
King James I
First page of Bible
King James Bible Influence
Personal pronouns 'thou' and 'thine' were used instead of 'you' and 'you', just as in Shakespeare's works.
...and lost expressions
'Come' was an expression willing someone to do something
, are you the Porter?
Originally meaning 'to ask earnestly', usage of 'pray' has narrowed, just as observed in the 16th century, to only religious contexts
An expression of surprise now replaced with 'oh God'
She's very handsome
Denotation has narrowed to only referring to males
Meant 'to or towards this place', but has now become obsolete as 'come here' is used in all contexts
Non-rhotic, as are all British accents
Use of glottal stop for the letter T, as well as in other letter such as P and K. E.g. button would be buh-on, light would sound like 'lie'
Flap for Ts and Ds - for instance in words which began with a vowel followed by the T sound, such as 'utter'
Th-fronting, which some people still do today and is considered incorrect speech. This is when the consonant cluster 'th' is pronounced as an 'f' sound
Thin = fin, maths = mafs
Absorption of the letter 'l', so that certain words become homophonous (e.g. 'fool' and 'full', 'salt' and 'sort' sound the same)
G-dropping (Nothin', lookin', dressin', boxin')
H dropping ( 'ere, p'raps)
Elision - the omission of one or more sounds when speaking ('cept, unnat'ral)
Lexical choices that are now associated with formality:
Modal verbs such as 'must' and shall', now only used to give commands or in times of urgency
Extracts: Jane Austen's letters to her sister, Cassandra
Change over time...
Jane Austen: "You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing"
Modern letter: "Sorry for my messy handwriting"
Modern text message: "Soz for all the fail typos"
What is this 'handwriting' you speak of...?
Hand-written communication has become rare. Text messaging and instant social media messages, through online chat sites such as Facebook and Twitter, are the way to go. Even a letter would now be typed, and most likely sent electronically in the form of an email. Technology has completely altered our modes of language.
a picture speaks a thousand words...
The stereotypical saying:
"'ello gov'na! care for a spot 'o tea?"
may be a stereotype, but it also encapsulates many characteristic features of Cockney speech.
'The Pickwick Club' (1836)
First novel by Charles Dickens
Dickens is well-known for writing dialogues phonetically, as they are actually pronounced by his characters. This is not only an effective in showing rather than telling the reader of a character's social status, but also provides a sample of English pronunciations in the 1800s in the London area.
A Cockney accent was characteristic of the 'working class', and therefore attributed to lower class Londoners. It was rough on the ears and far less eloquent than the sophisticated upper class accent known as Received Pronunciation or 'Queen's English'.
Cockney in action:
In the following video:
Note the glottal stops on words 'like', 'what', 'ninety', and pronunciation of the words 'with', 'thing'.
Also notice the difference in Rose's (the blonde girl) speech, and Sarah's (the brunette). When Sarah starts speaking, there is automatically a distinction between their accents, Sarah's being closer to Received Pronunciation, while Rose's is Cockney.
Going further into the 1800's, it it worthwhile examining a different text type- a novel. Not just any novel, however, but one which provides insight into the phonology of the period, in particular the Cockney accent of London dwellers.
Elisions, th-fronting, and grammar such as 'more tenderer' are seen as poor grammar today, but this does not serve to divide social classes as did the Cockney accent in Dickens' time.
The Cockney accent has long been looked down upon and discredited by many, seen as a label of inferiority and low social class. Now, attitudes towards the Cockney accent have elevated to it being more accepted as an alternative form of British English rather than an inferior one. Although many of its language features are still not considered standard, there is a chance they will be someday, as slang accentuates and formality declines.
A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words - John Camden Hotten, 1859
Early modern English pronunciation and spelling
Lexicology and Semantics
While great progression in the formal text type is evident since the King James Bible, there are still words present in 'The Mirror of Graces' which no longer used, or now have different meaning.
- now more taboo, no longer used for its original denotation as it carries acquired sexually suggestive connotations. Such words are definitely no longer used to describe the position of a young lady
- no longer commonly used, since the word 'gay' shifted in contextual use, as seen in Austen's letter
- is a shortening from the Middle English word 'demean' which meant handle, manage, or conduct. This shortening is rarely used, and has been replaced by 'demeanour'
- meant 'lean, thin, bony', now commonly replaced with 'scrawny'
- a woman employed to teach children in a private household. This type of employment no longer exists, hence makingthe word obsolete
Up until the early 1900s, 'gay' was used solely to denote a merry state of being. Now, the word is commonly used as a term to describe a homosexual person. The denotation and connotations of this word have drastically changed. This word is no longer appropriate in usages such as Austen's above sentence, as it would be instantly associated with its alternative meaning.
Adjectives, nouns, and phrases from the sample:
This article demonsrates how societal change is reflected in our language, portraying how ladies were expected to behave and present themselves in the past, compared to expectations of a modern woman, which are less stereotypical and more lenient.
As a result of progress in women's rights and identity, such as the Feminist Movement, women are no longer stereotyped and lowered to a meek household role, but rather seek to be powerful and seen equally as men.
However, women's magazines still often advertise using the same key words as the first page of The Mirror of Graces; 'fashion' 'elegance' 'beauty', 'health', and even words similar to 'loveliness'. Language is still used in a similar manner to capture attention and manipulate or train behaviour. Certain groups of people still gravitate towards and are effected by certain types of words.
Elegantly undulating form
The time period of Modern English alone clearly displays great variation and progress within the English language. From Shakespeare's innovative creations, to long hand-written letters, English has endured the test of time to arrive at what it is today - a leading internationally spoken and language.