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Origins of the English Language
The English language is divided up into different parts ­ Old English, Middle English, Early
Modern English and Late Modern English.
Old English (400 ­ 1150)
Middle English (1150 ­ 1450)
Early Modern English (1450 ­ 1700)
Late Modern English (1700 ­ present)
The Old English period begins with the invasions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. At the time
of the invasions, England was occupied by Celtic tribes who were driven out towards the
edges of Britain.…read more

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Early Modern English
Printing Press
William Caxton introduced the printing press in England in 1476, which proved to be a crucial
factor towards the acceptance of a `standard' English.
During the Middle English period there were five main dialects, but Caxton chose to use the
East Midland dialect for the texts he printed. The East Midland area included London, Oxford
and Cambridge ­ the political and commercial hub of the country and the foremost centres of
learning.…read more

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Late Modern English
Standardisation
The movement towards a stable, standardised language continued from the Early Modern
English period. Many of the rules on grammar that we follow nowadays came about through
several influential textbooks on grammar that were written in the 18th century.
Samuel Johnson compiled the first great dictionary of English, and published it in 1755. This
had a huge significance on the standardisation of word meaning and spelling.
During the Late Modern English period, regional differences in the way language was used
lessened.…read more

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Lexical Change
Coinage ­ creating new words which are not derived in any way from other words. Very few
words enter the language like this, and almost all new words relate in some way to words that
already exist.
Borrowing ­ taking words from other languages and incorporating them into ours. These
words are also called loan words. For example: prince (French), lager (German), alcohol
(Arabic) and tea (Chinese).
Affixation ­ adding prefixes or suffixes to words which already exist to form new words.…read more

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Semantic change
Broadening or Generalisation ­ when a meaning of a word broadens, so that it retains its old
meaning but takes on an added meaning as well. For example ­ `holiday' originally meant `holy
day', a day of religious importance. Now it can mean any day when one does not have to work.
Narrowing or specialisation ­ the opposite of `broadening' ­ when a word becomes more
specific in its meaning.…read more

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Causes of language change
Ease of articulation
Some words change so that they are easier to say.
Omission ­ occurs when sounds disappear from words such as the ­b in `lamb' and `thumb'.
Also, another example of omission is the disappearance of the ­e which was used at the end of
many words such as `sweete' and `roote'.…read more

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Attitudes to language change
Prescriptivists favour rules that identify `correct' language usage and they disapprove of uses
of language that break these rules.
Whilst descriptivists seek to describe, as accurately and objectively as possible, how language
is actually used. They do not label particular uses of language `correct' or `incorrect'.
Prescriptivism in England became firmly established in the 18th century, when there were
strenuous efforts to standardise the language. Books of grammar set out numerous rules and
sought to define correct and incorrect usage.…read more

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