Historical Language A2 English Language

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Historical Language - Anglo Saxon/ French Latinate

Anglo-Saxon lexis is usally simple, direct and easy to understand.

Usually has a focus on action. They have positive connotations and a hearty welcome.

It is useful for when a speaker or writer wants to be clearly understood.

Way to spot them - usually short/less complex words e.g man,sun,love,sing.


French/Latin Lexis tends to be longer and have more sophisticated connotations. They have more of a cordial reception with the reader.

Very useful for discussing more sophisticated areas of activity such as law,goverment.

French lexis comes originally from Latin - (for this reason it is useful to use the term French/Latinate lexis when discussing word origins)

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Language change - lexical change (individual words

Words can change in three ways:

  • old words can dissapear
  • new words can emerge
  • existing words can alter their meaning

Word Loss

Huge numbers of words from Anglo-Saxon, Middle English and Early Modern English are no longer used.

(obselete words are known as archaisms!)



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Words falling out of use/ Word Formation

Words can fal out of the language for the following reasons:

  • Words can be replaced by more fashionable terms (such as 'slay' is replaced by 'kill)
  • The thing or practise reffered to may no longer exist
  • Cultural changes - society advances, some words become favoured over others (e.g 'dunce' is now 'under-performer'.

 Word Formation

The process of creating new words is often called 'coinage'.

New words or 'neologisms' can be created in the following ways:

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Word Formation

1) Borrowing - Words are often taken from another language (loan words) of the 20,000 words in common use, around 3/5's of them are borrowed.

2) Affixing - This is the most common way of forming new words. It involves adding prefixes or suffixes to existing words e.g Affixes 'mini' - (minibus,miniskirt,mini-statement) Suffixes - 'wise'/ 'al' (otherwise) (practical, magical)

3) Compounding - This means combining two existing words to create a new single word e.g. girlfriend, boyfriend, notebook, paperback

4) Blending - This involves taking portions of two words and putting them together to make a new word e.g. moter - moter and hotel, smog - smoke and fog

5) Shortening - Words can be created in a number of ways -

Clipping - taking an existing word and knocking a bit of it e.g advertisement - advert

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Word Formation

Clipping can also be known as abbreviation.

  • Back Formation - A particular type of shortening of where a word (usually a noun) is shortened to form another type of word (a verb) e.g. burge - burgler, edit - editor
  • Acronyms - A new word is derived from the initial letters of the existing words e.g Nato, BMX, ASBO.
  • Words from names: Many words come from the names of people or places/ or trade names e.g. Duke of Wellington - Wellingtons - Earl of Sandwich - Sandwich - Hoover - Dyson
  • Conversion - This occurs when the word class of an existing word changes 'google' 'googled' it 'put something in a bottle' 'to bottle it'


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Change in meaning - Broadening

Words can change there meaning over time. There are two main types of change:

Broadening of meaning and narrowing of meaning. - Change in meaning is also known as a Semantic change.

Broadening - This takes place when a word takes on other additional meanings as well as its original meaning e.g holiday orignally meant 'holy day' now it means any day you don't have to work.

'Dog' used to only refer to one type of dog but now refers to all breeds of dogs.

'Tablet' used to mean piece of stone - now it's a touch screen computer

Broadening is also known as generalisation.

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The complete opposite of broadening, involves a meaning becoming more specific over time.

'meat' orginally meant food in general but now means just animal flesh.

'girl' in the middle ages referred to as 'young peope in general' and not just 'young females'

Narrowing is sometimes called specialization.

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Pejoration, Amelioration, Simple Shift...

  • Pejoration - a word that becomes more negative in its connotations over time e.g 'invalid' is now a negative way of describing a 'disabled person'.
  • Amelioration - when a word takes on more positive connotations over time e.g slang term 'wicked'
  • Simple shift - a word changes from meaning one thing to meaning something else.

New meanings can also arise from the use of 'euphenisims' - polite roundabout expressions for something considered distateful or embarrasing. (can be used when being deciteful/to hide the truth)

Metaphor - often a word or a phrase with a very specific meaning but can be used in a wider sense through metaphor. e.g. 'as quiet as a mouse' can be a very quiet person or a little animal.

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Historical Time Periods

1050-1450 Middle English      1066 - The normal conquest brought a flood of French lexis into the language. French was the prestige language in Britain for the next 300 years.

1450-1700 Early Modern English  1474 - The year Caxtons printing press was brought to Britain - beginning the long process of Standardisation.

1700-1900 Modern English 1755 - The publication of Samuel Johnsons dictionary - was very influencial on the standardisation of spelling.

Middle C18 - was the turning point of the standardisation of English

Late C18 - many grammar books were written in this period setting down rules for English usage

1900 - (present) Late Modern English

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