Language Change Timeline


Timeline Dates

Old English = 500 - 1100

Middle English = 1100 - 1500

Early Modern English = 1500 - 1800

Late Modern English = 1800 - Present 

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Old English 500 - 1100

The dialects spoken by the Germanic settlers developed into a language that would come to be called Anglo-Saxon, or now more commonly Old English. Most native English speakers today find Old English unintelligible, even though approximately half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots. 

The grammar of Old English featured a much greater degree of inflection than modern English, combined with freer word orderThe Old English period is considered to transition into the Middle English period some time after the Norman conquest of 1066, when the language came to be influenced significantly by the new ruling class's French dialect called Old Norman.

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Middle English 1100 - 1500

Middle English is the form of English spoken roughly from the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 until the end of the 15th century. 

Anglo-Norman French became the language of the Kings and nobility of England. Norman was the verbal language of the court, administration and culture. Though, Latin was mostly used for written language, especially by the Church and in official records. 

However, the peasantry and lower classes (the vast majority of the population, an estimated 95%) continued to speak English - considered by the Normans a low-class, vulgar tongue - and the two languages developed in parallel, only gradually merging as Normans and Anglo-Saxons began to intermarry. It is this mixture of Old English and Anglo-Norman that is usually referred to as Middle English.

The Normans brought over 10,000 words to English (about three-quarters of which are still in use today), including a huge number of abstract nouns ending in the suffixes “-age”, “-ance/-ence”, “-ant/-ent”, “-ment”, “-ity” and “-tion”, or starting with the prefixes “con-”, “de-”, “ex-”, “trans-” and “pre-”. 

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Early Modern English 1500 - 1800 (1)

Referred to as the Golden Age of English. It incorporated many Renaissance-era loans from Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as borrowings from other European languages, inc. French.

The spellings of some words changed to reflect the change in pronunciation (e.g. stone from stan, rope from rap, dark from derk, heart from herte, etc), but most did not. The additions to English vocab during this period were deliberate borrowings (not the result of any invasion or influx of new nationalities)

The final major factor in the development of Modern English was the advent of the printing press, one of the world’s great technological innovations, introduced into England by William Caxton in 1476. ---> Within the printing press, sometimes different spellings were used for purely practical reasons, e.g. adding or omitting letters merely to help the layout or justification of printed lines.

Two particularly influential milestones in English literature were published in the 16th and early 17th Century. In 1549 = “Book of Common Prayer”  was introduced into English churches. In 1611 by King James' version of “The Bible” a Bible in the native language of the people of England -- The Bible taught morals and teaching and shapes the way English is spoken today

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Early Modern English 1500 - 1800 (2)

Shakespeare 16th Cen: Diverse hyphenations: some still in use and recognised, most dropped. Coined 2,000 new words. 

Science - In 1600 England had lots of physic scientists, who spoke about science in Latin. The scientists coined a new scientific lexis. 

Age of the lexicographer 1600 - 1800: There is a lexicography craze. The first dictionary considered anything reliable was Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English Language”, published in 1755. Johnson’s 43,000 word dictionary remained the pre-eminent English dictionary until the more comprehensive “Oxford English Dictionary” 150 years later. 

In addition to dictionaries, many English grammarians started to appear in the 18th Century, the most influential - Robert Lowth's “A Short Introduction to English Grammar” (1762) and Lindley Murray's “English Grammar” (1794). ---> Lowth’s particularly extremely prescriptive, stating the “correct” way of using English. Lowth was the main source of such "correct" grammar rules as never end a sentence with a preposition and never split an infinitive.

British naval superiority was also growing. In the 16th/17th Century, international trade expanded immensely, loanwords absorbed from languages of many countries across the world. 

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1800 - Present

Late Modern English accumulated many more words as a result of two main historical factors: the Industrial Revolution, which necessitated new words for things and ideas that had not previously existed; and the rise of the British Empire, during which time English adopted many foreign words and made them its own. 

A project begun to compile a 'New English Dictionary', which eventually became the Oxford English Dictionary.

In America, the need to define the identity of the new nation results in Noah Webster's 'American Dictionary of the English Language' appearing in 1828. 

The language continues to change and develop, expanding to new jargons, slangs, technologies, toys, foods and gadgets. In the current digital age, English is going through a new linguistic peak in terms of word acquisition, as it peaked before during Shakespeare’s time, and then again during the Industrial Revolution. 

Acronyms were commonly used. 

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