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Old English and Standardisation

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Old English and Standardisation

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  • November 2012
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Explain the meaning of the following terms, using examples from the course materials and any relevant examples of your own: Old English and Standardisation.

Old English (OE) refers to a form of English spoken by Anglo-Saxons, first appearing in 5th c. AD, with the introduction of Germanic dialects. Principle influences were i) Latin words imported from the Anglo-Saxons, ii) English words of Latin origin existing at the time and c) conversion to Christianity, Latin-speaking Priests. OE is considered an ‘inflected’ language; endings were added to words to alter their meaning, including the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative cases, i.e. in modern English an ‘s’ is added to a noun to make it plural. Inanimate objects were feminine or masculine and OE adopted a subject-object-verb order, and is perceived freer than modern English. ‘the Roman alphabet was augmented with extra letters, each with a special name, used to denote some sounds of Old English not found in Latin.’ (Dick Leith, 2006, pp. 51). OE words were spelled as they were pronounced. Spellings are approximations of how words would have sounded and open to poetic interpretation, varying enormously regionally.

Standardisation refers to the creation of a vernacular language, an English that could serve as a ‘national’ language. At the end of the 15th c. to the 19th c. English became ‘standardised’, corresponding to ‘the emergence of London as the political and commercial centre of the country’ (David Crystal, 2005, pp. 108). The scribes in the London Chancery would copy documents and a ‘standard language’ began to emerge. Standardisation refers to grammar, vocabulary and orthography and not pronunciation. The Chancery scribes created a ‘Standard English’, written English, that fed into the population of private scribes through a focused linguistic community (Dick Leith et al, 2007, pp. 84), who were producing all number of documents and began to adopt these ‘standards’. The introduction of the...

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