A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LITERARY (STANDARD) LANGUAGE
( From: I.R.Galperin. Stylistics. Moscow: Higher School, 1977. pp. 41-57)
Up till now we have done little more than mention the literary (standard) language, which is one of the most important notions in stylistics and general linguistics. It is now necessary to elucidate this linguistic notion by going a little deeper into what constitutes the concept and to trace the stages in the development of the English standard language. This is necessary in order to avoid occasional confusion of terms differently used in works on the history, literature and style of the English language.
Confusion between the terms "literary language" and "language of literature" is frequently to be met.
Literary language is a historical category. It exists as a variety of the national language.'
"It must be remembered," said A. M. Gorki, "that language is the creation of the people.
The division of the language into literary and vernacular only means that there are, as it
were, a rough unpolished tongue and one wrought by men-of-letters."1
The literary language is that elaborated form (variety) of the national language which obeys definite morphological, phonetic, syntactical, lexical, phraseological and stylistic norms2 recognized as standard and therefore acceptable in all kinds and types of discourse. It allows modifications but within the frame work of the system of established norms. It casts out some of the forms of language which are considered to be beyond the established norm. The norm of usage is established by the language community at every given period in the development of the language. It is ever changing and therefore not infrequently evasive. At every period the norm is in a state of fluctuation and it requires a very sensitive and efficient eye and ear to detect and specify these fluctuations. Sometimes we may even say that two norms co-exist. But in this case we may be positive that one of the co-existing forms of the language will give way to its rival and either vanish from the language entirely or else remain on its outskirts.
In this connection it will not come amiss to note that there are two conflicting tendencies in the process of establishing the norm:
1) preservation of the already existing norm, sometimes with attempts to re-establish old forms of the language; 1 Горький М. О литературе. M., 1937, с. 220. 2 For the definition of the norm and its variants see pp. 18—19.
2) introduction of new norms not yet firmly established.
In this connection it will be interesting to quote the following lines from H. C. Wyld's "A History of Modern Colloquial English."
"If it were necessary to attempt to formulate the general tendencies which have been discernible in Received Standard English during the last three centuries and a half, and which have been increasingly potent during the last hundred and fifty years, we should name two, which are to some extent opposed, but both of which are attributable to social causes. The first is the gradual decay of ceremoniousness and formality which has overtaken the speech and modes of address, no less than the manners, of good society. The second of the effort—sometimes conscious and deliberate, sometimes unconscious—after 'correctness' or correctitude, which, on the one hand, has almost eliminated the use of oaths and has softened away many coarsenesses and crudities of expression—as we should now feel them to be, however little squeamish we may be—while on the other it has, by a rigid, appeal to the spelling—the very worst and most unreliable court for the purpose—definitely ruled out, as 'incorrect' or 'slipshod' or 'vulgar'", many pronunciations and grammatical constructions which had arisen in the natural course of the development of English, and were formerly universal among the best speakers. Both of these tendencies are due primarily to the social, political and...
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