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I Formation of the English national Language

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Middle English

Lecture 5

We can speak about the English National Language as a language understood and mainly used throughout the country beginning with late Middle English – Early New English. They generally say that the end of the Middle English period and the beginning of New English is marked by the following events in the life of the English people:

1.The end of the war between the White and the Red Rose – 1485 and the establishment of an absolute monarchy on the British soil with Henry Tudor as the first absolute monarch – the political expression of the English nation.

The War of the Roses ( 1455 – 1485 ) was the most important event of the 15th century which marked the decay of feudalism and the birth of a new social order. It signified the rise of an absolute monarchy in England and political centralization, and consequently a linguistic centralization leading to a predominance of the national language over local dialects.

2. The introduction of printing – 1477 by William Caxton ( 1422 – 1490 ).Printing was invented in Germany by Johan Gutenberg in 1438. It quickly spread to other countries and England was among them. The first English printing office was founded in 1476 by William Caxton, and in 1477 there appeared the first book to be printed in England called The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers .The appearance of considerable number of printed books contributed to the normalization of spelling and grammar forms fostering the choice of a single variant over others. William Caxton established a printing-press at Westminster, from which he issued a stream of books, many of them translated from Latin and French by himself. Caxton, a native of Kent, acquired the London dialect, and made a conscious choice from among competing variants, which he even described in a preface to one of his translations, saying that he had submitted it to princess Margaret, a sister of the king, and “anon she found a default in my English which she commanded me to amend”.

Since that time – the end of the 15th century the English language began its development as the language of the English nation, whereas up to that time, beginning with the Germanic conquest of Britain in the 5th century and up to the 15th century , what we call the English language was no more than a conglomerate of dialects, first tribal and then local. Indeed, a notable feature of the Middle English period is the dialectical variety that finds expression in the written documents. It was only late in the 14th century that the London dialect, itself a mixture of the southern and south-eastern dialects, began to emerge as dominant type.


Thus, the English national language was formed on the basis of the London dialect which was uppermost among Middle English dialects due to the political, geographical, economic and “linguistic “position of London which became the capital of England already in the 11th century – before the Norman conquest and which was in the 15th century a thriving economic centre and port of England due to its geographical position near the estuary of the largest river in England. The geographical position of London as a port and city in the centre of the country where people of the North mingled with the people of the South, on the one hand, enabled the Londoners to acquire features of both southern and northern dialects, and on the other hand, the people coming to London helped to spread he London dialect all over the country.

The importance of the London dialect as the foundation of the English national language grew also because of the fact that that many of the best writers o the 14th-15th centuries, and Geoffrey Chaucer among them, whose poetry achieved tremendous contemporary prestige and popularity, were Londoners or used the London dialect in their writings. As we have said, the 15th century is generally referred to as the time of the beginning of the English national language. But the literary norm of the language was established later, already in Early New English, many English authors of the forthcoming centuries contributing to it, among them such as Edmund Spencer, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, finally, William Shakespeare.

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