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The Emergence of Standard English

The Emergence of Standard English

John H. Fisher
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Emergence of Standard English
    Book Description:

    Language scholars have traditionally agreed that the development of the English language was largely unplanned. Fisher challenges this view, demonstrating that the standardization of writing and pronunciation was, and still is, made under the control of political and intellectual forces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4846-5
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. I Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    For more than a quarter of a century I have become increasingly convinced that Standard Modern English did not just “happen” but that it was, and is, the result of formal institutionalization, that is, of deliberate planning and management. This idea is anathema to the Anglo-Saxon temperament, which resists the notion of social engineering, but the institutionalization of language is supported by the experience of other cultures, particularly those of France and Spain. In 1253 Alphonso X of Spain decreed that the usage of the Chancellery of Toledo should be the standard for all official documents. In 1257 St. Louis...

  5. II A Language Policy for Lancastrian England
    (pp. 16-35)

    How did English become the national language of England? From the Norman Conquest until after 1400, French was the official language of England—not because any law had been passed to make it so but because it was the native language of all those who held office. As Sir John Fortescue explained in 1460, inDe Laudibus Legum Anglie(I give the English translation by Stanley Chrimes of Fortescue’s Latin):

    [A]fter the French had, by duke William the Conqueror, obtained the land, they would not permit advocates to plead their causes unless in the language they themselves knew, which all...

  6. III Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English
    (pp. 36-64)

    Descriptive linguists and sociolinguists have debated the nature of “standard” English, the first group tending to deny the existence of a standard because of variations in the spoken language, and the second arguing that standard language is an elitist shibboleth erected to perpetuate the authority of the dominant culture.¹ Neither of these positions recognizes the historical fact that in every society there is a formal, official language in which business is conducted, which is different from the patois of familiar exchange. The more stable and enduring a society becomes, the more regular its administrative procedures become. Part of the process...

  7. IV European Chancelleries and the Rise of Written Languages
    (pp. 65-83)

    The decline of dialects and the emergence of standard languages in Europe at the close of the Middle Ages is a familiar chapter in the histories of the individual languages. However, I do not know of a discussion that points out how similar this process was in various countries and discusses the implications of this similarity for our general understanding of the nature of standard languages.¹ A comparative study reveals that standard languages all emerged as written and not oral forms; that these written standards were created by government secretariats, not by literary figures; and that when spoken standards began...

  8. V Animadversions on the Text of Chaucer
    (pp. 84-98)

    In this essay I would like to sum up where we stand on the text of Chaucer, particularly the text ofThe Canterbury Tales.It is nearly 600 years since Chaucer began compiling the collection—the putative date of the gathering at the Tabard Inn is 17 April 1387.¹ It is nearly a hundred years since Frederick Furnivall and Walter W. Skeat chose the Ellesmere manuscript as the best copy text (the death of Henry Bradshaw in 1886 left to Skeat the editing of the Oxford Chaucer).² We are now in the throes of change in our views of the...

  9. VI Chaucer’s French: A Metalinguistic Inquiry
    (pp. 99-108)

    Philologists believe that we think verbally, but behaviorist psychologists and linguists take a more cautious view. F.R. Englefield (130), for example, describes thinking as doing in the imagination what one has first learned to do with one’s body, experiencing in the imagination what one has first experienced through the senses. According to this view, a person given to action will tend to think pictorially, and a person given to contemplation will tend to think symbolically. But concrete and abstract thoughts are both preserved in language. Even behaviorists recognize language as the chief storehouse of memory and as the vehicle for...

  10. VII Piers Plowman and Chancery Tradition
    (pp. 109-120)

    I should now like to examine the relationship between the Chancery hand and language and thePiers Plowmanmanuscripts.¹ I will not deal with Langland’s own orthography and morphology, as George Kane has in hand a fourth volume of the Athlone edition ofPiers Plowmanin which he will provide an analytic glossary and a study of the language. In their introduction to the edition of the B version, Kane and E.T. Donaldson have already discussed the poet’s system of versification² and concluded that “much of his language accords with London English of his time” (215n). We will learn more...

  11. VIII Caxton and Chancery English
    (pp. 121-144)

    In the previous essays I have discussed the part played by the English civil service in helping to create and disseminate a standard written English in the fifteenth century. Before Henry V, official writing in England was in Latin and French. Writing in English, always unofficial and intended for local audiences, was essentially the phonetic transcription of regional dialects. The characteristic that sets a standard language apart from a dialect is the degree of its uniformity throughout a society, and this uniformity is more nearly achieved in written than in spoken language. M.L. Samuels has indicated that the first movement...

  12. IX The History of Received Pronunciation
    (pp. 145-156)

    The history of the evolution of Received Pronunciation (RP) has never been written. This is the pronunciation that distinguished the British ruling class until the end of the Second World War and is still taught around the world as “Standard British English.”¹ By the end of the nineteenth century, this pronunciation came to be designated “Public School English” and “Oxford English,” and from the advent of radio until the 1960s and 70s, it was also “BBC English.” In recent years, as class has tended to be de-emphasized in British society, pronunciation in the schools and universities and on radio and...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 157-182)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-198)
  15. Index
    (pp. 199-208)