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Introduction to the History of English

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Thomas Kohnen

This book is written for students of English who are interested in the history of the language and would like to read an accessible but also comprehensive and reasonably detailed introduction. Apart from basic information about language change and the Indo-European background of English, it gives an outline of the major periods of the language (Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Late Modern English), with a brief examination of the perspectives of present-day English. Each period chapter provides information about the socio-historical background, the core areas of linguistic structure, discourse, speech acts and genres, and concludes with study questions and exercises.
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6. English after 1700 (Late Modern English)

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The term “Late Modern English” does not belong to the traditional, “classic” designations for the periods in the history of the English language, like Old English, Middle English and Early Modern English. This seems to reflect an initial lack of interest on the part of historical linguistics. At first, historical linguists were not very much concerned about the linguistic developments after 1700, partly because they thought these were not attractive enough to merit their attention and the status quo of the language was “practically” like contemporary English. In fact, the changes during the eighteenth and nineteenth century are not as sweeping as those marking the Middle and Early Modern periods. Change seems to have been less categorical and much more statistical, in the sense that certain linguistic phenomena have become more or less frequent and common. It is only during the past two or three decades that interest in the developments of the English language after 1700 has been aroused, with significant numbers of studies being published. Along these lines, the general view emerged that the period roughly covers the years between 1700 and 1900 (or 1950) and that its name – in analogy to “Early” Modern English – should be “Late” Modern English.

6.1. Political and socio-cultural background

It is hard to find convenient extra-linguistic events which might serve as clear points of demarcation for the Late Modern period. In terms of kings and queens, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are known as the period...

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