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Introduction to the History of English


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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7. Perspectives on present-day English


The emphasis of this book has been on the more distant parts of the history of the English language, with the traditional periods of Old, Middle, Early Modern and Late Modern English. It does not attempt to cover all the recent developments of the (later) twentieth century and the beginning of the new millennium. Nevertheless, and still in accordance with the broad, long-term orientation of the book, the last chapter will include a short account of some perspectives on present-day English and its possible future developments.

Among the many (sometimes highly speculative) lines of thought forecasting the future of English I will select two aspects which link back to language-external developments of the Early and Late Modern periods. These are, firstly, the information revolution based on the new media and computer technology, which can be seen as a further stage in the innovations initiated by the printing press in the late fifteenth century, and, secondly, the position of English as a world language, which (among other factors) is a result of the colonial expansion which began in the Early Modern era.

The advent of telephone, radio and television during the twentieth century has certainly left a mark on language use in most modern languages. Some researchers talk about a new, secondary orality (Ong 1982: 11), characterised by (partly new) oral forms of communication, which, however, depend to a large extent on writing and print. But the (so far) most pervasive influence on language use...

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