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Modern English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Modern English (sometimes New English or NE[3] as opposed to Middle English and Old English) is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, which began in the late 14th century and was completed in roughly 1550.

With some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, are referred to as using Early Modern English or Elizabethan English. English was adopted in regions around the world, such as North America, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Australia and New Zealand through colonisation by the British Empire.

Modern English has many dialects spoken in many countries throughout the world, sometimes collectively referred to as the anglosphere. These dialects include American English, Australian English, British English (containing English English, Welsh English and Scottish English), Canadian English, Caribbean English, Hiberno-English, Indian English, Pakistani English, Nigerian English, New Zealand English, Philippine English, Singaporean English, and South African English.

According to the Ethnologue, there are almost 1 billion speakers of English as a first or second language.[4] English is spoken as a first or a second language in a large number of countries, with the largest number of native speakers being in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland; there are also large populations in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Southern Africa. It "has more non-native speakers than any other language, is more widely dispersed around the world and is used for more purposes than any other language".[5] Its large number of speakers, plus its worldwide presence, have made English a common language ("lingua franca") "of the airlines, of the sea and shipping, of computer technology, of science and indeed of (global) communication generally".[5]

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  • ✪ Learn Modern English with Cardi B
  • ✪ Modern English Advance Vocabulary Conditional Idioms Part 1


Shakespeare didn't sound like this. And he didn't sound like this either. But if you were back in 1610 and you snagged a couple front row tickets to the Globe, what kind of English would you hear? I have a confession. A tough one for a language nerd. Hhh.. here goes. I never really got into Shakespeare. I remember the theatre geeks, the girl with one hand raised, head turned, chanting lines to... whom exactly? Maybe a poetry-loving squirrel? Neh, wasn't for me. I was into legos and languages. Which is how I ended up unintentionally parsing Homer in Greek before I had to face Shakespeare. Yes, HAD to. A class assignment, I think it was the Tempest. I skimmed just enough to pass a quiz. Then I would've shelved the bard forever, but for that one stray remark. As the theatre geeks donned their best British accents, a random gadfly sneered: "Heh, you know what Shakespeare really sounded like? He sounded like us." No, what? Had I missed something about Shakespeare? Something that took linguistic detective work to solve? Something like... his poor spelling. It's there in the "Bad Quartos" secretly scribbled by some bootlegger in his audience. It's there in the Good Quartos and First Folio, too. Even on his own grave, "digg" and "frend" look almost childish. His stacked "the" and "that" keep a simplified Germanic letter, thorn. Hmm. This isn't HIS spelling. 1400. Chaucer's "Englissh" was a very readable "tonge". So readable that, 75 years later, Mr Caxton imported a printing press to cash in on that readability. But one day a merchant came to town and ordered eggs. A woman said, sorry, I speke no Frenshe. The merchant got mad. He wasn't speaking French. He just wanted some eggs. Someone jumped in to help. Oh, he means eyren! Caxton griped, "Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now write, egges or eyren?" Unleash the spelling debates! How to spell kniht when it was evolving to nite? Should correc/s/ion have a c? And why, oh WHY, did Chaucer's vowels fall apart so fast? By 1600, the ongoing Great Vowel Shift was turning iː into əi, eː became iː and oː was uː! Welcome to Early Modern English, Shakespeare's tongue. "Good Frend for Iesvs sake forbeare to digg the dvst encloased heare". Not "here". "Heare". Just one of many rhymes that, well, they aren't rhymes anymore. Pleadeth rhymed with dreadeth, her with err and one with alone. You find crɛːtərs! Rɛːzənz! "Eye" went fine with compənəi. "Should" kept its "l" and didn't match wood. Extra credit: spell two words that sound like səsəiətəi and rhyme with "variety"! Haha. You get plɛː and prɛː, and prɛː and sɛː. But then thee rhymes with sɛː. So wait, were all of these actually iː? Or maybe thee was thɛː? Hmh. Well, fortunately, we find earwitness accounts of a meet/meat merger: sea was in the process of merging with see. With caution, rhymes may even help us recover puns. Like probably "reasons" and maybe "bile". And rhythm, like those iambs my teacher made us drum out in class, those count how many syllables were in, say, "enclosed". Uh, two. Too syllables. Except here it demands three: encloasèd. Meter can also reveal stress: not house'wifery, but 'ʔɤzɪfɹəi. Ok, you're learnèd now. You see in sɛː and sɛːz a noun and verb. It's no longer strange to hear "uhy noe the raisin, lead-eye". And you can stomach the news that Shakespeare's name may have been shɛːkspiːr or shɛːkspɛːr. In 1889, Alexander Ellis added one more piece of evidence: modern dialects. Dialects contain traces of a time before English had a proper accent. People who still don't merge miːt with meːt, whiches that aren't witches, undropped r's, h-less hearts, and gerund endin's - sounds downright Shakespearean. Like some dialects still do, he used both "thou" and polite "you": thou hast, thou'rt, you have, you're. And that third-person -eth, like in "she hath", was still competing with has. And while data-crunchers deflate legends of his peerless vocabulary, he was endlessly inventive with meaning and syntax. Try out this word order: "though I with Death and with reward did threaten and encourage him not doing it and being done." Playful a tangle for audiences to untie on the spot! So, what about listening to a whole play? Linguist David Crystal tested that in a newly reconstructed Globe. Thrown back into an era of standing, heckling and OP, Original Pronunciation, playgoers detected suspicious traces of one particular dialect: their own. There's something universal about learning to pronounce. We all come as strangers to Shakespeare's sounds, whether you're a theatre geek who quotes Hamlet by heart, or you're me, who'm about to finish animating this and read it for the very first time. I thank ye patrons for unlocking this and keeping me creating. And to everyone watching: I prithee, tarry and subscribe for language.



Modern English evolved from Early Modern English which was used from the beginning of the Tudor period until the Interregnum and Restoration in England.[6] The works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible are considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, are referred to as using Early Modern English or Elizabethan English. By the late 18th century the British Empire had facilitated the spread of Modern English through its colonies and geopolitical dominance. Commerce, science and technology, diplomacy, art, and formal education all contributed to English becoming the first truly global language. Modern English also facilitated worldwide international communication. English was adopted in North America, India, parts of Africa, Australia, and many other regions. In the post-colonial period, some of the newly created nations that had multiple indigenous languages opted to continue using Modern English as the official language to avoid the political difficulties inherent in promoting any one indigenous language above the others.[7][8]

Outline of changes

The following is an outline of the major changes in Modern English compared to its previous form (Middle English), and also some major changes in English over the course of the 20th century. Note, however, that these are generalizations, and some of these may not be true for specific dialects:





Up until the American–British split (1600–1725), some major phonological changes in English included:

  • Initial cluster reductions, like of /ɡn, kn/ into /n/: making homophones of gnat and nat, and not and knot.
  • The meet–meat merger in most dialects: making the words "meat", "threat" and "great" have three different vowels, although all three words once rhymed.
  • The foot–strut split: so that "cut" and "put", and "pudding" and "budding" no longer rhyme; and "putt" and "put" are no longer homophones.
  • The lot–cloth split: the vowel in words like "cloth" and "off" is pronounced with the vowel in "thought", as opposed to the vowel used in "lot".

After the American-British split, further changes to English phonology included:



Changes in alphabet and spelling were heavily influenced by the advent of printing and continental printing practices.

  • The letter thorn (þ), which began to be replaced by th as early as Middle English, finally fell into disuse. In Early Modern English printing thorn was represented with the Latin y, which appeared similar to thorn in blackletter typeface (𝖞). The last vestige of the letter was in ligatures of thorn, ye (thee), yt (that), yu (thou), which were still seen occasionally in the King James Bible of 1611 and in Shakespeare's Folios.
  • The letters i and j, previously written as a single letter, began to be distinguished; likewise for u and v. This was a common development of the Latin alphabet during this period.

Consequently, Modern English came to use a purely Latin alphabet of 26 letters.

See also


  1. ^ Terttu Nevalainen: An Introduction to Early Modern English, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 1
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "English". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Sihler 2000, p. xvi.
  4. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2016). "English". Ethnologue. SIL International. Retrieved 22 February 2016. Total users in all countries: 942,533,930 (as L1: 339,370,920; as L2: 603,163,010)
  5. ^ a b Algeo & pyles 2004, p. 222.
  6. ^ Nevalainen, Terttu (2006). An Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  7. ^ Romaine 2006, p. 586.
  8. ^ Mufwene 2006, p. 614.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Leech, Geoffrey; Hundt, Marianne; Mair, Christian; Smith, Nicholas (2009). Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study. Cambridge University Press. pp. 18–19.


  • Algeo, John; Pyles, Thomas (2004). The Origins and Development of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth Cengage. ISBN 978-0-155-07055-4.
  • Sihler, Andrew L. (2000), Language History: An Introduction, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 191, John Benjamins, ISBN 978-9027236982

External links

This page was last edited on 22 March 2019, at 16:38
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