English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


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IMAGE Early printing was a very labour-intensive process from EHistLing Some of the decisions made by the early publishers had long-lasting repercussions for the language. One such example is the use of the northern English they , their and them in preference to the London equivalents hi , hir and hem which were more easily confused with singular pronouns like he , her and him.

Definition and Examples of Standard British English

Caxton himself complained about the difficulties of finding forms which would be understood throughout the country, a difficult task even for simple little words like eggs. But his own work was far from consistent e. Many of his successors were just as inconsistent, particularly as many of them were Europeans and not native English speakers. Sometimes different spellings were used for purely practical reasons, such as adding or omitting letters merely to help the layout or justification of printed lines.

A good part of the reason for many of the vagaries and inconsistencies of English spelling has been attributed to the fact that words were fixed on the printed page before any orthographic consensus had emerged among teachers and writers. It is only since the archaic spelling was revived for store signs e. Ye Olde Pubbe that the "modern" pronunciation of ye has been used.

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As the Early Modern period progressed, there was an increased use of double vowels e. The letters "u" and "v", which had been more or less interchangeable in Middle English , gradually became established as a vowel and a consonant respectively, as did "i" and "j". The grammarian John Hart was particularly influential in these punctuation reforms. Standardization was well under way by around , but it was a slow and halting process and names in particular were often rendered in a variety of ways.

But, in , William Tyndale printed his New Testament, which he had translated directly from the original Greek and Hebrew.

Better English Pronunciation

By the time of his death he had only completed part of the Old Testament, but others carried on his labours. It appears to be deliberately conservative, even backward-looking, both in its vocabulary and its grammar, and presents many forms which had already largely fallen out of use, or were at least in the process of dying out e. The "-eth" ending is used throughout for third person singular verbs, even though "-es" was becoming much more common by the early 17th Century, and ye is used for the second person plural pronoun, rather than the more common you.

Matthew in the Wycliffe, Tyndale and Authorized versions respectively gives an idea of the way the language developed over the period:. Matthew Ch. Much of its real power, though, was in exposing the written language to many more of the common people. Several other dictionaries, as well as grammar, pronunciation and spelling guides, followed during the 17th and 18th Century. Johnson also deliberately omitted from his dictionary several words he disliked or considered vulgar including bang , budge , fuss , gambler , shabby and touchy , but these useful words have clearly survived intact regardless of his opinions.

Several of his definitions appear deliberately jokey or politically motivated. Since the 16th Century, there had been calls for the regulation and reform of what was increasingly seen as an unwieldy English language, including John Cheke's proposal for the removal of all silent letters, and William Bullokar's recommendation of a new letter alphabet including 8 vowels, 4 "half-vowels" and 25 consonants in order to aid and simplify spelling.

There were even attempts similarly unsuccessful to ban certain words or phrases that were considered in some way undesirable, words such as fib , banter , bigot , fop , flippant , flimsy , workmanship , selfsame , despoil , nowadays , furthermore and wherewithal , and phrases such as subject matter , drive a bargain , handle a subject and bolster an argument.

But, by the early 18th Century, many more scholars had come to believe that the English language was chaotic and in desperate need of some firm rules. He was supported in this by other important writers like John Dryden and Daniel Defoe, but such an institution was never actually realized. Interestingly, the only country ever to set up an Academy for the English language was South Africa, in Thomas Sheridan attempted to tap into the zeitgeist , and looked to regulate English pronunciation as well as its vocabulary and spelling. His son, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, later gave us the unforgettable language excesses of Mrs.

In fact, some works on grammar and rhetoric were published between and , and no less than during the 19th Century. Lowth was the main source of such "correct" grammar rules as a double negative always yields a positive, never end a sentence with a preposition and never split an infinitive. One such peak for the English language was the Early Modern period of the 16th to 18th Century, a period sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of English Literature other peaks include the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th Century, and the computer and digital age of the late 20th Century, which is still continuing today.

Between and , an estimated 10,, new words were coined, about half of which are still in use today. Up until the 17th Century, English was rarely used for scholarly or scientific works, as it was not considered to possess the precision or the gravitas of Latin or French. Thomas More, Isaac Newton, William Harvey and many other English scholars all wrote their works in Latin and, even in the 18th Century, Edward Gibbon wrote his major works in French, and only then translated them into English.

Sir Francis Bacon, however, hedged his bets and wrote many of his works in both Latin and English and, taking his inspiration mainly from Greek, coined several scientific words such as thermometer , pneumonia , skeleton and encyclopaedia. Over time, the rise of nationalism led to the increased use of the native spoken language rather than Latin, even as the medium of intellectual communication. The English scholar and classicist Sir Thomas Elyot went out of his way to find new words, and gave us words like animate , describe , dedicate , esteem , maturity , exhaust and modesty in the early 16th Century.

His near contemporary Sir Thomas More contributed absurdity , active , communicate , education , utopia , acceptance , exact , explain , exaggerate and others, largely from Latin roots. Milton was responsible for an estimated word coinages, including lovelorn , fragrance and pandemonium.

Was Received Pronunciation Ever Rhotic?

Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is also credited with the introduction of many common words, including damp , defunct , strenuous , clumsy and others; John Donne gave us self-preservation , valediction and others; and to Sir Philip Sydney are attributed bugbear , miniature , eye-pleasing , dumb-stricken , far-fetched and conversation in its modern meaning. It was really only in the 17th Century that dialects or at least divergence from the fashionable Standard English of Middlesex and Surrey began to be considered uncouth and an indication of inferior class.

The word class itself only acquired its modern sociological meaning in the early 18th Century, but by the end of the century it had become all-pervasive, to the extent that the mere sound of a Cockney accent was enough to brand the speaker as a vagabond, thief or criminal although in the 19th Century, Charles Dickens was to produce great literature and sly humour out of just such preconceptions, explicitly using speech, vocabulary and accent for commic effect. He had a vast vocabulary 34, words by some counts and he personally coined an estimated 2, neologisms or new words in his many works, including, but by no means limited to, bare-faced , critical , leapfrog , monumental , castigate , majestic , obscene , frugal , aerial , gnarled , homicid e, brittle , radiance , dwindle , puking , countless , submerged , vast , lack-lustre , bump , cranny , fitful , premeditated , assassination , courtship , eyeballs , ill-tuned , hot-blooded , laughable , dislocate , accommodation , eventful , pell-mell , aggravate , excellent , fretful , fragrant , gust , hint , hurry , lonely , summit , pedant , gloomy , and hundreds of other terms still commonly used today.

By some counts, almost one in ten of the words used by Shakespeare were his own invention, a truly remarkable achievement it is the equivalent of a new word here and then, after just a few short phrases, another other new word here. By the time of Shakespeare, word order had become more fixed in a subject-verb-object pattern, and English had developed a complex auxiliary verb system, although to be was still commonly used as the auxiliary rather than the more modern to have e. I am come rather than I have come. The idea was that one could speak British English or American English but not a random mix of the two.


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Even those Americans who are put off by 'posh accents' may be impressed by them and hence likely to suppose that standard British English is somehow 'better' English than their own variety. From a purely linguistic point of view, this is nonsense, but it is a safe bet that it will survive any past or future loss of British influence in world affairs.

But the -t irregulars may be doomed in England too: each year, a population the size of Cambridge adopts "burned" in lieu of "burnt,"' they wrote. Share Flipboard Email. Richard Nordquist is a freelance writer and former professor of English and Rhetoric who wrote college-level Grammar and Composition textbooks. The y was pronounced as we pronounce a th today.

Also, at times L and S will be confusing because of similarities. Steps in Deciphering Handwritten Documents The more 18 th century writing you read, the easier it will become. If you are having difficulty reading a handwritten document, you could try some of these suggestions: Look at the document as a primary source. Try to find answers to the basic questions: Who wrote this document?

What does it say? In trying to date the document, consider the kind of writing instrument used, the type and date of the paper, the style of writing, the author, and internal evidence such as dates, names, and events mentioned.

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Study samples of hands from penmanship books of the time and become familiar with the varieties of hands. In the document you are trying to read, find words that you know. Use internal evidence to help you. Figure out what kind of document this is and become familiar with some of the standard phrases likely to appear in such a document at that time.

For instance, look at some deeds or probate records. Certain legal phrases are likely to appear and reappear. Begin transcribing the document by writing the words you know and leaving space to write the mystery words once you decipher them. Put guesses in brackets in your transcription.


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Find individual letters in the document, using the letters in the words you know as guides. Compare and compare. Eventually you will start to recognize letters and then combinations of letters more easily. Read odd looking words aloud, phonetically. Maybe the sound will help you recognize an oddly-spelled word. If the writer is particularly idiosyncratic and hard to decipher, create a personalized alphabet guide by marking letters on a photocopy.

How far back in time could you go and still understand English?

You could also cut and paste a photocopy to create a complete alphabet style sheet to use as a reference. Look up odd and unfamiliar words in the Oxford English Dictionary. This multivolume dictionary is the most complete available and includes archaic and obscure words unlikely to appear in abridged dictionaries.

Some words associated with particular occupations or sciences might also be found in eighteenth- century instructional texts about those subjects. Get knowledgeable professional help if faded ink makes reading impossible. Ultraviolet light, various chemical treatments, photographing with colored filters, and infrared photographing are options that might help.

Return to the document several times after leaving it for awhile. Sometimes clarity will intervene, and words you could not recognize before will seem simple to read later.

English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

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