Final question 3

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Final question 3

Post  Sébastien Hamel on Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:46 pm

3) In the EarlyModern English period we see the term to “fix a language” appear. Explain what this term means, why the language had to be “fixed” and explain what efforts were made to fix the language.
During the early Modern English period, people started to care more about the spelling and grammar rules. During the 18th century people started to feel the desire to codify the English language and direct its course fall. There were three main things that needed to be monitored.
1) To reduce the language to rules and setup a standard correct usage.
2) To remove elements that cause problem and introduce certain improvements.
3) To fix it permanently in the desired form.
When using the printing press for example, they followed specific grammar rules to standardized the language. Now that people have more access to written material it is important that everybody write the same way.
The rise of English purists, who decried the 'degeneration' of English and sought to 'purify' it and fix it forever in unchanging form. Jonathan Swift, a purist, wrote these words in 1712. They express a sentiment we still hear today — the idea that language should be fixed forever, frozen in time, and protected from the ravages of fashion and social trends. Language change is almost always perceived as a negative thing. During the eighteenth century, Swift and many other influential figures felt the English language was in a state of serious decline and that a national institution, such as existed in France and Italy, should be created to establish rules and prevent further decay. Even today we hear people complaining about a supposed lack of ‘standards’ in spoken and written English. New words and expressions, innovative pronunciations and changes in grammar are derided, and are often considered inferior. Yet because of its adaptability and durability, English has evolved into an incredibly versatile and modern language, retaining a recognisable link to its past.
A contemporary of Swift, Dr Johnson, wrote in 1747 of his desire to produce a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed and its purity preserved, but on completing the project ten years later he acknowledges in his introduction that: Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, require that it should fix our language and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. Johnson clearly realised that any attempt to fix the language was futile. Like it or not, language is always changing and English will continue to do so in many creative and frustrating ways.


Sébastien Hamel

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