The Early Modern Status of the English Language

Modern English as the third linguistic stage (following Old English and Middle English) in the historical development of English, dating from around 1450 to the present day, is commonly divided into Early Modern English (c. 1450-1700) and (Late) Modern English.

Within this period, English experienced important and tremendous changes not only in its lexis and grammar but also in its general importance and perception.

Early Modern English was marked by a change in pronunciation, namely the Great Vowel Shift, as well as the beginning of a single literary and administrative variety of English. The spread of English throughout Britain and Ireland and the resulting retreat of Celtic languages and the further spread of English to colonies in North America and the Caribbean exposed English to an increasing number of potential speakers.

Massive lexical borrowing from other languages during the Renaissance and Reformation, especially from Latin and Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese undeniably altered the English language and its significance.The translation of many foreign works into English. i.e. the Bible,and the growth of a strong vernacular literature marked by the flowering of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama helped to change the status of English not only within the English realm but also within Europe and across the Atlantic.

Influences through the spread of the language through the printing press, standardization of the English language, increased traveling and the influence of other languages led the way to what we today call Modern English.

At the beginning of the Early Modern English period, English had asserted itself as the language of the scribes in the Chancery, the office of the royal scribes.

It was used mostly and in official situations, but not yet in all fields of knowledge. In the scientific world, Latin was still the Lingua Franca.

English was said to be lacking words, it was unstable and changing and therefore considered too “barbarous and vulgar” to complement the subjects it was dealing with. The voices that had always taken English for not only a useful, but also eloquent language gained strength towards the end of the sixteenth century. Some linguists argue, that the change from Latin to English as the main language even in scientific research, took place very suddenly between 1575 and 1580.

After that date, most writers were convinced by its usefulness and by the borrowing of new terms from other languages, as described above, they could help the lacking vocabulary. With the growing prestige of the language in the seventeenth century, the desire to standardize and fix its grammar rose as well.