The division of the History of English into periods is based on 2 principles.
1. extra linguistic – cardinal changes in the history of people.
2. linguistic proper – cardinal changes in the structure and status of the language itself.
Roughly covers 12 centuries. It’s divided into 3 periods. The traditional division is based on the phonetics and grammatical principles (Henry Sweet). The following periodisation of English history subdivides the history of English into seven periods differing in linguistic situation and the nature of linguistic changes.
Old English (500 – 1100) – It was a typical OG language, with a purely Germanic vocabulary, and a few foreign borrowings, but it displayed specific phonetic peculiarities.
Orthography. Was based on the phonematic principle which made writing and reading quite easy. OE starting with the 6th cent began to use the Latin alphabet with some modifications. In the 6th cent England became a Christian country. The Latin alphabet replaced the runic one. The oldest written record is dated by the 7th cent.
Grammar: OE was a synthetic lang (had lots of inflexions). In OE we find the major parts of speech (noun, verbs). The nominal system was more complex than in ME.
Vocabulary: 23000-24000 words in OE (now 600 000), only 15% survived in NE.
But OE wasn’t a uniform language, it presents a grouping of dialects. There were 4 dialects of OE language.
1. Northumbrian (north of the river Humber)
2. Mercian (between the Humber and the Thames)
3. Kentish – the peninsula of Kent – spoken by Juts, Frisian.
4. Wessex – West Saxons (south and west of the Thames). Since king Alfred, when Wessex became the most powerful kingdom, Wessex dialect became popular and got the status of written standard. Most OE written record are in Wessex d.
OE was a synthetic language with a well-developed system of morphological categories.
Early OE (prewritten OE) from 450 – 700. It is the stage of tribal dialects (Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians), which were used for oral communication, no written form. It has been reconstructed from the written evidence of other OG languages and from later OE written records.
OE(written OE) 700 – 1066. The tribal dialects gradually changed into local and regional dialects. They were probably equal as a medium of communication while in the sphere of writing West Saxon had gained supremacy over Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian.
Middle English (1100 – 1500) – reduced inflexions, unstressed endings. During this period 4 million people spoke Middle English Dialects. Middle English: Northumbrian → the Northern dialect; Mercian → East Midland, West Midland dialects; Kentish, Wessex → South Western, South eastern
East Midland became the modern language, was spoken not far from London → modern national English.
Although this period was rather short the language changed greatly and was different from OE in many characteristics.
Orthography. The phonetic principle disappears as clearly as OE. The spelling shows an influence of French.
Phonetics. Reduction is more active, most unstressed ending disappear. This influences grammar.
Grammar. Is transformed. The noun, adj…lose most their inflexions, its simplified. verb develops new tense forms (Future). Word order becomes fixed.
Vocabulary. Hundreds of Scandinavian and thousands of French and Latin borrowings.
Early ME 1066 – 1350. It was the stage of the greatest dialectal divergence caused by the feudal system and by foreign influences – Scandinavian and French. Under Norman rule the official language in England was French or rather its variety called Anglo-French or Anglo-Norman; it was also the dominant language of literature. The local dialects were used mainly for oral communication. Early ME was a time of great changes at all the levels of the language, especially in lexis and grammar. English absorbed two layers of lexical borrowings: Scandinavian and French. Phonetic and grammatical changes proceeded at a high rate. Grammatically English was transformed from a highly inflected language into a mainly analytical one.
ME (classical or late) 1350 – 1475 (the age of Chaucer) – it was the time of restoration of English to the position of the state and literary language and the time of literary flourishing. The main dialect used in writing and literature was the mixed dialect of London. Chaucer’s language was a recognized literary form imitated throughout the 15th century. The period was characterized by the growth of the English vocabulary and the increasing proportion of French loan words in English. Most inflections in the nominal system had fallen together. The verb system was expanding.
Modern English (1500 - ...) loss of inflexion. Nowadays 300 million people speak English as a mother tongue
Early New English 1476 – 1660 – this period is a sort of transition between two outstanding epochs: the age of Chaucer and the age of Shakespeare. In this period the first printed book which was published by W. Caxton in 1475 appeared. The London dialect had risen to prominence as a compromise between the various types of speech prevailing in the country and formed the basis of the growing national literary language. The vocabulary was growing. New words from external and internal sources enriched the vocabulary. Extensive phonetic changes were transforming the vowel system, which resulted in the growing gap between the written and the spoken forms of the word. The inventory of grammatical forms and syntactical constructions was almost the same as in Modern English, but their use was different.
Normalization Period 1660 – 1800 (age of correctness, Neo-Classical period) – this age witnessed the establishment of norms which can be defined as received standards recognized as correct at the given period. During that period English extended its area far beyond the borders of the British Isles, first of all to North America. The 18th century has been called the period of “fixing the pronunciation”. The great sound shifts were over and pronunciation was being stabilized. Word usage and grammatical constructions were subjected to restriction and normalization. The formation of new verbal grammatical categories was completed.
Late NE/Mod E (including 1800 – present day English) – by the 19th century English had achieved the relative stability and the classical language of literature was strictly distinguished from the local dialects. The expansion of English overseas proceeded together with the growth of the British Empire in the 19th century. In the 19th and 20th century the English vocabulary has grown reflecting the rapid progress of technology, science and culture. Some pronunciation forms have become old-fashioned while other forms have gained ground and have been accepted as common usage.