A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LITERARY
Up till now we have done little more than mention the literary (standard) language, which is one of the most important notions in stylistics and general linguistics. It is now necessary to elucidate this linguistic notion by going a little deeper into what constitutes the concept and to trace the stages in the development of the English standard language. This is necessary in order to avoid occasional confusion of terms differently used in works on the history, literature and style of the English language.
Confusion between the terms "literary language" and "language of literature" is frequently to be met.
Literary language is a historical category. It exists as a variety of the national language.
“It must be remembered,” said A. M. Gorki, "that language is the creation of the people. The division of the language into literary and vernacular only means that there are, as it were, a rough unpolished tongue and one wrought by men-of-letters."1
The literary language is that elaborated form (variety) of the national language which obeys definite morphological, phonetic, syntactical, lexical, phraseological and stylistic norms2 recognized as standard and therefore acceptable in all kinds and types of discourse. It allows modifications but within the frame work of the system of established norms. It casts out some of the forms of language which are considered to be beyond the established norm. The norm of usage is established by the language community at every given period in the development of the language. It is ever changing and therefore not infrequently evasive. At every period the norm is in a state of fluctuation and it requires a very sensitive and efficient eye and ear to detect and specify these fluctuations. Sometimes we may even say that two norms co-exist. But in this case we may be positive that one of the co-existing forms of the language will give way to its rival and either vanish from the language entirely or else remain on its outskirts.
In this connection it will not come amiss to note that there are two conflicting tendencies in the process of establishing the norm:
1) preservation of the already existing norm, sometimes with attempts to re-establish old forms of the language;
1Ãîðüêèé Ì. Î ëèòåðàòóðå. Ì., 1937, ñ. 220.
2 For thedefinition of the norm and its variants see pp. 18—19.
2) introduction of new norms not yet firmly established. In this connection it will be interesting to quote the following lines from H. Ñ. Wyld's "A History of Modern Colloquial English."
"If it were necessary to attempt to formulate the general tendencies which have been discernible in Received Standard English during the last three centuries and a half, and which have been increasingly potent during the last hundred and fifty years, we should name two, which are to some extent opposed, but both of which are attributable to social causes. The first is the gradual decay of ceremoniousness and formality which has overtaken the speech and modes of address, no less than the manners, of good society. The second of the effort—sometimes conscious and deliberate, sometimes unconscious—after 'correctness' or correctitude, which, on the one hand, has almost eliminated the use of oaths and has softened away many coarsenesses and crudities of expression—as we should now feel them to be, however little squeamish we may be—while on the other it has, by a rigid appeal to the spelling—the very worst and most unreliable court for the purpose—definitely ruled out, as 'incorrect' or 'slipshod' or 'vulgar'", many pronunciations and grammatical constructions which had arisen in the natural course of the development of English, and were formerly universal among the best speakers. Both of these tendencies are due primarily to the social, political and economic events in our history.
These social changes have inevitably brought with them corresponding changes in manners and in speech... but the speech and habits of a lifetime are not changed in a moment, as a vesture. Much of the old remains, and slowly and imperceptibly the new-comers react upon their environment, almost as much as they are influenced by it. Thus, for instance, it is suggested that the Middle Class Puritan ideals have gradually brought about a greater reticence of expression and a more temperate use of expletives, and also a greater simplicity of manners, from which many of the airs and graces of the older order were eliminated. Again, a highly cultivated and intellectual section of the Middle Class have played a prominent part in Church and State since the time of Elizabeth. We see under that monarch a generation of courtiers, statesmen, and prelates, who were also scholars, and even some who... were educational reformers and writers upon language, as well as statesmen. The influence of these learned courtiers would be in the direction of correctness and elegance of utterance, in opposition to the more careless and unstudied speech of the mere men of fashion."1
It is interesting to note that much of what was considered a violation of the norm in one period, of the development of a language becomes acknowledged and is regarded as perfectly normal in another
1 Wyld, H. C. A History of Modern Colloquial English. Ldn, 1935, pp. 18—19.
period. Many words and constructions which were once considered illiterate have become literary. And no effort was spared to ban innovations, particularly in the sphere of vocabulary, by the purists of any given period. But most of their efforts were in vain. The people, who are the only lawgivers of the language, gradually accepted changes in all language levels and in vocabulary.
There is no hard and fast division between the literary and non-literary language. They are interdependent. The literary language constantly enriches its vocabulary and forms from the inexhaustible resources of the vernacular. It also adopts some of its syntactical peculiarities and by so doing gives them the status of norms of the literary language. Thus selection is the most typical feature of the literary language. The process of selecting and admitting lexical or morphological forms into the literary language is not a conscious effort on the part of scholars. It is rather a reluctant concession than a free and deliberate selection. When a linguistic item circulating in the non-literary language gains admission into the sacred precincts of the literary language, it is mostly due to the conscious choice of the man-of-letters, who finds either an aesthetic value in the given unit, or some other merit that will justify its recognition as a lawful member of the literary language.
This, however, is not the case with structural units. As the national language is the creation of the people as a whole, morphological and syntactical changes which gradually and imperceptibly take place in their speech from one generation to another, cannot fail in the long run to enter the literary language. Men-of-letters not only write the language, they also speak it and in most cases just like any one of their countrymen.
Newly-coined words, or neologisms, as they are called, which are created according to the productive models of word-building in the given language do not go beyond the boundaries of the literary norms. If a newly-coined word is understood by the community, it may become a fact of the literary language. But the literary language casts off any form that is unrecognizable. The development of the literary language is governed by its own laws. It is highly resistant to innovations of speech.
The English literary language was particularly regulated and formalized during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The influence of the men-of-letters on this process can hardly be over-estimated. Some of them, none the less, hindered the natural, organic process of development. Baugh1 points out that Swift, for example, "in matters of language... was a conservative." Byron, on the other hand, was very liberal and introduced into the literary language many new words and phrases. Not all of them gained recognition and stayed in the literary language; but nevertheless they were facts of the literary language by their very nature. Take, for example, the word 'weatherology' coined by Byron.
1Baugh, Albert C. A History of the English Language. Ldn, 1963, p. 319.
The literary language greatly influences the non-literary language. Many words, constructions and particularly phonetic improvements have been introduced through it into the English colloquial language.
This influence had its greatest effect in the 19th century with the spread of general education, and in the present century with the introduction of radio and television into the daily lives of the people. Many words of a highly literary character have passed into the non-literary language, often undergoing peculiar morphological and phonetic distortions in the process.
The non-literary language manifests itself in all aspects of the language: phonetic, morphological, lexical and syntactical.
Such formerly dialectal peculiarities as in' instead of ing; [a:] instead of [æ]; the dropping of [h] and the insertion of [h] at the beginning of some words; [ai] instead of [ei], [rain]—[rein], are typical phonetic peculiarities of non-literary English.
The difficulty that one faces when attempting to specify the characteristic features of the non-literary variety lies mainly in the fact that it does not present any system. The best way to check this or that form of non-literary English is to contrast it to the existing form.
Literary English is almost synonymous with the term standard English. Standard English is best described in an interesting book written by Randolph Quirk, Professor of English language in the University of London, the title of which is "The Use of English." He states:
"We have seen that standard English is basically an. ideal, a mode of expression that we seek when we wish to communicate beyond our immediate community with members of the wider community of the nation as a whole. As an ideal, it cannot be perfectly realised, and we must expect that members of different 'wider communities' (Britain, America, Nigeria, for. example) may produce different realisations. In fact, however, the remarkable thing is the very high degree of unanimity, the small amount of divergence. Any of us can read a newspaper printed in Leeds or San Francisco or Delhi without difficulty and often even without realising that there are differences at all."1
Cockney, regarded as the remnants of the London dialect, seems to be growing into a generic term for any form of non-standard English in Britain, although non-standard varieties of English exist in territorial variants. Literary English is indifferent to territorial usage.
The publication of dictionaries does much to establish the literary language norms. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to establish any norm once and for all. At the very moment it is established, it begins to fluctuate. Such fluctuations not infrequently result in considerable changes. And the compilers of English dictionaries are forced willy-nilly to acknowledge a variant and present it as co-existing alongside the one previously recognized as solely acceptable. This is particularly
1Quirk, Randolph. The Use of English. Ldn, Longmans, 1962, pp. 95-96.
the case with reference to pronunciation. The scholar fixing the language norm is made to bow to his majesty the people.
The English literary language has had a long and peculiar history. Throughout the stages of its development there has been a struggle for progressive tendencies, which, on the one hand, aim at barring the language from the intrusion of contaminating elements, such as jargonisms, slang, vulgarisms and the like, and, on the other hand, at manifesting themselves in protest against the reactionary aspirations of some zealous scholars to preserve the English language in a fixed form.
The English language, as is known, is the result of the integration of the tribal dialects of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who occupied the British Isles in the 3rd—5th centuries. The first manuscripts of the language belong to the 8th century. But the language of the 8th and consecutive centuries is so unlike present-day English that Englishmen do not understand it. This language is called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Old English is a dead language, like Latin or classic Greek. Like them and like the Russian language, it is an inflected language. The Old English period lasted approximately until the end of the twelfth century.
During the next stage in its development, known as the Middle English period, the English language rapidly progressed towards its present state. By this time it had greatly enlarged its vocabulary by borrowings from Norman-French and other languages.
The structure of the language had considerably changed due to the loss of most of the inflections and also to other very important changes.
By the middle of the thirteenth century Norman-French, which had been the official language since the Norman Conquest in 1066, was almost completely ousted by English. In 1362 Parliament was first opened in English, and a few years later court proceedings were ordered to be carried on in English and not in French, "which was too little known."
The New English period, as it is called, is usually considered to date from the fifteenth century. This is the beginning of the English language known, spoken and written at the present time.
This period cannot yet be characterized by any degree of uniformity in the language. The influence of the various dialects was still strongly felt, but the London dialect was gradually winning general recognition. According to many historians of the English language, by the latter part of the 15th century the London dialect had been accepted as the standard, at least in writing, in most parts of the country. This should to a very great extent be attributed to Caxton, the first English printer, who in his translations and in the books he printed used the current speech of London. Caxton writes that he was advised by learned men to use the most curious terms that he could find, and declares that he found himself in a dilemma "between the plain, rude and curious. But in my judgement", he goes on, "the common terms that be daily used been lighter to understand than the old and ancient English." Puttenham, author of "The Art of English Poesie," declares that as the norm of literary English
"... ye shall therefore take the usual speech of the court, and that of London and the shires lying about London within LX (sixty) miles and not much above."1
But the process of establishing the London speech as a single norm throughout the country was very slow and hardly perceptible. Even the language of the 16th century, according to Ñ Wyld, "...both in printed works and in private letters, still shows considerable dialectal individualism. The Standard... is not yet completely fixed."2
In the sixteenth century literary English began markedly to flourish. The rapid development of printing went parallel with the general growth of culture, to which much was contributed by the two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
In the second half of the 16th century, a century marked by the political and economic rise of England, literature began to flourish in all forms—drama, poetry and prose. The works of literary criticism written at the time show the interest awakened in poetry and drama. Frequent translations were now made from the Greek and Latin classic writers. Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and, later, Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher and many other writers of the period exerted a very great influence on the growth and perfection of the English literary language.
The freedom in the use of language so characteristic of this epoch was often subjected to wise and moderate restrictions set by these writers. So, for example, Ben Jonson, while accepting Quintillian's statement that "... custome is the most certain mistress of language," at the same time warns "...not to be frequent with every day coining", nor to use words from past ages which were no longer in use, that is, archaic words as, for instance, Chaucerisms.
In their use of the language there were two tendencies among the writers of this age: one was the free and almost unrestricted use of new words and forms, coined or imported into the English language; the other was the revival of archaic words, the latter being a counter-weight to the former. Two names may be called to mind as representing the two tendencies: Spenser, on the one hand, Shakespeare, on the other. Spenser tried to preserve the old English words, especially those denoting abstract ideas, which had been replaced by words of French or Latin origin. He praised these words as being more expressive than the borrowed ones.
On the contrary, Shakespeare advocated in his sonnets and plays the unrestricted use of words of all kinds and particularly new coinages. Shakespeare himself coined many new words. Marlowe and Fletcher drew widely on the resources of vernacular English and this, to a large extent, explains the remarkable vigour and expressiveness of their language.
To give a general idea of the factors influencing the development of literary English in the 15th and 16th centuries, it will suffice to point out the following three:
1Baugh, Albert Ñ Op. cit., p. 275.
2Wyld, H. C. A History of Modern Colloquial English. Ldn, 1925, p. 102.
1) A common interest in classical literature during the Renaissance and hence the application of classical grammar, spelling and rhetoric to the English language. Attempts were made by scholars to force the classical norms into the English language.
2) A desire to keep the language pure, to retain and revive old English words and as far as possible old English morphological and syntactical forms. This tendency has been called archaic purism. The influence of archaic purism led to an acute struggle against the intrusion of foreign words, particularly those of Latin and continental French origin, and as a consequence of this struggle an orientation towards the obsolescent forms of the language.
3) An orientation towards the living, developing and rapidly changing norms of the colloquial language. Free use was made of the inherent properties of the English language as they had materialized by this time, for example, free use of conversion, word-composition, derivation and semantic change. In the domain of syntax and word-order too, there was already considerable freedom of usage.
The Protestant Reformation, which gradually gained strength and popularity throughout the 16th century, played a great role in the development of the English literary language. Books on religion, translated or composed in strong, simple, living English with few "learned" words, and understandable to the masses of ordinary people, were by act of Parliament placed in the churches and read aloud. Parts of the Bible and later the whole Bible were also translated in the same manner. By order of Queen Elizabeth I a Bible was placed in every church and people flocked to read it or hear it read. (Up to the reign of Elizabeth it had been forbidden to read the Bible in English and people were punished and burnt to death for doing so.)
The interaction of these three factors is reflected in the grammars and books on rhetoric of the time, which serve to illustrate to the present-day reader the fluctuation of the norms then existing, as well as the linguistic ideas, tastes and credos of the scholars who laid down the law. The uncritical applications of the laws of Latin grammar to the norms observed in the English language were objected to even in the 16th century. Philip Sidney, for instance, stated that the English language must have its own grammar. He saw that such grammatical categories as case, gender, tense and mood, which are natural to Latin, could not be applied mechanically to English.
However, books on rhetoric have played a considerable part in establishing the norms of literary English in the 16th as well as in the following centuries. As far back as in 1524 Leonard Cox published a textbook entitled "The Arte or Crafte of Rhetorique" which was followed by a series of works of this kind. Many of them have helped to lay the foundation for the study of the laws of composition and of the ways and means to make writing emphatic in order that the desired effect on the reader should be achieved and the main function of language—communication—guaranteed to the full.
One of the most popular works of the time was Thomas Wilson's "Arte of Rhetorique" published in 1553. Following the ancient Latin
tradition of rhetoric, Wilson divides style of expression into three kinds: elevated, middle and low, a division which was in vogue up to the 19th century and which greatly influenced the course of development of the English literary language. Writing devoid of all ornament was considered coarse. It was in this period, the 16th century, that a literary trend known as euphuism came into vogue. The euphuistic manner of writing was characterized by a pedantic affectation of elegant and high-flown language abounding in all kinds of stylistic devices.
It was not only the syntactical aspect of the English literary language that was influenced by the laws of rhetoric. The choice of words was also predetermined by the laws set by the rhetoricians of the 16th century. Latin words, either directly or through the French language, poured into the English literary language because English had never had, or had lost, the words required to give expression to scientific ideas. Sir Thomas More, for example, introduced into the English language a great many words in spite of the opposition of the purists of the time. To him the English language owes such words as absurdity, acceptance, anticipate, compatible, comprehensible, congratulate, explain, fact, indifference, monopoly, necessitate, obstruction, paradox, pretext and many others. Philip Sidney is said to have coined such words as emancipate, eradicate, exist, extinguish, harass, meditate and many other words and phrases. As illustrations we have chosen words which have found a permanent place in the English stock of words. Most of them have already passed into the neutral layer of words. A great many words introduced by men-of-letters in the 16th century and later have disappeared entirely from English literature.
Further, there were great' difficulties in spelling. No two writers spelt all words exactly alike. From the Old English period up to the 15th century there had" been chaos in English spelling. The Old English system, which was phonetic, had broken down because the language had changed. Then besides that, no writer knew exactly how to spell borrowed words—in the Latin, the French or the Norman-French way, or according to the rules which individual writers applied in their own way when spelling words of English origin.1Even the publication of dictionaries, which began in the middle of the 17th century, did not fix English spelling. One of the first dictionaries was called "Table Alphabetical conteyning and teaching the true writing and understanding of hard usual English words." This was the first dictionary confined entirely to the English language. Spelling was one of the problems which the English language began consciously to face in the 16th century and it was fairly settled before the end of the 17th century.
And yet this period is characterized mainly by freedom of the norms used in the literary language. The interaction of the lively everyday speech and the unstable rules of English grammar led to a peculiar enrichment of the literary language. New word-combinations were coined with ease and new meanings attached to them (for example, to come
1The influence of the Latinists can be seen, for example, in the words debt and doubt. The b was inserted to make the words look more like the Latin originals.
about in the meaning of 'to happen'; to come by='to get'; to come upon— 'to near').
The same can be observed in the composition of compound words, particularly words with adjectives as first components, for example, with the word deep—deep-divorcing; deep-premediated; deep-searched; deep-sore; deep-sweet; deep-wounded; deep-brained.1
The element deep in these examples loses its primary logical meaning and assumes a new meaning, half-grammatical, which we call emotional. The word thus assumes a new quality: it is a semi-prefix, indicating the intensification of the quality embodied in the second adjective.
The free use of words, in spite of the restrictions imposed on this freedom by certain ardent adherents of the "purity" of the language, resulted in the appearance of new meanings of words. First they were perceived as contextual, probably accompanied by suggestive intonation and gestures, and then, in the course of time, through frequency of repetition, the new meanings were absorbed into the semantic structure of the word.
As an illustration of the instability of the norms of usage it will be interesting to point out the variety of prepositions that could be used with verbs. Thus, the verb to repent was used with the following prepositions: 'repent at', 'repent for', 'repent over', 'repent in', 'repent of. The syntactical patterns of this period were also marked by noticeable variety arising from the relative freedom of usage. This freedom is observable not only in the word-order but in the use of double negations, as in 'say nothing neither' and the like. In morphology it is marked by the use of both adjectives and adverbs in the function of modifiers of verbs, as in 'to speak plain', 'she is exceeding wise' and the like. The fluctuation in the norms of the English literary language of the 16th century is ascribed to a variety of causes. One is that the London dialect, which formed the core of the national literary language, was not yet spoken all over the country. Consequently, an educated man who came, let us say, from the North of England, still retained in his speech certain of the morphological and syntactical forms of his native dialect. Then, in view of the fact that the norms of the literary language were not yet hard and fast, he used these dialectal forms in his writing. There was a great influx of forms from the common speech of the people into the literary language which, however, was still the domain of the few.
Students of the history of the English language give a number of reasons explaining this influx of forms from the everyday language of the people. One of them is that after the church of England refused to acknowledge the authority of Rome, church services had been translated from Latin into simple, strong English. Services were held daily and long sermons delivered in English. Many of the clergy found that the literary English did not have much more meaning to the people than church Latin had had, so they modified it, bringing it. Closer to
1 The examples are taken from G. McKnight's Modern English in the Making. N. Y., 1956.
the speech of the people among whom they lived. Clergymen who were unable to write their own sermons used those of the great protest ant reformers of the 16th century which were written in simple forceful English with a minimum of borrowed words.
It was in the choice of the words to be used in literary English that the sharpest controversy arose and in which the two tendencies of the period were most apparent.
On the one hand, there was a fierce struggle against "ink-horn" terms, as they were then called.1 Among the learned men of the 16th century who fought against the introduction of any innovations into the English language must be mentioned. Sir John Cheke, Roger Ascham and, in particular, Thomas Wilson, whose well-known "Arte of Rhetorique" has already been mentioned. He severely attacked "ink-horn" terms. Some of the words that were objected to by Thomas Wilson were affability, ingenious, capacity, celebrate, illustrate, superiority, fertile, native, confidence and many others that are in common use to-day. Puttenham, although issuing a warning against "ink-horn terms", admits having to use some of them himself, and seeks to justify them in particular instances. He defends the words scientific, majordome, politien (politician), conduct (verb) and others.
On the other hand, there was an equally fierce struggle against the tendency to revive obsolete words and particularly the vocabulary and phraseology of Chaucer. Ben Jonson in this connection said: "Spenser in affecting the ancients writ no language." Sir John Cheke, one of the purists of the century, tried to introduce English equivalents for the French borrowings: he invented such words as mooned (lunatic), foresyer (prophet), byword (parable), freshman (proselyte), crossed (crucified), gainrising (resurrection). Of these words only freshman in the sense of 'first-year student' and byword in the sense of 'a saying' remain in the language. The tendency to revive arhaic words, however, has always been observed in poetic language.
The 16th century may justly be called crucial in establishing the norms of present-day literary English. Both of the tendencies mentioned above have left their mark on the standard English of to-day. Sixteenth-century literary English could not, however, be called standard English because at that time there was no received standard.
Seventeenth-century literary English is characterized by a general tendency to refinement and regulation. The orientation towards classical models, strong enough in 16th century English, assumed a new function, that of refining, polishing and improving the literary language. This was, of course, one of the trends leading to the final establishment of the norms of literary English.
The tendency to refine the language, to give it the grace and gallantry of the nobility of the period, is manifested in the writings of language theoreticians and critics of the time. Illustrative of this is the "Essay on Dramatic Poesy" by John Dryden, where we find the following:
1 Terms born from an 'ink-horn', that is, words and phrases which were purposely coined by men-of-letters, and the meaning of which was obscure.
"I have always acknowledged the wit of our predecessors... but I am sure their wit was not that of gentlemen; there was ever somewhat that was ill bred and clownish in it and which confessed the conversation of the authors... In the age wherein these poets lived, there was less of gallantry than in ours; neither did they keep the best company»of theirs (their age)... The discourse and raillery of our comedies excel what has been written by them."1
One of the many manifestations of the process of regulation and refinement can be seen in the successive editions of Shakespeare's works in 1623, 1632, 1664, 1685, in which the language of the great playwright was subjected to considerable change in order to make it conform to the norms established by his successors. There were not only morphological and syntactical changes, but even changes in Shakespeare's vocabulary. Words that were considered 'ill bred and clownish' were sometimes changed, but more often they were omitted altogether.
In 1664 a special committee was set up, the aim of which was to normalize and improve the English language. But the Committee did not last long and had little influence in deciding upon the norms of usage. A considerable role in the regulation of the norms was played by a number of new grammars which appeared at this period. Among these the "Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae" written in Latin by John Wallis and published in 1653 is particularly notable. It was a kind of protest against the blind imitation of Latin grammars, although the author could not free himself entirely from the influence of the Latin grammatical system and the Latin theory of language.
The tendency of refining and polishing the English literary language by modelling it on the classic Greek and Latin masterpieces was counteracted, however, by another strong movement, that of restricting literary English to a simple colloquial language which would easily be understood by the ordinary people. The Protestant Reformation also played its role in safeguarding the English literary language for the people.
So, on the one hand, there was the rhetoric which was "...a potent force in shaping the English language in the period following the Renaissance"2 and which undoubtedly paved the way for the norms of the standard English of the 17th century. On the other hand, there was the authorized version of the English Bible first published in 1611, which
"...has served to keep alive English words and to fix their meanings, and it has provided language material and pattern in word, in phrase, in rhythm... to English writers and speakers of all subsequent times."3 According to Frank A. Visetelly, the Bible contains 97 per cent of Anglo-Saxon words, more than any other English book.
1 Quoted by H. Ñ Wyld, op. cit., p. 154.
2McKnight, G. H. Op. cit., p. 124.
Early in the seventeenth century English dictionaries began to appear as practical guides to the use of new words, terms belonging to science and art and also "ink-horn" terms, which had poured into the English language in the 16th century and continued to flow in the seventeenth.
As in every century there was a struggle between the purists, the "keepers" of the already established norms of the language, who mainly orientate towards the literary and somewhat obsolescent forms of language, and the admirers of novelty who regard everything new that appears on the surface of the language as representing its natural development and therefore as something that should be readily accepted into the system without its being subjected to the test of time. Such a struggle is the natural clash of tendencies which leads to changes in the literary language of each linguistic period. But there is nevertheless a general tendency in each period, which will undoubtedly be reflected in the literary language.
The normalizing tendency, so apparent in the seventeenth century, continues into the eighteenth. But by eighteenth century it had become a conscious goal. The aim of the language scholars who sought to lay down the law in the eighteenth century may be expressed as the desire to fix the language for all time, to establish its laws once and for all. Order and regularity were the qualities they esteemed. Their need for standardization and regulation was summed up in their word "ascertainment" of the language.
G. H. McKnight, a student of the history of modern standard English, whom we have already cited, describes the general tendency of the development of the literary English of the eighteenth century in the following words:
"The little-controlled English language of the time of Sidney and Shakespeare, the elegant freedom of expression of the Restoration period, was to be subjected to authority. Both learning represented by Johnson and fashionable breeding represented by Chesterfield came together in a common form of language reduced to regularity and uniformity."1
But the actual history of the development of standard English cannot be reduced to the interaction of learning and fashionable breeding. The development of the literary language is marked by the process of selection. The real creator of the literary form of the language remains the people, the actual lawgiver of the norms. Scientists and men-of-letters only fix what has already been established by general usage. New norms of usage cannot be imposed. But to historians of language the opinions of writers and scholars of a given period as well as those of ordinary people are of great value. They help to trace the fluctuating trends leading to the establishment of the norms of the period and influence to some extent the progress of literary English.
1 McKnight, G. H. Op. cit., p. 373.
In the eighteenth century two men had a great influence on the development of the norms of literary English. These were Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson.
In an attempt to regularize the use of English, Swift condemned both what he called "vulgar slanginess" and "intolerable preciosity". According to Swift, the "vulgar slanginess" came from a certain school of young men from the universities, "terribly possessed with fear of pedantry", who from his description wished to be what we should call 'up to date'".
'"They... come up to town, reckon all their errors for accomplishments, borrow the newest set of phrases and if take a pen into their hands, all the odd words they have picked up in a coffee-house, or at a gaming ordinary are produced as flowers of style.'
"Such a 'strange race of wits' with their 'quaint fopperies' of manner and speech, exist in every age. Their mannerisms rarely pass beyond their immediate clique, and have no more permanence than foam on the river."1
The "intolerable preciosity", as Swift understands it, was the tendency to use embellishments to the detriment of clarity and exactness. It was Swift who declared the necessity "to call a spade a spade", a phrase which has become a symbol for a plain and simple way of expression.
Samuel Johnson's attitude toward language is best expressed in his Grammar: "For pronunciation, the best rule is to consider those as the most elegant speakers who deviate least from the written words." Faithful to this doctrine Johnson in trying to "ascertain" the English language was mainly concerned with the usage of great English writers. In his famous dictionary, first published in 1753, the influence of which on subsequent dictionaries of the English language can hardly be over-estimated, Johnson made his selection only from words found in literary publications, ignoring the words and collocations used in oral intercourse, in the lively colloquial English of his day. The definitions given by Johnson reflect only the usage of the great writers of his own and of preceding centuries.
The literary-bookish character of Johnson's dictionary has greatly influenced the word usage of written English and also the formation of different styles in literary English.
Eighteenth-century concepts in the fields of philosophy and natural sciences had considerable influence on contemporary theoretical linguistic thought. Even the titles of certain grammars of the period reflected the general tendency to lay down categorical laws. Thus, for example, the title: "Reflections on the Nature and Property of Language in General, on the Advantages, Defects, and Manner of Improving the English Tongue in Particular" by Thomas Stackhouse (1731) clearly shows the aims of the writer, aims which were common to most of the
1Wyld, H. C. Op, cit., p. 160.
18th century works on language, i. e. improving the language and fixing its laws for the use of the people.
This general trend of language theory is also expressed by Samuel Johnson in the preface to his dictionary.
"Language," he writes, "is only the instrument of science, and the words are but the signs of ideas. I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that the signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote."
However, adherence to the theoretical trends of the century was not universal. There were some scholars who protested against arbitrarily imposing laws and restrictions on the language. Thus, for example, John Fell in his "Essay towards an English Grammar" published in 1784 declares:
"It is certainly the business of a grammarian to find out, and not to make, the laws of language."
In this work the author does not assume the character of a legislator, but appears as a faithful compiler of the scattered laws.
"...It matters not what causes these customs and fashions owe their birth to. The moment they become general they are laws of the language; and a grammarian can only remonstrate how much so ever he disapprove."1
The eighteenth century literary trend was also influenced to a considerable degree by the rhetoric which since the Renaissance had played a noticeable role in all matters of language.2
But the majority of language scholars were concerned with the use of words, inasmuch as the lexical units and their functioning are more observable and discernible in the slow progress of language development. The well-known article by Jonathan Swift "A Proposal for the Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue" in its very title sums up the general attitude of scholars towards the English of their century. The main issues of this document, remarkable in many ways, centre around the use of words and set expressions.
Meanwhile, however, colloquial English, following its natural path of progress and living its own life, although it was subjected to some extent to the general tendencies laid down by the men-of-letters, exhibited a kind of independence in the use of words, expressions, syntax, and pronunciation.
The gap between the literary and colloquial English of the 18th century was widening. The restrictions forced on the written language are felt in the speech of the characters in the novels and plays of this
1McKnight, G. H. Op. cit., p. 390.
2 It is interesting to remark in passing that language theories of the 16th to the 18th centuries were in general more concerned with what we would now call macrolinguistics in contrast to the present time when the process of atomization of language facts not infrequently overshadows observations concerning the nature and properties of units of communication. .
period.1 Their speech is under the heavy influence of literary English and -therefore it is erroneous to understand it as representing the norms of 18th century spoken English.
The nineteenth century trends in literary English are best summarized in the following statement by McKnight:
"The spirit of purism was evidently alive in the early nineteenth century. The sense of a classical perfection to be striven for survived from the eighteenth century. The language must not only be made more regular, but it must be protected from the corrupting influences that were felt to be on all sides. Vulgarisms were to be avoided and new words, if they were to be tolerated, must conform not only to analogy but to good taste."2
This puristic spirit is revealed mainly in the attitude towards vocabulary and pronunciation. Syntactical and morphological changes are not so apparent as lexical and phonetic ones and therefore are less exposed to the criticism of the purists.
Many new words that were coming into use as, for example, reliable, environment, lengthy were objected to on the principle that they were unnecessary innovations replacing, e. g., trustworthy, scenery or circumstances and long. Macaulay protested against the use of talented, influential, gentlemanly. The tendency to protest against innovation, however, gradually gave way to new trends, those of the 19th century, which can be defined as the beginning of the recognition of colloquial English as a variety of the national language. Colloquial words and expressions created by the people began to pour into literary English. The literary critics and men-of-letters objected to the maxims laid down by their predecessors and began to lay the foundation for new theoretical concepts of the literary language.
Thus De Quincey in his essay on rhetoric declares:
"...since Dr. Johnson's time the freshness of the idiomatic style has been too frequently abandoned for the lifeless mechanism of a style purely bookish and mechanical."3
"The restriction of the English vocabulary which was promoted by the classicizing tendencies of the eighteenth century," writes McKnight, "was appreciably loosened by the spirit which produced the Romantic movement."4
However, the purists never ceased to struggle against new coinages and there were special lists of proscribed words and expressions. The constant struggle of those who endeavour to safeguard the purity of heir language against new creations or borrowings, which alone can supply the general need for means to render new ideas, seems to represent a natural process in language development. It is this struggle that makes the literary language move forward and forces the recognition
1 See examples on pp. 239-240 ("Represented Speech").
2McKnight, G. H. Op. cit., p. 509.
3 Quoted by McKnight, G. H. Op. cit., p. 518, ed. 1956.
4Ibid, p. 517.
of new forms, words and syntactical patterns. The works of Byron, Thackeray, Dickens and other classic writers of the 19th century show how many words from the colloquial language of that period have been adopted into standard literary English.
Another feature of 19th century literary English to be noted is a more or less firmly established differentiation of styles, though this process was not fully appreciated by the scholars of the period.
The dichotomy of written and oral intercourse which manifested itself mainly in the widening of the gap between the literary and nonliterary forms, so typical of 18th century English, led the way to a cluster of varieties within the literary language, viz. to its stratification into different styles. A particularly conspicuous instance of this stratification was the singling out of poetic diction and the establishment of a set of rules by which the language of poetry was governed. Strict laws concerning word usage and imagery in poetry had long been recognized as a specific feature of the style of poetry.
The norms of 19th century literary English were considerably influenced by certain other styles of language, which by this period had already shaped themselves as separate styles. By this period the shaping of the newspaper style, the publicistic style, the style of scientific prose and the official style may be said to have been completed and language scholars found themselves faced with new problems. It became necessary to seek the foundation and distinctive characteristics of each functional style of language and analyse them.
The shaping of the belles-lettres prose style called forth a new system of expressive means and stylistic devices. There appeared a stylistic device — represented speech (see p. 236) — which quickly developed into one of the most popular means by which the thought and feeling of a character in a novel can be shown, the speech of the character combining with the exposition of the author to give a fuller picture. The favourite stylistic devices of the prose style of the 18th century, rhetorical questions, climax, anaphora, antithesis and some others gave way to more lively stylistic devices, as breaking off the narrative, detached constructions and other devices so typical of the norms of lively colloquial speech. Stylistic devices regarded with suspicion and disapproval in the 18th century were beginning to gain popularity.
The realistic tendencies and trends in English literature during this period made it necessary to introduce non-literary forms of English when depicting characters from the so-called lower classes through the idiosyncrasies of their speech. In this connection another feature must be mentioned when characterizing the ways and means by which literary English of the 19th century progressed. This was a more liberal admission of dialectal words and words from the Scottish dialect in particular. To a considerable extent this must be attributed to Robert Burns, whose poems were widely read and admired and who, as is known, wrote in the Scottish (Scots) dialect. The novels of Walter Scott also aided the process.
In summing up the main features of the struggle to establish norms for 19th century literary English, special mention must be made of the
two tendencies characteristic of this period. One was reactionary purism, the principles of which were laid down in the 17th and 18th centuries and which became manifest in the struggle against any innovation no matter where it came from. The purist was equally against words borrowed from other languages, the coinage of new words and also semantic changes in the native stock of words. This reactionary purism orientated the literary language towards a revival of old words which had gone out of use and of constructions typical of earlier stages in the history of English.
The other tendency was to draw on the inexhaustible resources of the vernacular both in vocabulary and in the lively syntactical patterns of colloquial English so suggestive of the warm intonation of the human voice. This tendency was particularly observable in the belles-lettres style of language and Byron, Thackeray and Dickens contributed greatly to the enrichment of the literary language.
The end of the century led practically to no change in the general direction of the two tendencies. But there is undoubted evidence that the second of the two above-mentioned tendencies has taken the upper hand. Reactionary purism is dying down and giving way to strong modernizing tendencies, which flourish particularly in the newspaper style and the belles-lettres style. The recognition in the 20th century of the everyday speech of the people as a variety of the national language has done much to legalize the colloquial form of English which, until the present century had been barred from the domain of language studies.
We must point out that the functional styles of language have shaped themselves within the literary form of the English language. The division of the standard English language into two varieties, written and spoken (the literary language and the colloquial language), which was recognized earlier and which was acknowledged as a natural coexistence, now goes alongside the problem of the "closed" systems of styles of language.