The problem of chronological division of the periods in the history of the English language
. The main three periods which are distinguished in the history of the English language: Old English, Middle English, Modern English.
Whenever we have to deal with a long stretch of time in the history of the country, or of a culture, we naturally tend to divide this stretch of time into some periods. This division must not be arbitrary: it must be based on a set of features agreed in advance and serving to distinguish one period from the other. With reference to the history of English language which covers roughly 1300 years, different features might be taken as aground for such division. The English scholar Henry Sweet (1845-1912), the author of a number of works on the English language and on its history, proposed the following division of the history of English language according to the state of unstressed ending.
The first period –Old English – the period of full endings. This means that any vowel may be found in an unstressed ending. For example, the word singan means ‘sing’, we have at the end vowel a or the word sunu means ‘son’ we have at the end vowel u.
The second period - Middle English is the period of leveled endings.
Old English singan - singen Middle English, sunu - sune Middle English.
The third period is Modern English period, the period of lost endings. This means that ending is lost altogether, we have sing and son.
This division is based on a feature both phonetic (weakening and loss of unstressed vowel sounds) and morphological (weakening and loss of grammatical morphemes).
Now we must define the chronological limits of each period. These are approximately the following: the Old English period begins about 700A.D. (the time to which the earliest writing in English belongs) and lasts till about 1100 A.D.
The Middle English period lasts in the period between 1100 and till 1500 (including the 15th century transitional period).
The Modern English period begins about 1500 and lasts till our own times. Within Modern English period it is customary to distinguish between Early Modern English (approximately 1500-1660), and Late Modern English (approximately from 1660 till our times). These dates are very close to important events in the social and political life of the country: 1100 follows close upon 1066, the year of Norman Conquest at the Battle of Hastings, when the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, defeated King Harold and became the king of England. The Norman Invasion of England in 1066 brought French into England. This led to the unusual situation, in which the common people spoke one language (English), and the aristocrats spoke another (Norman French).The two languages gradually began to mix into what we now call Middle English and the year 1500 is close to 1485, the year when the war of Roses came to an end, which marked the decay of feudalism and the rise of capitalism in England. The end of the 15th century is also the time when the English nation arises. The Early Modern English Period coincided with the Renaissance, the time of discoveries and learning, the time of introduction of printing. The loss of most inflectional endings in the 15th c. was the main feature of the Modern English.
According to the famous author of the textbook “A History of the English Language” T.A.Rastorguyeva, the history of the English language is subdivided into seven periods differing in \linguistic situation and the nature of linguistic changes.
Early OE (also: Pre-written OE)
450 - 700
OE (also: Written OE)
700 - 1066
1066 - 1350
ME (also: Classical ME)
1350 - 1475
1476 - 1660
EARLY NEW ENGLISH
Normalisation Period (also: Age of Correctness, Neo-Classical period)