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A Short History of Anglo-French Diglossia

 
The "Inkhorn Controversy"
 

The Renaissance marked a new great period of vocabulary expansion dictated by the need for new words to express the widening experiences and ideas of a rapidly developing nation. In the sixteenth century the influx of Latinate borrowings sparkled the “inkhorn controversy” – a heated discussion of the extent, to which it was permissible and proper to import words into English from other languages.

Many of the debate participants took a disapproving attitude. For example, in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, George Puttenham, an English courtier and the author of The Arte of English Poesie (1589), one of the most important critical works of the Elizabethan age, complained about the excessive use of “inkhorn terms, smelling too much of the Latin,” just as Thomas Wilson had earlier railed in his Art of Rhetorique (1553) against those who “seeke so far for outlandish English that they forget altogether their mothers language.”

The controversy was, in effect, a debate about ways and means, by which functional elaboration of the vernacular could be achieved. The Elizabethans were beginning to take greater pride in their mother tongue as an important expression of national identity. Writers and poets no longer agreed with the earlier conception of the vernacular as an inadequate and humble linguistic medium and strove to assert the equality of their own language and literature with those of antiquity.

One way to secure that eloquence, which had traditionally been associated with the classical tongues, was by borrowing from the classical languages, as well as prestigious contemporary sources, such as French and Italian. Some writers who adopted this strategy sometimes went too far. It is possible to find samples of the sixteenth-century prose where loans are so plentiful that the passage can hardly be recognized as English. A splendid example of the genuine use of inkhorn terms of French and Latin origin can be found, for instance, in a formal dedication from the preface to A. Boorde’s Dyetary (1542-7): 

To the armypotent Prynce and valyent lorde Thomas Duke of Northfolke. Andrewe Boorde of physycke doctor: dothe surrender humyle commendacyon with immortal thankes.

After the tyme that I had trauelled for to haue the notycyon & practes of Physycke in diuers regyons and countries...

The message done, I with festinacyon & dylygence did not prolonge the tyme...

The whiche did know, not only your complexcion and infyrmite, but also... the imbecyllyte and strength of your body, with other qualytes expedyent & necessary to be knowen: but brefely to conclude, [for] your recuperating or recoueryng your health. . . . I was convocated to be in the presence of his majesty.

I ... hauyng a cotydyal remembrance vpon youre boun­tyfull goodnes, dyd consulte with many egregyous Doctours of physycke... for the conseruacyon of the health of your body.

And where I haue dedycated this boke to your grace, And haue not ornated hit with eloquence & retorycke termes, the whyche in all maner of bokes and wryttynges is vsed these modernall dayes.

 

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A HISTORY OF ANGLO-FRENCH DIGLOSSIA

  Teutonic Language with a French Flair

  The Difference in Register

  What Is "Anglo-French Diglossia"?

  The "Inkhorn Controversy"

  To Borrow or Not to Borrow?

  Coping with "Hard Words"

  The Short Word vs. the Long

  The Antiquarian Movement

  From "Open" to "Hidden" Diglossia

  The Quest for "English English"

  The Drive for "Plain English"

  "Democratic" Trend in the Language

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