BEOWULF SHAKESPEARE AMERICAN ENGLISH PLAIN ENGLISH BEST ESSAYS

AND ALL THAT

1066 HOME OLD ENGLISH MIDDLE ENGLISH MODERN ENGLISH CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH
 
   

A Short History of Anglo-French Diglossia

 
The Quest for "English English"
 
William Barnes

It may be stating the obvious that the differing stylistic properties of native and borrowed words make them more suitable for some functions and unfit for others. However, there have always been debates about the merits of the two lexical layers, and changing linguistic attitudes have affected the balance of the two elements in certain registers. In the course of these debates two related concepts have emerged: those of Pure English and Plain English.

We have seen how in the seventeenth century the Protestant antiquarians asserted a patriotic preference of native Saxon stock. This was by no means the first instance of Saxonism, a name applied to attempts “to raise the proportion borne by the originally and etymologically English words in our speech to those that come from alien sources” (Gowers, Modern English Usage, 1965). As far back as the fifteenth century Reginald Pecock, a theologian, tried to restore the power of creating new words which Old English had before the Norman Conquest by using such words as ungothroughsome for “impenetrable” and coining the term not-to-be-thought-uponable.

“Bouts” of Saxonism have usually followed periods of vocabulary expansion and may, in part, be attributed to a reaction against excessive borrowing. Few critics on language could stay impartial in the matter. Samuel Johnson, for instance, was seriously concerned about the Gallicizing trend introduced during the Restoration and made a call for the return to the native purity of English in the preface to his Dictionary:

Our language, for almost a century, has, by the concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original Teutonick character, and deviating towards a Gallick structure and phraseology, from which it ought to be our endeavour to recal it, by making our ancient volumes the groundwork of stile.

In the nineteenth century the Dorset poet William Barnes, the author of The Speechcraft of the English Language, was one of the adherents of Saxonism. In his zeal for “English English” he advocated, with little success, the replacement of the Latin term adjective by his own creation markword of suchness and the word omnibus (also of Latin origin; later abbreviated to bus) by folk-wain.

William Morris was another prominent poet who did his best to promote the native element in the language. However, his artificial coinages like, for example, faith-heat (enthusiasm), fore-ween (anticipate), sundersome (divisible), and word-strain (accent) failed to uproot their Romance derived equivalents.

Occasionally, the attempts to promote a “native” coinage have met with some success: foreword (first recorded in 1842) has joined preface (first recorded in Chaucer, c. 1386); betterment and forebear have been given some amount of currency beside their Romance counterparts improvement and ancestor. But generally, the quest for Saxonism has proved to be an unrealisable nationalistic dream. As has been noted by Burchfield, one cannot remove all words of alien origin from modern English speech without destroying the fabric of the language.

Copyrighted material

 
 
WE ARE PARTNERS
 


 

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

CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH

  English Today

  English among Other Languages

  Plain English Home

  Email, SMS & Online Chat

  More

 

 
 
 
 

Site Map || Feedback || About || Links

Copyright Alex Chubarov 1066-2066

All Rights Reserved

 

GOBBLEDYGOOK GENERATOR

 
 

Have you ever wanted to use meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about? Simply click on the button below this paragraph and a random piece of business jargon will appear in the box. If you need more than one buzzphrase, just click the button again and again.

Courtesy of Plain English Campaign