Lectures in history of the English language and method-guides for seminars

Transition from Middle English to Early Modern English

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Lectures in history of the English language
Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, The Bee & the Crown - The Road to Ascension in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath
Transition from Middle English to Early Modern English.
The death of Chaucer at the close of the century (1400) marked the beginning of the period of transition from Middle English to the Early Modern English stage. The Early Modern English period is regarded by many scholars as beginning in about and terminating with the return of the monarchy (John Dryden's Astraea Redux) in 1660. The 15th century witnessed three outstanding developments the rise of London English, the invention of printing, and the spread of the new learning.
When Caxton started printing at Westminster in the late summer of 1476, he was painfully aware of the uncertain state of the English language. In his prologues and epilogues to his translations he made some revealing observations on the problems that he had encountered as translator and editor. At this time, sentence structures were being gradually modified, but many remained untidy. For the first time, nonprofessional scribes, including women, were writing at length. The revival of classical learning was one aspect of that Renaissance, or spiritual rebirth, that arose in Italy and spread to France and England. It evoked anew interest in Greek on the part of learned men such as William Grocyn and Thomas Linacre, Sir Thomas More and
Desiderius Erasmus. John Colet, dean of St. Paul's in the first quarter of the 16th century, startledhis congregation by expounding the Pauline Epistles of the New Testament as living letters. The deans who had preceded him had known no Greek, because they had found in Latin all that they required. Only a few medieval churchmen, such as Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, and the Franciscan Roger Bacon could read Greek with ease. The names of the seven liberal arts of the medieval curricula (the trivium and the quadrivium, it is true, were all Greek—grammar, logic, and rhetoric arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—
but they had come into English byway of French.

24 Renaissance scholars adopted a liberal attitude to language. They borrowed Latin words through French, or Latin words direct Greek words through Latin, or Greek words direct. Latin was no longer limited to Church Latin it embraced all Classical Latin. Fora time the whole Latin lexicon became potentially English. Some words, such as consolation and infidel, could have come from either French or Latin. Others, such as the terms abacus, arbitrator, explicit, finis, gratis, imprimis, item, memento, memorandum, neuter, simile, and videlicet, were taken straight from Latin. Words that had already entered the language through French were now borrowed again, so that doublets arose benison and benediction blame and blaspheme chance and cadence count and compute dainty and dignity frail and fragile poor and pauper purvey and provide ray and radius sever and separate strait and strict sure and secure. The Latin adjectives for kingly and lawful have even given rise to triplets in the forms real, royal, and regal and leal, loyal, and legal, they were imported first from Anglo-
Norman, then from Old French, and last from Latin direct. After the dawn of the 16th century, English prose moved swiftly toward modernity. In 1525 Lord Berners completed his translation of Jean Froissart's Chronicle, and William Tyndale translated the New Testament. One-third of the King James Bible, it has been computed, is worded exactly as Tyndale left it and between 1525 and 1611 lay the Tudor Golden Age, with its culmination in Shakespeare. Too many writers, to be sure, used “inkhorn terms newly-coined, ephemeral words, and too many vacillated between Latin and English. Sir Thomas More actually wrote his Utopia in Latin. It was translated into French during his lifetime but not into English until 1551, some years after his death. Francis Bacon published
De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum (On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning, an expansion of his earlier Advancement of Learning) in Latin in 1623. William Harvey announced his epoch-making discovery of the circulation of the blood in his Latin De Motu
Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (1628; On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals. John Milton composed polemical treatises in the language of Cicero. As Oliver Cromwell's secretary, he corresponded in Latin with foreign states. His younger contemporary Sir Isaac Newton lived long enough to bridge the gap. He wrote his Principia (1687) in Latin but his
Opticks (1704) in English.

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