Modern English

From Free net encyclopedia

Template:IPA notice

For the '80s pop band, see Modern English (band).

Modern English is the term used for the contemporary use of the English language. In terms of historical linguistics, it covers the English language after the Middle English period; that is, roughly, after the Great Vowel Shift, which was largely concluded after 1550.

Despite some differences in vocabulary, material from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, is considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, they are referred to as Early Modern English, and most people who are fluent in the English of the early 21st century believe they can read these books with little difficulty.

Modern English has a large number of dialects, spoken in diverse countries throughout the world. Most of these, however, are mutually comprehensible. This includes American English, Australian English, British English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Hiberno-English, Indian English, New Zealand English, Pakistani English and South African English. These dialects may be met in different contexts, for example the stereotypical villain in some American movies has a British accent, and many British pop singers (and some Australian pop singers) sing in an American accent.

According to Ethnologue, there are over 508 million speakers of English as a first or second language as of 1999, a number dwarfed only by Chinese in terms of the number of speakers. However, Chinese has a smaller geographical range: it is spoken primarily in mainland China and Taiwan, and by a sizable immigrant community in North America. In contrast, English is spoken in a vast number of territories, including Britain, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, India and Southern Africa. Its large number of speakers, plus its worldwide presence, have made English a common language for use in such diverse applications as controlling airplanes, developing software, and conducting international diplomacy.


Outline of changes in Modern English

The following is an outline of the major changes in Modern English compared to its previous form (Middle English). Note, however, that these are generalizations, and some of these may not be true for specific dialects:


See the sound changes c.1600-1725 and sound changes c.1725-1900 sections of the history of the English language page.


Influences on Modern English

Early Modern English lacked uniformity in spelling, but Samuel Johnson's dictionary, published in 1755 in England, was influential in establishing a standard form of spelling. Noah Webster did the same in America, publishing his dictionary in 1828. Webster's dictionary preferred simpler and more modern spelling, whereas Johnson was more conservative, preferring older spellings which reflected the origins of words rather than pronunciation. Public education increased literacy, and more people had access to books (and therefore to a standard language) with the spread of public libraries in the 19th century. Many words entered English from other languages, as a result of contact with other cultures through trade and settlement, and the migration of large numbers of people to the United States from other countries. World War I and World War II threw together people from different backgrounds, and the greater social mobility afterwards helped to lessen the differences between social accents, at least in the UK. The development of radio broadcasting in the early 20th century familiarised the population with accents and vocabulary from outside their own localities, often for the first time, and this phenomenon continued with film and television.

See also

External links