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History of the English Language

Studying the History of the English Language

The history of the English language can be studied from a linguistic viewpoint--internal history, where linguistic sounds, structures, vocabulary, and other categories trace the evolution of the language. It can also be studied from the viewpoint of geographical and social spread, attitudes towards the language, features, and attempts at regulating it--this is external history. The difficulty with this classification is that there is constant overlap between the two approaches, such as when English borrows from, say, French; then, attitudes (an external factor) influence vocabulary (an internal factor).

"Internal linguistic change is often in the direction of diversity" (Bolton, 1992, p. 472). Yet, changes tend towards a certain regularity. Rhotic vs non-rhotic is an example of such overlapping and regularity. The English r is pronounced whenever it is orthographically present (read, bear, barrel, worker), i.e. rhotic pronouncing. In another set of accents, r is pronounced in syllable-initial position (red) and intervocally (barrel), but not postvocally (beer, beard, worker). In these positions, the r is vocalized and not pronounced unless another vowel follows--a non-rhotic phenomenon.

In Canada, India, Ireland, south-western England, Scotland, in the Barbados, and in the northern and western states of the U.S.A. (except for Boston and New York City), the r sound is rhotic. In Black Africa, Australia, the Caribbean (except for Barbados), England (apart from the south-west), New Zealand, South Africa, the southern U.S. states, the Boston area of New England, New York City vernacular speech, Wales, and the Black English vernacular in the U.S., the r is non-rhotic.

Not only do sounds change geographically and socially, they also change with the passing of time, and with dramatic events such as a long-time occupation by another linguistic group (The Philippines are a good exa...

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History of the English Language. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:50, May 25, 2020, from