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  • Cited by 17
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2012

5 - Standardisation

Summary

Introduction

If William the Conqueror had not invaded England in the year 1066, standard English would have looked completely different today. Not only would the enormous French component in the English vocabulary have been considerably smaller, the standard language would in all likelihood have had its origin in a different dialect as well. While present-day standard English derives primarily from the east midland dialects, as the end product of a process which began after the age of Chaucer, a standardisation process was already going on well before that time, in the tenth century. This process affected the West Saxon dialect, with Winchester as its main cultural centre. The Norman Conquest, which introduced French as the language of the government and of administration alongside Latin as the language of the church, brought this situation to an abrupt end. English effectively ceased to be a written language, with the Peterborough Chronicle one of the very few witnesses to what proved to be a futile attempt to keep the medium alive. With the exception of some local pockets where the English literary tradition continued unbroken, English was consequently reduced to a spoken medium.

The earliest standardisation attempts, which go back as far as the reign of King Alfred (b. 849–901) and even beyond, aimed at making English – or rather West Saxon – the official language, to be used as the medium of teaching and of scholarship.