Normalisation of the English Language

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Normalisation of the English Language

Normalisationis the fixing of the norms and standards of a language to protect it from corruption and change.


Type of Standard Written Standard Spoken Standard
Time Limits by the 17th c. end of the 18th c.
Sources Language of Chaucer (the London Dialect) · private letters; · speech of characters in drama; · references to speech be scholars.
Peculiarities 1. less stabilised than at later stage; 2. wide range of variation (spelling, gr. forms, syntactical patterns, choice of words, etc. ); 3. rivalry with Latin in the field of science, philosophy, didactics. 1. As spoken standard the scholars considered the speech of educated people taught at school as “correct English”. This was the speech of London and that of Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

The normalisation of the English language started in the 17th – 18th c. In 1710 Jonathan Swiftpublished in his journal “The Tatler” an article titled “A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue”. J. Swift was a purist (struggled for the purity of the language) and suggested that a body of scholars should gather to fix the rules of the language usage.

The Normalisation of the English language consisted in publishing:

1. Grammar’s of English:

· John Wallis, “Grammatica Lingæ Anglicanæ” (prescriptive/normative grammar);

· Robert Lowth, “A Short Introduction to English Grammar” (Lowth distinguished 9 parts of speech; made consistent description of letters, syllables, words and sentences; rules of no-double negation (I don’t want no dinner – incorrect!) and no-double comparison (more better – incorrect!) appeared, etc.).

2. Dictionaries(18th c.):

· E. Coles, “Dictionary of Hard Words” (gave explanations of hard words and phrases);

· Samuel Johnson– one of the best-known English lexicographers. As well as J. Swift, he was a purist and believed that the English language should be purified and corrected. He was the first to compile a dictionary that resembles the present-day dictionaries. His “Dictionary of the English Language” is the finest example of his hard and productive work. The dictionary is organised as follows:

- entry;

- pronunciation;

- definition;

- illustrations (not self-invented examples but quotations from recognised authors that contain the word in question);

- notes on usage of the word;

- etymology of the word;

- stylistic comments.

The dictionary also contained a grammatical section describing the grammatical structure of the language.

First Consonant Shift (Grimm’s Law) –in the 19th Jacob Grimm, a German scholar, discovered the existence of regular correspondence between Indo-European (IE) and German consonants and subdivided them into 3 groups:


Consonant Correspondences Examples
Old Modern
IE PG Non-German (Latin) German (OE) Non-German (Italian, рус.) German (English, German)
[bh,dh,gh] à aspirated voiced stops [b, d, g] non-aspirated voiced stops bhrāta (Hind) brōþor брат brother, Bruder
rudhira(Hind) rēad - red
hostis giest гость guest, Gast
[b, d, g] à voiced stops [p, t, k] voiceless stops/plosives labare pōl болото pool, Pfuhl
decem tīen dieci, десять ten
genu cnēo ginocchio knee, Knie
[p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] voiceless fricatives pedis fōt piedi foot, F
tres þrēo tre, три three
cordis heort cuore heart, Herz

Verner’s Law –Carl Verner, a Danish scholar (19th c.), explained the consonant correspondences as a gradual historical process (a change takes place in the course of time):


Consonant Correspondences Latin OE ModE
1. [p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] à voiceless fricatives [v, ð/d, g] voiced fricatives septem seofen seven
pater fæđer father
socrus swaiho(Gothic) Schwager(Germ)
2. Rhotacism ausis (Lithuanian) Auso (Gothic) ear, Ohr (Germ)
[s] à [z] à [r]

P.S.: these processes usually happened on condition that the consonants were situated between vowels and if preceded by an unstressed vowel.

Modern Examples: seethe – sodden, death – dead, was – were.

Second Consonant Shift –happened in the 9th c. in Old High German and today we can observe it comparing English and German:


Consonant Correspondences English German
1. [t] à à [ts] two zwei
[s] water Wasser
2. [q] à [d] three drei
3. [d] à [t] daughter Tochter
4. [k] à [h] make machen

Old English phonology.Morphology and Syntax.

Phonetic Features of Old English

OE sound system developed from PG sound system.

OE Word Stress/Accent:

1. fixed (can’t move either in form- or word-building and is usually placed on root or prefix);

2. dynamic(force, breath stress); Noun and Adjectivestress was mainly on the prefixif there was one:

E.g. ‘misdæd (misdeed), ‘uðζenζ (escape), ‘oreald (very old)

in Verbstress was mainly on the root even if there was a prefix:

E.g. a’risan (arise), mis’faran (go astray)

4.stress served to distinguish Noun from Verb (and still does):

E.g. ‘andswaru (N answer) – and’swarian (V answer)

onζin (N beginning) – on’ζinnan (V begin)

E.g. (modern English) – ‘presentpre’sent; ‘allyal’ly.

OE Vowels

Unstressed vowelswere weakened and dropped.

Stressed vowelsunderwent some changes:

o splitting – 1 phoneme split into several allophones which later become separate phonemes

· e.g. à a

· a à ã

· æ

o merging– separate phonemes become allophones of one phoneme and then disappear and are not distinguished any more as separate phonemes

e.g. a à

ã à a

æ à

Rise of Diphthongs

In PG there were no diphthongs. There was just a sequence of two separate vowels. Diphthongs appeared in OE: some (usually long diphthongs) – as a result of merging of two vowels:


Sounds Diphth. Gothic OE
a + u à ea: auso eare (ear)
e + u à eo: þeudans þēoden (king)
(i + u)à (io:) (dialectal variant) diups dīop (deep)

others (usually short diphthongs) – as a result of the influence of the succeeding and preceding consonants (breaking of [æ, e]):


Monoph. Diphth. Influence Gothic OE
æ à ea before l alls eall (all)
æ à ea before h ahtau eahta (eight)
e à eo before r herza heorte (heart)
æ à ea after sk’/k’ skadus sceadu (shade)
æ: à ea: after j jâr ζēar (year)

Palatal Mutation/i-Umlaut

Mutation –a change of one vowel to another one under the influence of a vowel in the following syllable.

Palatal mutation(or i-Umlaut) happened in the 6th -7th c.and was shared by all Old Germanic Languages, except Gothic (that’s why later it will be used for comparison).

Palatal mutationfronting and raising of vowels under the influence of [i] and [j] in the following syllable (to approach the articulation of these two sounds). As a result of palatal mutation:

· [i] and [j] disappeared in the following syllable sometimes leading to the doubling of a consonant in this syllable;

· new vowels appeared in OE ([ie, y]) as a result of merging and splitting:

before palatal mutation after palatal mutation Gothic OE
a à o à æ à e badi bedd (bed)
a: à æ: dails dælan (deal)
ŏ/ō à ĕ/ē mōtjan mētan (meet)
ŭ/ū à ŷ/ỹ(labialised) (new!) fulljan fyllan (fill)
ĕă/ēā à ĕŏ/ēō à ĭě/īē (new!) eald (early OE) ieldra (late OE)

Traces of i-Umlaut in Modern English:

1. irregular Plural of nouns (man – men; tooth – teeth);

2. irregular verbs and adjectives (told ←tell; sold ←sell; old – elder);

3. word-formation with sound interchange (long – length; blood – bleed).

OE Vowel System(symmetrical, i.e each short vowel had its long variant)


  Monophthongs + Diphthongs
Short ĭ ĕ ă ǽ ŏ ŭ ŷ ĕŏ ĕă ĭě
Long ī ē ā æ ō ū ēō ēā īē

The length of vowels was phonologically relevant (i.e. served to distinguish words):

e.g. (OE) is (is) – īs (ice); col (coal) –cōl (cool); god (god) – gōd (good), etc.

OE Consonants

OE consonants underwent the following changes:

1. Hardening (the process when a soft consonant becomes harder)– usually initially and after nasals ([m, n])

[ð] à [d] rauðr (Icelandic) rēad (OE) (red)
[v] à [b] - -
[γ] à [g] guma (Gothic) ζuma (OE) (man)


2. Voicing(the process when a voiceless consonant becomes voiced in certain positions) – intervocally and between a vowel and a voiced consonant or sonorant

[f, q, h, s] à [v, ð, g, z] e.g. wulfos (Gothic) – wulf[v]as (OE) (wolves)

3. Rhotacism(a process when [z] turns into [r])

e.g. maiza (Gothic) – ra (OE) (more)

4. Gemination(a process of doubling a consonant) – after a short vowel, usually happened as a result of palatal mutation (e.g. fullan (OE) (fill), settan (OE) (set), etc.).

5. Palatalisation of Consonants(a process when hard vowels become soft) – before a front vowel and sometimes also after a front vowel

[g, γ, k, h] à [g’, γ’, k’, h’]e.g. c[k’]ild (OE) (child); ecζ[gg’] (OE) (edge), etc.

6. Loss of Consonants:

· sonorants before fricatives (e.g. fimf (Gothic) – fīf (OE) (five));

· fricatives between vowels and some plosives (e.g. sæζde (early OE) – sæde (late OE) (said));

· loss of [j] – as a result of palatal mutation (see examples above);

· loss of [w] (e.g. case-forms of nouns: sæ (Nominative) – sæwe (Dative) (OE) (sea).

OE Consonant System

See table 9 on p. 90 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Old English Morphology

Old English was a synthetic language, i.e. there were a lot of inflections.

Parts of Speech

In OE 9 parts of speech had already been distinguished:


changeable 1. Noun Nominal Categories: Number, Case, Gender, Degrees of Comparison, Determination
2. Adjective
3. Pronoun
4. Numeral
5. Verb Verbal Categories: Tense, Mood, Person, Number, Voice, Aspect, Order, Posteriority
unchangeable 6. Adverb(only Degrees of Comparison) -
7. Prepositions -
8. Conjunctions -
9. Interjections -

Below all notional parts of speech will be discussed, their categories described and the meanings of these categories stated as related to the Old English Period


Number –Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl).

Gender –Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N).

Case –Nominative (Nom) (agent), Genitive (Gen) (attribute), Dative (Dat) (instrument, indirect/prepositional object), Accusative (Acc) (recipient, direct/prepositionless object).

System of Declensions

Prior to reading this point, see PG word-structure, Lecture 4.

In OE there were 25 declensions of nouns. All nouns were grouped into declensions according to:

· stem-suffix;

· Gender.

We will mention only the most numerous declensions/stems here:


Strong Vocalic Stems Weak Consonantal Stems
Stem-suffix Gender Stem-suffix Gender
a-stem M, N n-stem M, N, F
o-stem F r, s, nd-stems M, N, F
i-stem M, N, F root-stem M, F
u-stem M, F    

These stems will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 15.


Number –Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl).

Gender –Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N).

Case –Nominative (Nom), Genitive (Gen), Dative (Dat), Accusative (Acc) + Instrumental(Instr).

Instrumental Case was used to express instrumental meaning but only in the adjective while the noun stood in Dative Case:

by/with + Adjective (Instr) + Noun (Dat)

Degrees of Comparison –positive, comparative, superlative.

Determination (Definiteness/Indefiniteness) –today this category has to do with the Article but in OE there were no articles and definiteness/indefiniteness was expressed with the help of inflections of the Adjective, i.e. the inflections of the Adjective helped to determine whether a noun was definite or indefinite.

In OE there existed the weak and strong declensions of the Adjective. They will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 16.



1. Personal (Noun-Pronouns (had some categories of the Noun and resembled the Noun in syntactic function)).

They had the following categories:

· Person –1st, 2nd, 3rd;

· Number – Singular (Sg), Plural (Pl) + Dual(1st, 2nd pers. (we both, you both) when only two persons were meant);

· Gender – Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N) – only in 3rd person!;

· Case –Nominative (Nom), Genitive (Gen), Dative (Dat), Accusative (Acc).

2. Demonstrative(Adjective-Pronouns (had some categories of the Adjective and resembled the Adjective in syntactic function)).

They had the following categories:

· Number – Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl);

· Gender – Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N);

· Case –Nominative (Nom), Genitive (Gen), Dative (Dat), Accusative (Acc) +


3. Interrogative –unchangeable.

4. Indefinite –unchangeable.

Personal and Demonstrative Pronouns will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 17.



1. Cardinal –ān (one), twēζen (two), þrēō (three) – had the categories of Gender and Case. All the other cardinal numerals were unchangeable.

2. Ordinal –were unchangeable.




They had the following categories:

· Tense –Present and Past (NB no Future! – future actions were expressed by the Present Tense forms);

· Mood –Indicative, Imperative, Superlative;

· Person –1st, 2nd, 3rd;

· Number – Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl);

· Conjugation – strong and weak.

2. Non-finite:

v Infinitiveresembled the Noun and had the category of:

· Case –Nominative (Nom) and Dative (Dat)

e.g. Nom beran (uninflected)Dat to berenne (inflected, indicated direction or purpose);

v Participles 1, 2resembledthe Verb, the Noun and the Adjective and had the following categories:

· Tense –Present (Participle 1) and Past (Participle 2);

· Number – Singular (Sg) and Plural (Pl);

· Gender – Masculine (M), Feminine (F), Neuter (N);

· Case –Nominative (Nom), Genitive (Gen), Dative (Dat), Accusative (Acc);

· Voice –Active (Part. 1, 2) and Passive (Part 2).

Finite and Non-finite Verbs will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 18.

Preterite-Present Verbs

There were 12 of these verbs and most of them later turned into Modal Verbs. They will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 18.

Anomalous Verbs

They were irregular verbs that combined the features of the weak and strong verbs. There were 4 of them – willan (will), bēon (to be), ζān (to go), dōn (to do). They will be discussed more precisely in Lecture 18.

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