A Social History of English by D. Leith

By D. Leith

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In simplified terms, some languages, such as Chinese, symbolise whole words, or syllabic components, by using a very large set of characters. This kind of logographic system represents language at its most expansible level, since in principle there is no limit to the number of new words or concepts a language can acquire. Other languages, such as those of Europe, make use of an alphabet, a series of letters which encode the most restricted and limited level of linguistic structure, that of sounds.

The monarchy of France came to be seen as a foreign power, whose interests often clashed with those of the people of England. Moreover, while some kings of England waged long, costly, and fruitless wars against France, others lavished the wealth of England on French favourites. Either was likely to upset baron, lesser landowner, and merchant alike. Frenchmen, and the French language, were increasingly disparaged. From its position as a tolerated language under the Normans, English became what sociolinguists might call a promoted language, a mark of ‘Englishness’.

If for some the French language meant social advancement, for others it aroused antagonisms. Cultural contacts with France were an increasing source of tension in English life. The monarchy of France came to be seen as a foreign power, whose interests often clashed with those of the people of England. Moreover, while some kings of England waged long, costly, and fruitless wars against France, others lavished the wealth of England on French favourites. Either was likely to upset baron, lesser landowner, and merchant alike.

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