A Short Note on Modern English and its Main Features

WE have already written brief notes on Old English and Middle English. Now we shall focus on Modern English. This article is for Literature as well as B.Ed students.

Q. Write a short note on Modern English and its characteristics.

Ans – Modern English Period extends from the beginning of the 16th century to the present day. This long period can be subdivided in to early Modern English period and later Modern English period. The early period extends from 1601 to 1700 and the later from 1701 to the present day.

The fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Turks and consequent spread of Greek scholars in the continent, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the invention of the printing press by Caxton in 1476, the discovery of America by Columbus had far-reaching effects and shook the very foundation of Middle English.

By the End of the 16th century, it became universally accepted as the standard of the language.

Entry of Greek and Italian Words –

With the Renaissance, a large number of Greek words began to enter the English vocabulary. Greek began to be taught at Cambridge in about 1540. The Greek borrowings are usually learned in nature. They the became the main part of the disciplines like poetics, natural sciences etc.

Besides many Italian words came in through Wyatt and Surrey. It is convenient to divide the Modern English period into Tudor English and Modern English.

Middle English and its characteristics

The Restoration Period –

The Bible ( AD 1611 ) opened a horizon of new outlook and literary style for the practice of the coming generations. With the Restoration, Charles II and his court had lived long at the English Court. Polite speech and literature were once more filled with French expressions. The French words borrowed during this period were not naturalized and their native pronunciation continued.

Modern English differs from Old English and Middle English in many aspects. The Old English was a highly inflected language. But during the Middle English period there was a gradual loss in the use of inflections. There are a few inflections in Modern English.

The nouns have plural ending in ‘s’ in the overwhelming majority of cases. The only inflections surviving in the adjectives are ‘er’ and ‘est’ which are used to form the comparative and superlative degrees of the adjectives.

The middle ages had been keenly interested in matters of philosophy and religion whereas man has now drifted towards science and agnosticism. Science has awakened a new sense in him. The Modern English language also reflects this growing love of science by becoming analytic more and more.

Illogical Spelling and Pronunciation

In Modern English, one finds numerous changes in sounds which became responsible for changes in pronunciation. During the Old English period and Middle English period the pronunciation of words was completely based on phonetics.

But ME is distinguished from OLD English and Middle English for its illogical system of spelling and the frequent lack of correlation between the spelling of a word and its pronunciation. For example, ‘sun’ and ‘son’ are pronounced almost without any variation in sound.

Similarly ‘U’ is pronounced quite differently in words such as ‘but’, ‘put’, ‘university’ etc. In this context AC Bough remarks : ” The situation is more confusing in the treatment of the consonants.”

Another feature of Modern English is its most varied and vast treasure of words. Many people and tongues came to England from time to time and left their indelible impact on the language of the island. English being progressive and digestive continued to absorb so many words from these people and their tongues.

Another characteristic of ME is its freedom from dry lexicography literal pedantry. It has become now-a-days comparatively flexible and soft. In it, one part of speech can function for other. Nouns are being used as adjectives as in ‘bus station’ and ‘boy friend’. In the same way, verbs are employed as nouns as in ‘ a wash’, ‘ a cut’.

Conclusion –

To sum up, English has the brightest prospect for becoming an international language in near future. In recent years ME has been influenced by American English. Therefore, it should be prepared to undergo any changes in its spelling and pronunciation and grammar as may be necessary to bridge the long felt gap of the entire world.

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