Spelling: The Three Eras

Many people may not realize that spelling has changed over the course of time. English language spelling  and pronunciation has not always been the same and has developed and shit many different times throughout the past years. There are three historical periods of English spelling; Old English, Middle English, Modern English. These are the three time periods that have effected the English spelling and pronunciation, as well as Noah Webster.

The Old English historical period was from 450 to 1100. The alphabet during this age was much like the Modern English alphabet, but did not have the letters j, k, v, or w and q and z were rarely used. Some sounds were spelled differently during this time period. For example, Freeman stated on page 102, that “the /s/ sound was spelled sc, so ship was spelled scip.” Also the letters /c/ and /k/ were spelled with the letter c. The word folk was spelled like folc and child was spelled cild. Another rare occurrence during this time period for English language was that in words like knee the /k/ was pronounced.

The Middle English dates back from 1100 to 1500. Many of these new words during this time period were added from French and Latin. The Norman conquest of England established many changes during this era. For instance, cw was replaced with qu, so Old English cwen was now queen.  Freeman states, “the beginning to the use v for the sound previously written with f (driven); and using k and ch for the two sounds spelled with c in Old English (folk for fold and child for cild)” (103).

Modern English is the English that has been established over time. It dates back from about 1500 to present time. Many factors have been contributed to our present day English. For example, the Dutch came to work as type writers, and it is believed that they may have contributed to some of our modern day spelling, “like the h in ghost,” (103). After spelling was finally fixed, pronunciation came, and that is the reason that some current spellings to not math well with some pronunciations. The major change during this period was the the Great Vowel Shift, “during this period, a complex series of changes occurred in the pronunciation of the vowels. The long vowels were pronounced at a higher point in the mouth.

It is evident that language is so unique and changes over time. There are so many different factors that play into language and still may develop over time.

Source: http://www1.aston.ac.uk/lss/misc/englishspelling/

By: Katherine Mantz


One thought on “Spelling: The Three Eras

  1. As the reading informed in Ch. 5, Noah Webster had a huge impact on modern reading. Due to him, our English gave us an identity as Americans with our own form of language. Even so I agree that our language has had many great impacts to why it changes, and will continue to be ever changing.

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