Early Modern English (c 1450 – 1750)
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Also known as the Renaissance


  • 1476 – William Caxton introduces England’s first printing press in Westminster, London
  • Printing began in Gutenberg Germany, 1435
  • Standardised the English language, choosing the East Midland dialect as the common tongue
  • East Midlands included London, Oxford and Cambridge
  • Printing spread fast, by the end of early modern over 20,000 titles printed in England
  • Hand written books (manuscripts) were now obsolete, meaning the end of several spellings of the same word


  • As books became more available, literacy increased
  • By the end of early modern half population of London could read
  • In 17th and 18th centuries new middle class traders had time and money to educate themselves and children
  • Amount schools grew, novels and newspapers became more popular


  • Advances in travel and trade brought foreign thinking, techniques and inventions to England
  • With these came foreign lexis

From Latin and Greek

  • Adapt, appropriate, catastrophe, chaos, emancipation, explain, impersonal, vacuum,

From Spanish and Portuguese

  • Alligator, banana, cannibal, hammock, mosquito, negro, potato, tobacco

From Italian

  • Balcony, ballot, concerto, design, lottery, opera, solo. Sonata, violin, volcano

From French

  • Alloy, anatomy, chocolate, duel, explore, invite, muscle, passport, shock, tomato, vase

Later with world-wide exploration other words started to enter the language,

  • Ketchup and bamboo from Malay. Coffee, kiosk and yogurt from Turkish. Curry from Tamil

New words were also being created by adding prefixes and suffixes, Disrobe, Nonsense, and Uncomfortable

Language standardisation

  • The spread of printing and education helped standardise spelling and meanings as multiple copies of books were printed with identical spellings
  • As books were printed in London this helped spread the London/East Midland dialect as the common tongue and the written standard

Language change

  • The influx of foreign words was encouraging writers to be inventive with vocabulary and create new words
  • Thomas Elyot used foreign and new words to ‘Augment’ and ‘Enrich’ the language


  • Many believed that language should be  written clean and pure, without the borrowings from other languages
  • Supporters of this view wrote using old grammar and vocabulary, avoiding the use of foreign loan words or new constructions
  • Others, like Shakespeare (1564-1616) deliberately added outlandish and exciting new vocabulary to their works
  • An enormous amount of common phrases and terms in use today were introduced by Shakespeare
  • ‘in the minds eye’, ‘a foregone conclusion’,  and ‘a tower of strength’
  • He also popularised a huge number of words, ‘obscene’, ‘accommodation’, ‘laughable’
  • Academics argued over the subject of ‘Inkhorn’ words as they became known
  • It was and is still believed today be many that foreign words are a detriment to the language
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