A Social History of English by D. Leith

By D. Leith

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Works written in different dialects at earlier times were copied into it, giving us a somewhat indirect insight into the output of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. As we shall see in the next chapter, the influence of the Winchester scriptoria long outlived the period of West Saxon power. Later kings of Wessex introduced political changes that also had farreaching linguistic consequences. Athelstan instituted the system of shires, political boundaries that by establishing new centres of power could influence the usage of surrounding areas.

In view of what has just been said, it may seem ironical that for many people still ‘Standard English’ has less to do with writing than speaking in a particular accent, which linguists today call Received Pronunciation. Since this accent is used only by a tiny minority it cannot be described as a norm, but only as an ideal for people to emulate. This is despite the insistence on the part of linguists that there is no ‘standard’ accent, and that pronunciation, moreover, is the least fixable level of linguistic structure.

1 Linguistic map of the British Isles c. AD 1000 We need to distinguish, therefore, two phases of contact with French. The first involves the Scandinavianised French of the Norman elite. This language would not have been more developed or more prestigious than that of the English; neither was Norman culture more international or more literate in character: probably the only technical advantages it enjoyed were military organisation and the wider use of stone as a building material. Norman French was imposed by a ruling caste; but since Latin continued in its spoken form in the Church, and as the written language of scholarship, the linguistic situation after 1066 may be described as triglossic.

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