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In fact, the shift probably started very gradually some centuries before , and continued long after some subtle changes arguably continue even to this day. Many languages have undergone vowel shifts, but the major changes of the English vowel shift occurred within the relatively short space of a century or two, quite a sudden and dramatic shift in linguistic terms.

It was largely during this short period of time that English lost the purer vowel sounds of most European languages, as well as the phonetic pairing between long and short vowel sounds. The causes of the shift are still highly debated, although an important factor may have been the very fact of the large intake of loanwords from the Romance languages of Europe during this time, which required a different kind of pronunciation.


It was, however, a peculiarly English phenomenon, and contemporary and neighbouring languages like French, German and Spanish were entirely unaffected. It affected words of both native ancestry as well as borrowings from French and Latin. In Middle English for instance in the time of Chaucer , the long vowels were generally pronounced very much like the Latin-derived Romance languages of Europe e. After the Great Vowel Shift, the pronunciations of these and similar words would have been much more like they are spoken today.

Preliminary Remarks

The Shift comprises a series of connected changes, with changes in one vowel pushing another to change in order to "keep its distance", although there is some dispute as to the order of these movements. The changes also proceeded at different times and speeds in different parts of the country. The Great Vowel Shift gave rise to many of the oddities of English pronunciation, and now obscures the relationships between many English words and their foreign counterparts.

The spellings of some words changed to reflect the change in pronunciation e. In some cases, two separate forms with different meaning continued e. Many other consonants ceased to be pronounced at all e. The English of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the late 16th and early 17th Century, on the other hand, would be accented, but quite understandable, and it has much more in common with our language today than it does with the language of Chaucer. The additions to English vocabulary during this period were deliberate borrowings, and not the result of any invasion or influx of new nationalities or any top-down decrees.

Latin and to a lesser extent Greek and French was still very much considered the language of education and scholarship at this time, and the great enthusiasm for the classical languages during the English Renaissance brought thousands of new words into the language, peaking around A huge number of classical works were being translated into English during the 16th Century, and many new terms were introduced where a satisfactory English equivalent did not exist.

Words from Latin or Greek often via Latin were imported wholesale during this period, either intact e. Sometimes, Latin-based adjectives were introduced to plug "lexical gaps" where no adjective was available for an existing Germanic noun e. Examples of inkhorn terms include revoluting , ingent , devulgate , attemptate , obtestate , fatigate , deruncinate , subsecive , nidulate , abstergify , arreption , suppeditate , eximious , illecebrous , cohibit , dispraise and other such inventions.

Sydney Smith was one writer of the period with a particular penchant for such inkhorn terms, including gems like frugiverous , mastigophorus , plumigerous , suspirous , anserous and fugacious , The so-called Inkhorn Controversy was the first of several such ongoing arguments over language use which began to erupt in the salons of England and, later, America. Among those strongly in favour of the use of such "foreign" terms in English were Thomas Elyot and George Pettie; just as strongly opposed were Thomas Wilson and John Cheke. However, it is interesting to note that some words initially branded as inkhorn terms have stayed in the language and now remain in common use e.

An indication of the arbitrariness of this process is that impede survived while its opposite, expede , did not; commit and transmit were allowed to continue, while demit was not; and disabuse and disagree survived, while disaccustom and disacquaint , which were coined around the same time, did not. It is also sobering to realize that some of the greatest writers in the language have suffered from the same vagaries of fashion and fate.

There was even a self-conscious reaction to this perceived foreign incursion into the English language, and some writers tried to deliberately resurrect older English words e. Most of these were also short-lived. John Cheke even made a valiant attempt to translate the entire "New Testament" using only native English words. However, this perhaps laudable attempt to bring logic and reason into the apparent chaos of the language has actually had the effect of just adding to the chaos. Whichever side of the debate one favours, however, it is fair to say that, by the end of the 16th Century, English had finally become widely accepted as a language of learning, equal if not superior to the classical languages.

Vernacular language, once scorned as suitable for popular literature and little else - and still criticized throughout much of Europe as crude, limited and immature - had become recognized for its inherent qualities. As mass-produced books became cheaper and more commonly available, literacy mushroomed, and soon works in English became even more popular than books in Latin. At the time of the introduction of printing, there were five major dialect divisions within England - Northern, West Midlands, East Midlands a region which extended down to include London , Southern and Kentish - and even within these demarcations, there was a huge variety of different spellings.

For example, the word church could be spelled in 30 different ways, people in 22, receive in 45, she in 60 and though in an almost unbelievable variations. The "-eth" and "-th" verb endings used in the south of the country e. The Chancery of Westminster made some efforts from the s onwards to set standard spellings for official documents, specifying I instead of ich and various other common variants of the first person pronoun, land instead of lond , and modern spellings of such , right , not , but , these , any , many , can , cannot , but , shall , should , could , ought , thorough , etc, all of which previously appeared in many variants.

Chancery Standard contributed significantly to the development of a Standard English, and the political, commercial and cultural dominance of the "East Midlands triangle" London-Oxford-Cambridge was well established long before the 15th Century, but it was the printing press that was really responsible for carrying through the standardization process. With the advent of mass printing, the dialect and spelling of the East Midlands and, more specifically, that of the national capital, London, where most publishing houses were located became the de facto standard and, over time, spelling and grammar gradually became more and more fixed.

IMAGE Early printing was a very labour-intensive process from EHistLing Some of the decisions made by the early publishers had long-lasting repercussions for the language.

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One such example is the use of the northern English they , their and them in preference to the London equivalents hi , hir and hem which were more easily confused with singular pronouns like he , her and him. Caxton himself complained about the difficulties of finding forms which would be understood throughout the country, a difficult task even for simple little words like eggs. But his own work was far from consistent e.

Many of his successors were just as inconsistent, particularly as many of them were Europeans and not native English speakers. Sometimes different spellings were used for purely practical reasons, such as adding or omitting letters merely to help the layout or justification of printed lines. A good part of the reason for many of the vagaries and inconsistencies of English spelling has been attributed to the fact that words were fixed on the printed page before any orthographic consensus had emerged among teachers and writers.

It is only since the archaic spelling was revived for store signs e. Ye Olde Pubbe that the "modern" pronunciation of ye has been used. This represents an increase of only 6 percent, or an average annual growth rate of between 0. As a result of the World Wars and the loss of global market share experienced by leading industrial nations, particularly Great Britain , as well as the economic and political crises of the period, the growth potential of the European societies declined rapidly during this period.

There was a similarly rapid decline in the economic integration of the region. When measured in terms of foreign direct investment as a proportion of the total size of the European economy — a measure of capital flows across borders — the level of integration of the economies and societies of Europe in was not reached again until The trends which economic and global historians often construct over longer time periods also indicate smaller intermediate cycles. For the purpose of conducting comparisons across larger geographical spaces and over longer time periods, and in the absence of dependable data on per capita income, other data relevant to economic and social development can be evaluated.

In the past, economic historians have applied a so-called Malthusian model. Proceeding from assumptions regarding the interplay between population figures, available food resources cereals and limited technological parameters, it is possible to document — at least in an approximate way — how real incomes 6 developed for certain homogenized groups of workers e. What emerges is a similar development in most regions of Europe, but with some regional differences. The 16th century is viewed as a period of population growth which witnessed considerable reductions in real wages.

In the Netherlands real wages in the construction sector fell by about 6 percent, in England London they fell by about 15 percent, and in southern Germany and the hereditary Habsburg territories Munich , Augsburg , Vienna they fell by a full 34 percent. In the 17th century, population growth was very low in most parts of Europe, with the exception of the Netherlands and the southeast of England , particularly London. In the Netherlands, real wages increased between and back up to the level they had been at in During this period, the Netherlands was the most progressive and wealthiest country on Earth and experienced its "golden age", a process of economic and social structural transformation which was unparalleled in that era, and which saw Dutch per capita income rising between and to almost twice the average for northwestern Europe as a whole.

In the rest of continental Europe, the fall in real wages of the 16th century was only partially reversed during the 17th century. Economic potential did not rise "crisis of the 17th century".

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The 19th century witnessed great changes which for the first time in history called into question the Malthusian trap and the link between population, food supply and income. Thus, the average level of available economic resources grew twice as quickly as the population. Much less is known about Europe's external trade. This is not least due to the scarcity of sources, to territorial fragmentation — particularly in central Europe — up to the lateth century, to the extremely fragmented recording of commodity flows, and to the difficulty involved in using non-comparable figures, the dependability of which is unknown, for hundreds of regions and countries for different periods.

It is often necessary to make use of proxy data. For example, it is assumed that the number of ships returning from Asia laden with spices increased annually by averages of 1.

Thus, the growth in European and global trade during this period was about five times as strong as economic growth. No other period in history witnessed a comparable trend. Even during the almost two centuries between and the present day, the long-term degree of integration of the global economy was only about 1. This means that an increasing trend towards the integration of Europe with the rest of the world and towards the integration of the European regions among themselves had already emerged before the period of "globalization" itself.

Over the longer term, foreign trade volumes grew more quickly than the total economic output of Europe.

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More impressive levels of growth than these have only been recorded for shorter time periods, such as the period of industrialization and globalization during the 19th century. And also for Europe, particularly northwestern Europe which was the first industrializing region of the world, the volume of trade rose eightfold percent between and , while economic output grew by a quarter 26 percent in the period — It is important to note that the overall economic and commercial development of Europe had already become increasingly interconnected from the late-medieval period.

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This period experienced not only an increasing exchange of goods within Europe, but also increasing interaction with the rest of the world. Travelogues , chronicles, ships logs, customs records and trade statistics from the largest cities of northwestern Europe attest to the existence of this trend from the lateth century in particular. After , the connections between a dynamic and increasingly industrialized European economy and the rest of the world resulted in an unequal division of labour, in the emergence of commodity chains and in the economic marginalization of poorer regions of the world.

The latter increasingly functioned as suppliers of raw materials for the industrialized world. Some academics refer to this process as development towards underdevelopment.

After , the economic performance of large parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa fell further behind that of Europe than ever before.