In this episode, we explore the complicated history of the letters Y, U and I, and we examine how they gave birth to the letters W, V and J. We also look at the Gothic script of the Middle Ages which influenced how those letters were used in English spelling.
In this episode, we explore the sounds represented by the letters L and R. Linguists refer to these sounds as ‘approximants,’ and they are some of the most challenging sounds in the English language. They are consonants with vowel-like qualities. Over time, they have shown a tendency to disappear and reappear, and even switch places in words. They also have a history of altering the vowel sounds that appear before them. In this episode, we explore the evolution of the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds in the English language.
In 1569, an English scholar named John Hart published a manuscript called ‘An Orthographie.’ The text argued for a phonetic spelling system, and it provided one of the earliest detailed descriptions of the sounds of English. In this episode, we explore the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants, and we examine how changes in voicing shaped the English language. We also examine how these sounds were utilized during the Elizabethan period according to Hart’s manuscript.
In the mid-1500s, England attempted to expand its influence in Ireland by establishing plantations there. This same process would soon be applied to North America. In this episode, we explore those early attempts at Irish colonization and England’s first encounters with the region of Florida. We also examine the connection between these events and efforts during this period to make English spelling more phonetic and consistent.
During the first decade of the reign of Elizabeth I, Protestants in Scotland and the Netherlands rebelled against the Catholic authorities who controlled those countries. Those rebellions were supported by England, and eventually Scotland and the Netherlands joined England as Protestant countries. In this episode, we’ll explore how those developments shaped the languages in all three regions, including the decline of Scots and the continued borrowing of Dutch loanwords into English.
In the 1500s, England saw a significant rise in the number of beggars and vagabonds. Those who couldn’t survive by begging often turned to thievery, gambling and fraud. By the mid-1500s, books and pamphlets were being published that highlighted the language and scams of the criminal subculture of England. In this episode, we explore the criminal slang and jargon of Tudor England, and we examine the first years of the reign of Elizabeth I.
In the 1553, Mary Tudor became the first queen to rule England as the head of the government. She promptly turned back the clock on the religious reforms that had taken place over the prior few years. Meanwhile, scholars of English were also trying to turn back the clock. They wanted to return the language to its roots and eliminate the so-called ‘inkhorn’ terms which were so common at the time. In this episode, we explore those parallel attempts to go ‘back to basics.’
By the mid-1500s, scholars were becoming more confident in the ability of English to express sophisticated ideas and concepts associated with classical learning. Writers began to use English beside Latin and Greek in many scholarly works during this period. English also replaced Latin in the regular services of the Church of England. Some people embraced these changes, but others vehemently opposed them. In this episode, we explore the changing perception of English during the reign of Edward VI, and the major events of his reign that shaped the English language.
In early Modern English, writers and printers began to revise the spelling of many English words to reflect their etymological origins. Old letters were revived from the dead to reflect sounds that had disappeared over time in those words. This fad reached its height in the mid-1500s, and it wreaked havoc on Modern English spelling and pronunciation. In this episode, we explore that phenomenon and see how it impacted Modern English.
John Heywood was a playwright and poet who made two important contributions to the history of English. He was a key figure in the emergence of modern English drama which led directly to William Shakespeare at the end of the century. He was also a proverb collector who assembled most of the common proverbs in English into a popular poem that serves as an important resource for modern historians of the language. In this episode, we examine English proverbs, the emergence of modern English drama, and words associated with comedy and humor in Tudor England.