Norms and usage in seventeenth-century English

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In the course of the seventeenth century English spelling became largely fixed in print, and technical and borrowed lexis continued to be codified in dictionaries. Although proposals for ‘improving’ the English language appeared towards the end of the century, contemporary grammar books did not prescribe usage. This chapter discusses these diverse processes, relating them to their advocates and comparing emergent norms with the information that we have on the changing patterns of actual usage. The chapter draws on the framework of language policy proposed by Spolsky (2012) in distinguishing between actual usage, language attitudes and language management. It illustrates how usage can give rise to value-laden norms, which may be imposed on language users through various channels and with varying success.


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