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Stained glass window of William Shakespeare at the state library of Victoria.Credit@flickruser:SalmonJaved

Scholars studying linguistics may have uncovered why William Shakespeare was instrumental in the development of the English language. Responsible for a large number of new words, the age in which William lived cultivated this.

The creation of new words or phrases, or changes in how language is used within a nation is known as neologising. This is often accomplished by combining or affixing different words with others to create new ones along with other techniques, a continuous process which has been studied on centuries of written work, illuminating word histories.

Written evidence suggests the great playwright William Shakespeare might have coined over 2000 words and phrases still in use today. This contribution to language may be one of the greatest advances in the English language in the modern era, in the period following Shakespeare’s life, an explosion of new theatre productions and written work was apparent. The social and economic environment were profitably affected by this advancement in language and seemed to influence wide ranging areas, science being one which flourished in terms of understanding.

The Elizabethan and Jacobean period when Shakespeare lived may have been a descriptive one where words were documented and freedom of language may be evident, preceding a prescriptive era when nationalist interests lead to a reformed language and education. Language freedom meant words were spelt however an individual desired and a single word may have had 10 documented spellings. Shakespeare signed his name in at least 5 different ways including Shakspere, Shakespear and Shakespeare, there might have been an element of humour in this which may have reflected the day, however scholars are ambivalent about this presumption. This freedom may have accelerated the creation of neologisms.

The late medieval period seems to have been important in the development of the English language, at this time most written work was published in Latin, whether literature or Law. A notable period ensued after Norman French rule where English slowly returned as the official language of England. Many foreign language influences were present, from German, French, Belgian and Dutch; the transformation of modern English stemming from a rich tapestry.

Some of the many portraits of William Shakespeare.Credit@BriceStratfordwikipedia

Some of the many portraits of William Shakespeare.Credit@BriceStratfordwikipedia

In a period of linguistic prescription where particular language usages are elevated over others, the aim may be to firmly establish a language in a society, if conservative it may lead to resistance to language change; if radical it may result in neologisms. Consequently, an individual supporting a new set of beliefs is said to be a neologist which may be a side effect of new understandings allowed through language transformation.

This alternation between descriptive and prescriptive linguistic eras may lead to limiting factors on the ability for language to evolve, particularly in authoritarian periods. This illuminates where language change may be likely to come from as high status individuals may have interest in keeping language regulation, attempts to regularise language through academies became more prevalent after Shakespeare. Shakespeare arose from a modest family in Stratford-upon-Avon, an educated man despite being devoid of a university degree and single handily revolutionised the English language. The wider context of a society however may have more relevance to the development of a language. Today, neoligising is ironically associated with communicative conditions demonstrating how further language developments may be valued unfavourably.

The importance of language stems from the communicative value and also the comprehension and appreciation of the world as it exists today. How free a nation’s information access is may be down to the perception of individual citizens, although a contrast between the medias of different countries may also be more available now thorough the internet. China a country well known for foreign media regulations may be an example of how population awareness might be regulated.

A solution to the limitations of language evolution may be to borrow from other languages creating new words, new phrases and new worlds. A natural process may also be evident; when a language becomes regulated it naturally swings to having freedom and vice versa, these factors may be beyond individual control and in evidence throughout history.

Why might language freedom affect the world in which individuals live?


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