Differences Between the Spelling and Pronunciation of Old and of Modem English

Besides the great differences in the character of the words and in the ways of expressing their relations and changes of meaning, there is also a marked difference between the spelling and pronunciation of Old and of Modern English. For a long time, indeed, everyone in England tried to write his words as he pronounced them, sometimes, indeed, with different spellings of the same word in the same sentence. And, judging from the varieties of spelling there must have been great variety in the pronunciation. Since the close of the fifteenth century, however, although many changes have taken place, the growth of national culture and the intermingling of people from various parts of the British Empire, have tended to make the pronunciation uniform; so that now, educated speakers of English, all over the world, differ only slightly in their modes of pronunciation. Our spelling, also, chiefly owing to the use of dictionaries and the influence of our printed literature, has become almost rigidly flxed and very often do
es not correspond to the pronunciation.

For a century or so after the Normans settled in England, two languages were spoken side by side—French, by the Normans, and English, by the English. Gradually, however, the two peoples united together and the two languages became fused into one. The highly important period during which the new language was being formed and was first spoken, is now known as that of Middle English one of the best examples of which is seen in the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, who wrote in the fourteenth century.

All the changes during the three periods of the history of our language have taken place gradually; so that no hard and fast lines of division can be drawn. As a matter of convenience it is, however, usual to limit the periods as follows: Old English from the settlement of England in the fifth century till 1200.Middle English till 1500, and Modern English thereafter.

As will be seen later, these periods are often again sub-divided; but in the meantime, we need notice only the sub-division of Modern English into  Early Modern (or Elizabethan) English (about 1500-1600) and Later Modern English; the English of the present day, being especially known as Present English. But, notwithstanding these changes and names, it must always be kept in mind that the language we now speak and write is the direct descendant of the English spoken in the time of King Alfred a thousand years ago ; for the structure of our sentences and by far the larger number of our most common and needful words are purely English. 

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