The Study of Language in 17th-Century England

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Latin was associated with the learned and leisured and the vernacular was associated with the merchant class Crowley For more practical reasons, Latin could not be wholly abandoned by the English. Beginning in the Renaissance and Reformation and continuing into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the English language experienced a huge influx of borrowed words. Latin was the main source of these borrowings Nevalainen , and the influx increased as the vernacular began to be used more extensively in academic and scientific circles.

Some knowledge of Latin was needed to speak confidently in subjects such as theology, science, and law in English.

A short history of translation and translators

The instability of the language, due in part to the influx of words, was taken up by writers such as Johnathan Swift his Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue The Renaissance and Reformation had set in motion a linguistic path away from Latin and towards the vulgar tongue — English. As Tony Crowley writes, the English language found itself wracked by issues of standardization in spelling, grammar, and usage Crowley Susan M. The burgeoning English language, then, while it provided a distinct national identity, also served to reinforce class distinctions.

Johnson, despite his Latin training and complex linguistic constructions , was the son of a bookseller Ousby and not of the gentility. Clark believes that since Johnson was trained in the Anglo-Latin tradition, he had a high emotional investment in its continuance and consistently bemoaned the demise of Latin in everyday usage Clark 67 and Weinbrot The resistance Johnson encountered with respect to Latinisms was not a new form of protest to surface against the flagrant use of inkhorn terms to augment the English lexicon.

Science in the 17th century: From Europe to St Andrews

Inkhorn terms are so named because they tend to be used more in writing than in speech inkhorns or inkpots were containers in which one stored ink and are largely held to be a literary affectation McArthur Among all other lessons this should be first learned, that we never affect any straunge ynkehorne termes, but to speak as is commonly received: nether seeking to be over fine nor yet living over-careless, using our speeche as most men doe, and ordering our wittes as the fewest have done.

Some seeke so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers language. The eighteenth century tended away from such formal discourse, and Johnson Latinate vocabulary was not well accepted McArthur Samuel Johnson is the perfect example of a scholar caught in the crossfire between nationalistic tendencies towards a pure vernacular, and the long European history of Latin in academia.


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By the prevalence of Latin in the academic realm in England had declined sharply, and the authority of English was assured Finegan For example, in fields such as medicine and botany, Latin remained, and is still today, a crucial tool for learning, and knowledge of the Latin involved still functions to designate one as learned in the area.

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A short history of translation and translators |

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The 17th Century

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