Modern English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Modern English
New English
RegionEnglish-speaking world
EraLate 17th century AD – present[1]
Early forms
Latin script (English alphabet)
English Braille, Unified English Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-1en
ISO 639-2eng
ISO 639-3eng

Modern English (ME), sometimes called New English (NE)[2] as opposed to Middle and Old English, is the form of the English language that has been spoken since the end of the Great Vowel Shift in England, which was completed by the end of the 17th century.

With some differences in vocabulary, texts which date from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered Modern English texts, or more specifically, they are referred to as texts which were written in Early Modern English or they are referred to as texts which were written in Elizabethan English. Through colonization, English was adopted in many regions of the world by the British Empire, such as Anglo-America, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Modern English has many dialects spoken in many countries throughout the world, sometimes collectively referred to as the English-speaking world. These dialects include (but are not limited to) American, Australian, British (containing Anglo-English, Scottish English and Welsh English), Canadian, Caribbean, Hiberno-English (including Ulster English), Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Nigerian, New Zealand, Philippine, Singaporean, and South African English.

According to the Ethnologue, there are almost one billion speakers of English as a first or second language.[3] English is spoken as a first or a second language in many countries, with most native speakers being in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland; there are also large populations in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Southern Africa. It "has more non-native speakers than any other language, is more widely dispersed around the world and is used for more purposes than any other language". Its large number of speakers, plus its worldwide presence, have made English a common language (lingua franca) "of the airlines, of the sea and shipping, of computer technology, of science and indeed of (global) communication generally".[4]


Modern English evolved from Early Modern English which was used from the beginning of the Tudor period until the Interregnum and Stuart Restoration in England.[5] By the late 18th century, the British Empire had facilitated the spread of Modern English through its colonies and geopolitical dominance. Commerce, science and technology, diplomacy, art, and formal education all contributed to English becoming the first truly global language. Modern English also facilitated worldwide international communication. English was adopted in North America, India, parts of Africa, Australia, and many other regions. In the post-colonial period, some newly created nations that had multiple indigenous languages opted to continue using Modern English as the official language to avoid the political difficulties inherent in promoting one indigenous language above another.[6][7]

Outline of changes[edit]

The following is an outline of the major changes in Modern English compared to its previous form (Middle English), and also some major changes in English over the course of the 20th century. Note, however, that these are generalizations, and some of these may not be true for specific dialects:





Up until the American–British split (1600–1725), some major phonological changes in English included:

  • Initial cluster reductions, like of /ɡn, kn/ into /n/: making homophones of gnat and nat, and not and knot.
  • The meet–meat merger in most dialects: making the words "meat", "threat" and "great" have three different vowels, although all three words once rhymed.
  • The foot–strut split: so that "cut" and "put", and "pudding" and "budding" no longer rhyme; and "putt" and "put" are no longer homophones.
  • The lot–cloth split: the vowel in words like "cloth" and "off" is pronounced with the vowel in "thought", as opposed to the vowel used in "lot".

After the American-British split, further changes to English phonology included:



Changes in alphabet and spelling were heavily influenced by the advent of printing and continental printing practices.

  • The letter thorn (þ), which began to be replaced by th as early as Middle English, finally fell into disuse. In Early Modern English printing, thorn was represented with the Latin y, which appeared similar to thorn in blackletter typeface (𝖞). The last vestige of the letter was in ligatures of thorn, ye (thee), yt (that), yu (thou), which were still seen occasionally in the King James Bible of 1611 and in Shakespeare's folios.
  • The letters i and j, previously written as a single letter, began to be distinguished; likewise for u and v. This was a common development of the Latin alphabet during this period.

Consequently, Modern English came to use a purely Latin alphabet of 26 letters.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Terttu Nevalainen: An Introduction to Early Modern English, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 1
  2. ^ Sihler 2000, p. xvi.
  3. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2016). "English". Ethnologue. SIL International. Retrieved 22 February 2016. Total users in all countries: 942,533,930 (as L1: 339,370,920; as L2: 603,163,010)
  4. ^ Algeo & Pyles 2004, p. 222.
  5. ^ Nevalainen, Terttu (2006). An Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  6. ^ Romaine 2006, p. 586.
  7. ^ Mufwene 2006, p. 614.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Leech, Geoffrey; Hundt, Marianne; Mair, Christian; Smith, Nicholas (2009). Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study. Cambridge University Press. pp. 18–19.


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