By D. Leith
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Extra resources for A Social History of English
But before we try to discuss them, it is essential to point out that there are insuperable problems involved in establishing a standard, consistent spelling system. Quite simply, this is because sounds vary enormously, as we have already said. We pronounce differently according to whether we are speaking formally or casually (as we shall see in chapter five). And sometimes the same word has different phonemes associated with the amount of stress placed upon it. Must and from, for instance, are differentiated when stressed, but in unstressed positions they have the same .
Norman French was exclusive, the property of the major, and often absent, landowner. While no wholesale language shift took place, it is probable that individual bilingualism came to exist among certain social groups. The motivation for learning a second language, however, may have been different in each case. Some groups would need to be bilingual, whereas for others opportunities for contact with the other language would have been minimal. Certain domains of usage would make different demands on people’s linguistic repertoire.
The promotion of English was associated with gradual changes that had been taking place in English society. The old feudal structure so successfully sustained by the Norman kings, the system of obligations between king and aristocracy, was giving way to an economy based, not on land, but on money. We see the emergence of new bases of power, new feelings of group loyalty. Alliances were made between lesser landowners, who were making money out of raising sheep for wool, and the rising merchant class in the towns, a pact institutionalised in the thirteenth century by the assembly that came to be called Parliament.