The Modern Period. Varieties of English in Britain in the 19th and 20th c

§ 345. The main functional divisions of the national English language, which had been formed by the 19th c., were its standard or literary forms and its sub. standard forms.

The literary language comprised a great number of varieties (or "forms of existence"). It had a Written and a Spoken Standard; within the Written Standard there developed different literary and functional styles: the belles-lettres style (with further differentiation between poetry, prose and drama), official style, news paper and publicistic style, scientific prose style.[32] Within the Spoken Standard we can safely assume the existence of more formal and less formal, colloquial varie­ties which bordered on the sub-standard forms of the language. We can also posit the existence of modified local Standards used by educated people but displaying certain local colouring (the term "Regional Modified Standards", proposed by H. C. Wyld implies that despite some differences these forms of speech belong to Stand­ard English).

Literary English found its ideal representation in the works of English authors of the 19th c. Sub-standard forms of the language — local dialects and lower social dialects — were mainly used for oral communication. During the 18th c., when conformity to the rules of correctness and high style were looked upon as a primary merit, writers were not inclined to employ the non-prestige types of local speech. Characterisation through dialect, which sometimes occurred in the drama of the Renaissance, had fallen into disuse. In the 19th c. literary tastes changed and writers began to take a greater interest in the region­al dialects and in folklore. Non-standard forms of the language were recorded in the speech of various characters to show their social rank and origin.

§ 346. Two varieties of English in Great Britain distinguished from Standard English — Scottish and Anglo-Irish — claimed to be literary tongues. Scottish Eng­lish reemerged again into literary eminence, after a decline in the 17th c., in the poetry of Robert Burns (1759-1796). The literary tradition was not given up in the 19th c.: a series of poets employed the Scottish dialect in depicting the griev­ances of the common people. For the most part, however, Scottish English was used for oral intercourse by the less educated people, while a Regional Modified Standard displaced it in other functions. As elsewhere the local dialect was trans­formed into a social local dialect used by the lower classes.

§ 347. The English language in Ireland displayed sharper differences from British English than the Scottish dialect, as for several hundred years it devel­oped in relative isolation from the monopoly. Despite the attempts to revive the Celtic tongue, Gaelic, or Irish (which was one of the major issues in the vigorous struggle for home rule in the 19th c.), by 1900 a variety of English with a strong Irish accent, known as the "brogue", had become the main language of the popu­lation. Some authorities regard Anglo-Irish as a separate geographical variant of English possessing an independent national Standard, others treat it as a local dialect. Anglo-Irish is the official language of Northern Ireland and Eire and also the language of literature, school and universities.[33]

§ 348. Dialectal division in England proper in the 19th and 20th c. was rough­ly the same as before since it goes back to the age of feudalism, particularly to Early ME. The dialects are distinguished by counties or shires, e. g. the dialect of Somersetshire, the Yorkshire dialect. They are usually grouped under the following main headings: the Southern dialects, subdivided into East- and West-Southern; the Midland dialects subdivided into Eastern, Central, and Western; (the term Midland is also used as an equivalent of Central); the Northern dialects.

A map of Modern English dialects

Among the social dialects of particular interest is London's Cockney. 16th c. spellings testify to the existence of Cockney in the age of Shakespeare. Cockney was used as a form of oral speech by the lower ranks of the Londoners throughout the New English period and was looked upon as a social handicap in the 19th c. (recall PYGMALION by G. B. Shaw).