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William Shakespeare

How has the English language evolved since the time of Shakespeare?


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July 24, 2015 8:00PM

Less than you probably think. It is important to recognize that language changes more rapidly in its spoken form than its written one, and that some language changes affect only some dialects. It is also important to know that Shakespeare was writing poetically and so used rhetorical and stylistic devices which would not appear in ordinary speech. It is probably better to examine the plays of authors like Middleton and Jonson (both contemporary with Shakespeare) who tried to make their characters sound like they were speaking naturally. One of the problems of doing so is that they use a certain amount of cant and slang which only ever has a short lifespan: the slang of fifty years ago is equally difficult to understand.Shakespeare used the second person pronouns and their accompanying verb forms a fair bit in his plays. They also are used in the King James Bible which was contemporary. But they are hardly used at all in other contemporary works which suggests that their use was old-fashioned then. They are even more old-fashioned now but are still in use especially in a religious context.The meanings of a number of words has shifted in the last 400 years; I say "shifted" because the older primary meaning has often become subsumed under a newer meaning, but is still present and recognizable as a secondary meaning. Of course, new vocabulary has been devised for new phenomena and vocabulary for older phenomena has fallen into disuse as the phenomena disappear.