English Language Day 2016 — The Languages of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616. Therefore, 2016 will be the Year of Shakespeare for the English Project. In celebration, we will explore Shakespeare’s language - with a twist. Shakespeare’s language is not only Shakespearean English. Shakespeare’s language is also simply the English language.
By 1564 when William Shakespeare was mouthing his first words, Old English had become Middle English and was becoming Modern English. It was still a language that few not born
to it would bother to learn. By 1616 when William Shakespeare was sounding his last words, English was moving out of the British Isles to be heard in stations and settlements in Africa, Asia, and America. In 2016, when William Shakespeare has been dead four hundred years, his words and his language are heard everywhere.
Shakespeare’s language developed from the West Germanic spoken in Continental Europe. It began to be called English when West Germanics brought their language over the North Sea and the Channel to Britannia. That English, Old English, was changed by Danish-speaking invaders as Middle English was changed by French-speaking invaders. Early Modern English, Shakespeare’s English, was changed by Latin-speaking scholars. Late Modern English is changing as result of globalisation, international information exchange, and by the burden of its having become the World’s Language.
English has changed radically every five hundred years. Today, English is due for another change. In 2516 a new form of the English language might be dated from the twenty-first century. A new name will have to be found for the new form. Perhaps it will be called Post-Modern English. Meanwhile, we call it Global English, and its poet is William Shakespeare.
Through Shakespeare’s works and words, the English Project will trace the story of English Past, Present and Future month by month in 2016:
------------------------------Shakespeare quotations come from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery. Kindle Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.