English is derived from the Roman alphabet that Christian missionaries brought to Anglo-Saxon England in the 600s and that built on an earlier Germanic alphabet called runes. Monks, who were largely the people who wrote in Old English, added new sounds to represent Anglo-Saxon words that could not be written...
English is derived from the Roman alphabet that Christian missionaries brought to Anglo-Saxon England in the 600s and that built on an earlier Germanic alphabet called runes. Monks, who were largely the people who wrote in Old English, added new sounds to represent Anglo-Saxon words that could not be written with the Roman alphabet. At this point, there was no standard orthography, or system of spelling words consistently, as the language was changing quickly. In addition, the norms for writing always lagged behind the norms for pronunciation, so it took time for new dialects to be represented in writing.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, English was replaced by French as the language for writing official documents related to law and government. Scribes at this point were trained in French, and they used different norms for spelling than earlier scribes in Anglo-Saxon England. In addition, the Norman court moved to London, and London and the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford became the centers for language norms, not Wessex, as had been true in Anglo-Saxon England. The area around London gained status as the center of standard English. In addition, writing came to be used more for governmental uses, not just for religious purposes.
The development of printing in the 1400s changed English, as the language was increasingly used for financial and legal record keeping and bureaucracy. In addition, this period saw the development of non-religious schools that trained increasing numbers of people in literacy and that spread orthographic norms. The industry of publishing developed, and this industry pushed for consistent spellings to facilitate their process. In other words, the desire for economic profit drove publishers to standardize the language.
The Reformation and the development of England as a Protestant country had an effect on spelling and the standardization of English. Therefore, national identity was a motivation behind the standardization of the language. The King James Bible of 1611 became the standard Bible, and its spellings set standards for written English. In the 18th century, the production of dictionaries further standardized the language. By the time Samuel Johnson's dictionary was published in 1755, there was a Modern English spelling system in use. After American independence in the 1770s, American dictionaries by Noah Webster and others standardized the American forms of orthography as a form of independence and national identity.