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Review of  An Introduction to Early Modern English

Reviewer: David I. Cahill
Book Title: An Introduction to Early Modern English
Book Author: Terttu Nevalainen
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.403

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AUTHOR: Nevalainen, Terttu
TITLE: An Introduction to Early Modern English
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2006

David I. Cahill, School of English, Beijing Foreign Studies University

The author intends this book as an undergraduate textbook for a ten-week
course. Each chapter is subdivided into relatively short sections with
numbered headings, followed by a brief chapter summary, a list of
exercises, and suggestions for supplementary reading. At 148 pages
(excluding appendices and references), the book does not plumb the Early
Modern English period in any great depth, but seeks rather to isolate key
linguistics features of the English language from roughly 1500-1700 for the
benefit primarily of students who want to know more about this period and
who might wish to specialize in it in greater scholarly depth in the future.


Chapter one, ''The Early Modern English period,'' offers an approach to
determining the starting and ending points of the period. Aware that it is
impossible strictly on linguistic grounds to fix precise period dates,
Nevalainen makes use of Lass's (2000) ranking system measuring the relative
''archaism'' of earlier periods of English along ten representative
grammatical features shared by other Germanic languages. Lass's study
revealed that Middle English has more in common with Modern English than it
does with Old English, although the Middle English period itself is so
diffuse that, as Nevalainen notes, ''there is no unambiguous cut-off point
that would mark the boundary between Middle and Early Modern English'' or
likewise between the Early Modern and Modern English periods (p. 3). As
Shakespeare (1564-1616) by most accounts serves as a convenient
representative of the Early Modern English period at its mid-point, the
author draws illustrative examples from his plays in this chapter and
throughout her book. She also provides examples of earlier and later
writers from around 1500 and 1700 to mark out the extent of language change
over the period.

An important development during the Early Modern period was the gathering
strands of standardization of the language, the earliest of which can be
traced back to the late Middle English period (Chancery English, Caxton's
printing press, etc.). Nevalainen's sociolinguistic approach rightly
requires, however, that a focus on standardization not neglect the
extensive regional and social variation that has always existed in the
language's history, not least in the Early Modern period. The author
adopts the term ''General English'' (from the seventeenth-century
schoolmaster Alexander Gil, tutor of John Milton)--''the common variety that
people from different regional backgrounds oriented to especially in
writing'' (p. 9)--to characterize more loosely and inclusively the
predominant varieties of Early Modern English and their ongoing mixing and
leveling into a proto-standard centered around London.

Chapter two, ''Sources for the study of Early Modern English,'' is concerned
with the choice of texts to use as evidence of the state of the language.
Gil's Logonomia Anglica (1619) is examined for its account of the major
dialects of England (the so-called General, Northern, Southern, Eastern,
Western, and Poetic dialects), along with its proposals for spelling
reform, which provides the modern historian with valuable contemporary
information on Early Modern pronunciation. Early grammars such as Roger
Ascham's The Scholemaster (1570) and William Bullokar's Pamphlet for
Grammar (1586) began a long misguided tradition of describing English
grammar through the distorting lens of Latin grammar, but they are
nonetheless useful in listing a number of morphological variants indicative
of diachronic variation at that time. Besides the limited clues that
rhyming poetry sheds on pronunciation, other genres in the Early Modern
period can help flesh out a fairly comprehensive picture of the features of
naturally occurring speech. The increasing use of vernacular prose
dialogue in comedies by sixteenth and seventeenth-century playwrights is an
inexhaustible source of data on dialectal variation in pronunciation and
the rich vocabulary of colloquial speech. Informal letter writers
unwittingly assist us in understanding Early Modern pronunciation when
spelling words naively as they sound rather than according to existing
versions in print, particularly the phonetically transparent renderings of
barely literate (often female) writers. Nevalainen is one of the people
responsible for compiling the Corpus of Early English Correspondence at the
University of Helsinki, containing 6,000 letters in original spelling,
twenty percent of them by women, along with the Helsinki Corpus of English
Texts (also compiled at the same university), which includes such workaday
genres as autobiographies, educational treatises, sermons, and trial
proceedings. These electronic corpora, along with others cited by the
author (e.g., The Lampeter Corpus of Early Modern English Tracts, the
Michigan Early Modern English Materials, the Early English Books Online,
etc.), can now provide us with a comprehensive linguistic picture of Early
Modern English, and Nevalainen makes use of such corpora to give us a
judicious cross-section of the language within the narrow confines of this

In chapter three, ''Towards a standard language,'' Nevalainen charts two
early trends towards standardization in the early Modern period: the
legitimization and elaboration of a vernacular written variety based on
Chancery Standard, replacing Latin and French as the High variety and
language of government, and the attempts at fixing spelling after Caxton
together with the subsequent codification of the emerging standard in
spelling books, dictionaries, grammars and other prescriptive genres
enabled by the printing revolution (the factors leading to standardization
were in fact more numerous and complex than Nevalainen can do justice to in
her book, but this need not be dealt with here; see e.g., Wright 2000).
Influential books engaged with this task are reviewed, e.g., John Hart's
The Opening of the Unreasonable Writing of Our Inglish Toung (1551),
Richard Mulcaster's Elementarie (1582), and Robert Cawdrey's A Table
Alphabeticall (1604), the latter being the first of the ''hard-word''
dictionaries. Chapter four, ''Old words and loan words,'' is devoted to
determining the scope of the Early Modern English vocabulary and how the
vocabulary changed during the period. Word-frequency counts in the
Helsinki Corpus reveal that the common Germanic core of the English
vocabulary (along with proper names) has altered little over time up to the
present day, with the thousands of new additions to the Early Modern
lexicon being Latinate and learned (Latin alone supplying 13,000 new words
between 1575-1675), reflecting the cultural, political, and technological
diversification of English society in the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

The next five chapters shift the focus to the linguistic categories of
semantics, morphology, syntax, and phonology. Chapter five,
''Word-formation and semantic change,'' goes over the various processes by
which Early Modern English enlarged its lexicon besides extensive borrowing
from French, Latin and other languages, namely, compounding, affixation,
and conversion. Semantic change through generalization, specialization,
polysemy, metaphoric transfer, and contextual inferencing further enabled
new concepts to find expression. Chapter six, ''Nouns and pronouns,'' treats
the distribution of the second-person pronouns and eventual loss of the
'thou/thee/thy' forms, the spread of the northern 'they/them/their' forms,
and the ''dehumanization'' of the relative pronoun 'which'. Chapter seven,
''Verbs, adjectives and adverbs,'' covers the spread of the northern '-(e)s'
verb inflection and the eventual loss of the southern '-(e)th' and '-(e)st'
forms, along with other changes in verb tense, aspect and mood. Key
developments to note in chapter eight, ''Syntactic structures,'' are the
generalization of the auxiliary 'do' to contexts of not-negation, question
inversion, emphasis, as well as non-emphasis in affirmatives (e.g.,
''...there I did see the whole Consent of the Realm against it...'' (p.
109)), the latter use common in Shakespeare's time but dropping out
gradually over the seventeenth century; and syntactic loosening of
subject-verb inversion after adverbs, the so-called ''verb-second''
constraint found in Germanic languages (e.g., ''...then are the spirits of
lyfe melted and resolved away...'' (p. 113)), which is now a function of
discursive or stylistic rather than syntactic factors. In chapter nine,
''Changing pronunciation,'' the author cautions that our evidence of Early
Modern pronunciation is not given in texts but must be inferred and we are
therefore on shakier ground. The Great Vowel Shift was of course the major
sound change event but scholarly disagreement remains on the causes and
extent of the shift (whether, for instance, it has been entirely completed
or is still going on in parts of northern Britain or North America).

Finally, in chapter ten, ''Language in the Community,'' Nevalainen looks at
social developments in the Early Modern period which impinged on the
language: the printing press and the book trade that flourished in London,
and the subsequent extraordinary rise in literacy during 1500-1640 from ten
percent of males to thirty percent of males countrywide and sixty percent
of males in London (with female literacy lagging behind but growing
significantly among the gentry), accompanied by an almost ten-fold increase
in London's population in the same period as a result of massive internal
migration in the country and general improvements in human health and
longevity. London's growth as a political, commercial and cultural center
led to national dialect leveling and (though this point is not pursued) the
eventual development of the national prestige variety in England now
labeled Received Pronunciation.


Nevalainen describes her textbook as one suitable for ''undergraduates in
English...on a ten-week course'' who can be presumed to have ''some
familiarity with Shakespeare'' or who are ''linguistics undergraduates
studying the structural development'' of English (p. ix). Wow, a whole
course devoted to the study of Early Modern English (as opposed to
Shakespeare or Early Modern literature). I'm envious, as I'm afraid I will
never have the opportunity to teach such a course. I have usually been
invited to teach the History of the English Language and courses in
linguistics and Shakespeare. I believe the great majority of teachers are
in a similar situation to mine and will likely never teach a course solely
on the Early Modern English period from a linguistics perspective to
undergraduates (though I can imagine a graduate student seminar on the
same). So this textbook realistically must be assessed for possible joint
use with other textbooks in a comprehensive history of English course or as
a supplementary text to a Shakespeare course.

In whatever context this book is used, it might seem pointless or even
perverse to find fault with Nevalainen's contribution. She writes in a
clear, accessible manner, reflecting hands-on experience as a teacher,
while also being a scholar with fresh insights to offer from her
cutting-edge corpus-based research into early English, research which is
effecting a much-needed corrective shift away from the traditional
literature bias among historians of English toward non-canonical and
previously unexamined vernacular texts. Her previous scholarship has found
its way into my own history of English courses, for instance on women's
writing in the Early Modern period (Nevalainen 2002). It is all the more
impressive that the important research being led by Nevalainen and her team
is taking place among scholars of non-Indo-European extraction at the
University of Helsinki in Finland. Still, the central question, I believe,
in assessing any new book on the history of English, including textbooks
intended for the classroom, is whether or not it advances the history in a
decisive way, and Nevalainen's book does not. The paradox here is that it
is precisely because Nevalainen does such a satisfactory job (i.e.,
according to contemporary expectations) that her book epitomizes everything
that is currently wrong with the present state of scholarship on the
history of English. My critique should thus be understood as being
directed less to Nevalainen's work in particular than to the broader
scholarship, though her text illustrates many of the problems I raise.

Practically all histories of English both in and out of print in recent
memory that I am aware of adopt the orthodox chronological division into
the Old, Middle, Early Modern and Modern English periods (I would very much
like to be informed of exceptions). Increasingly in recent years doubts
have been expressed, for instance by Graddol, Leith and Swann (1996), Lass
(2000), Milroy (2002), Crystal (2004), and by Nevalainen herself in the
present book. The doubts concern the problem of periodization, that is,
the impossibility of fixing even approximate starting and ending points for
the major periods of English. As Nevalainen writes: ''...there does not
appear to be any one set of linguistic features that could be used to mark
the beginning and the end of the Early Modern period'' (p. 9); nonetheless,
''[l]anguage historians are prepared to accept the fact that named periods
such as Middle and Early Modern English are delimited by conventional but
basically arbitrary cut-off points'' (p. 8). In other words, she is
disturbed enough by the problem of periodization to raise it, but not
enough to elevate it to a central crux in the field, where it would get the
attention it deserves and ultimately lead to a solution. Implicitly she
seems to understand that there is too much at stake in terms of academic
reputations, the entrenched university textbook industry, etc. But why are
doubts being expressed? The problem is this: the history of the English
language used to be confused with the history of English literature (with
each of the periods seen as culminating in and expressing respectively the
greatness of Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc.). Now the history of the
language is generally recognized as falling within the purview of
linguistics. The earlier question of how English formerly looked at its
most eloquent at representative points in the past is now better
reformulated as: How was English spoken by different classes of people in
different places and times up to and including the present?

When viewed from this linguistic standpoint, the conventional notions of
''Old English'' (500-1100), ''Middle English'' (1100-1500), ''Early Modern
English'' (1500-1700) and ''Modern English'' (1700-) are redundant and
misleading, as these terms and their respective dates do not correspond to
any linguistic events. The onset dates of these periods roughly mark some
(but not all) of the important external events -- the fifth-century
Anglo-Saxon invasions, the eleventh-century Norman invasion, the
fifteenth-century invention of the printing press, the eighteenth-century
codification of the language -- that did indeed have an impact on the
language, but the linguistic changes following these events were typically
slow in coming and unfolded in a gradual arc over 200-300 years. The
history of the language would be better characterized as continuous and
multiple processes of change at differential rates among a variety of
dialects, with one particularly dramatic acceleration of change taking
place in the transitional period between 1100-1300 (or 1200-1400, depending
on the criteria selected), when English proper begins to take recognizable
shape. The conventional periods are not linguistically relevant but have
been marshaled for another, ideological purpose. They are
cultural-nationalistic signifiers which serve to extend the origin of the
language back far enough into the past to coincide with the arrival in
England of the people of the same linguistic pedigree, although what the
Anglo-Saxon invaders in fact spoke bears far less linguistic relatedness to
English than Latin does to Italian. I agree with Milroy (2002) that for
orthodox historians of the language, ''Old English'' functions ideologically
to mythologize English as a language of more ancient and historic
proportions than it really is.

This is not a theoretical problem unrelated to the assessment of an
introductory textbook for undergraduates, but a pedagogical problem through
and through. In my early years of teaching the history of English, I had a
great deal of unlearning to do amidst much initial confusion among myself
and my students about linguistic changes that failed to correspond to
period dates. It is a problem that I have found intensely engaging in my
quest for a solution, but unfortunately the same cannot always be said of
the students, who may come away from a standard history of English textbook
with no more than a handful of ''facts,'' namely that the Old English period
began in 500 and ended in 1100, that the Middle English period began in
1100 and ended in 1500, etc. That these are not facts at all but arbitrary
designators for heuristic use may be a distinction recognized by scholars
and teachers but a subtlety lost on the students. The ironic result is
that the pedagogical convenience of giving students periods to grasp onto
has the unwanted opposite effect of distorting and reifying the history of
the language as dead knowledge, a musty museum collection of discrete items
in four chronologically ascending rooms representing each period.

A preferable goal would be to teach the history of the language as an
organic and indivisible process of change which we can understand as
leading directly to the present or from the present extending backwards
into the past, as Strang (1970), for example, accomplished by arranging her
history of the language in reverse chronological order in 200-year segments
rather than period divisions (while retaining the period terms Old, Middle,
New, and Present-Day English), aptly describing her object of study as ''the
ceaselessly, oceanically, heaving, swelling, flowing, ungraspable mass that
historians corset into manageable chunks on to which quasi-scientific
labels can be stuck'' (p. xv). If period dates and descriptors are
dispensed with, how to refer to English in the past? My own preference,
similar to Strand's, is the elegant neutrality of century divisions that
all historians make use of—thus nineteenth-century English,
sixteenth-century English, fourteenth-century English, as so on, down to
the hazy period of the twelfth century, when we should perhaps no longer
refer to the language as English but Anglo-Saxon, as in twelfth-century
Anglo-Saxon, nine-century Anglo-Saxon, etc. Milroy (2002) presents a case
for shifting the starting point of English forward to the thirteenth
century, but a starting point is moot when one cannot be established solely
on linguistic grounds in the first place, as Milroy himself reminds us.
English had no decisive beginning, just a gradual emergence over several
centuries after momentous, transformative language contact between
Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Norman French; nor will this hybrid tongue called
English have an ending (at least one that can be given a date).

So however plain and obvious the title of Nevalainen's book, I am still
troubled by it, as it affirms the standard period divisions (not to mention
her reliance on the ideologically fraught term ''Modern'' and its
connotations of ''highly developed'' and ''advanced''), with the Early Modern
period here being marked off by the author at 1500-1700. Would not a
primer on the language between 1400-1600 or between 1600-1800 be equally
plausible? Why, apart from convention, the dates 1500-1700? Shakespeare
nicely straddles the mid-point in this range and one can imagine her text
as a helpful linguistic supplement to a course on Shakespeare. A more
practical choice might be Crystal's Pronouncing Shakespeare (2005), which
addresses one of the main issues covered by Nevalainen—pronunciation -- but
turns it into a compelling theoretical challenge: to profile the phonology
of the language during Shakespeare's time with an end to performing his
plays in a plausible re-creation of Elizabethan English. Such a focused
purpose transcends mere pedagogy and for that very reason is ideally suited
to the classroom. A textbook such as Nevalainen's, which partitions up the
features of Early Modern English into chapters according to grammatical
module (semantics, noun morphology, verb morphology, syntax, phonology), I
feel, is not. Perhaps this reflects her training as a philologist weaned
on introductory linguistics textbooks that do the same. But if I find it a
dry reading experience, I fear my students would too. Her approach mimics
and continues the endless series of Latin-style English grammars over the
centuries that chopped up the language into parts of speech, albeit without
the ironic critical distance the author herself adopts in reviewing this
prescriptive tradition in chapters two and three. These chapters do
contain useful information, but might there not be a better way to package
it? Her discussion of borrowing and word-derivation processes is also
useful, but since it's less comprehensive than Pyles and Algeo's (1993)
treatment of the same in the concluding chapters of their widely adopted
history of English, why would teachers give that textbook up?

My final concern has to do with Nevalainen's corpus-based approach.
Expanding our field of data through a growing repertoire of corpora has
much to offer, particularly in combination with powerful computational
tools that can capture patterns and trends with precision. But there is a
danger in privileging quantitative methodology to the point where it alone
becomes identified with empirical truth. Here I have to agree with Chomsky
in his critique of corpus linguistics that empirical inquiry should combine
higher-order theorizing with real-world data and that this is a quite
different task from the non-theoretical quantitative tabulation that a
corpus approach may invite: ''The standard method of the sciences is not to
accumulate huge masses of unanalyzed data and to try to draw some
generalization from them. The modern sciences, at least since
Galileo...have sought to...construct refined experiments which ask, which
try to answer specific questions that arise within a theoretical
context...'' (Andor 2004, p. 97). Admittedly, Chomsky's out-of-hand
rejection of corpus linguistics as an essentially meaningless endeavor is
extreme and must be understood as a polemical gesture of caution—against
the backgrounding and inadvertent eliding of whole areas of linguistic
significance due to the exclusionary focus on quantifiable data. Again,
this is not to dispute the value of electronic corpora and computational
analysis to macro sociolinguistics and historical linguistics, as
exemplified by Nevalainen's own (2002) study in which frequency counts of
certain gendered constructions (such as women's alleged preference for
using 'you' and 'I think') allow her to make some informative claims about
female-led language change in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The
limitation, as I see it, is when various generalizations about this period
of English are made, as in the present book, on the basis of corpus
analyses of exactly the sort of decontextualized linguistic items
(morphemes, lexemes, syntactic structures, etc.) that lend themselves to
quantifiable analysis. This data-driven closed-loop effect whereby
valuable knowledge is generated within a very narrow methodological
framework is itself a problem that needs to be opened up to critique.
However, since history of English scholarship lacks both a tradition of
critique and a dynamic theoretical framework, any new developments in the
field get fed into the same old OE-ME-EME-ME paradigm as so much
informational mulch.

Among the more promising approaches to the history of English combines
quantitative analysis with close pragmatic readings of texts, as Jucker
(2002) has done with plays and trial records for an assessment of discourse
markers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We also have a fine
pragmatic study by Brown and Gilman (1989) of politeness strategies in
Shakespeare's four major tragedies. The latter two studies are interesting
because of the importance they assign to drama as perhaps the most valuable
historical genre for understanding oral speech (even if the mimicking of
natural speech in dramatic dialogue can only ever be an idealization), but
while they are on the right track, they leave many other possibilities
unexplored. Close reading within a theoretical framework forces us to
ground analysis of the language in specific historical contexts while
enabling powerful explanations from singular instances. Especially useful
would be a Hallidayan systemic-functional approach or a social-semiotic
approach such as outlined by Hodge and Kress (1988), with their interest in
the way ideology is instantiated in texts and signs, right down to words
and phrases. Hodge and Kress, for example, distinguish between how
information is intended to be understood among producers and receivers (the
semiosic plane) from what information ostensibly refers to (the mimetic
plane). In this light, historians of English need to shift their focus
from partitioning up the language into linguistic modules and periods to
describing the historically evolving means by which ideology has animated
the expressive capabilities of the language.

Two brief examples from plays are relevant here as they instructively
complicate the very notion of the ''Early Modern'' period and thereby remind
us of the constructed nature of all historical periods. Most historians
would probably categorize the morality play Mankind (circa 1465-70) as late
Middle English, on the basis of its date, spelling and other textual
conventions, and its Christian didactic function common to medieval drama.
But the anonymous author's highly sophisticated parodic and self-reflexive
manipulation of aureate and colloquial styles, along with the commercially
motivated appeals to the audience, position this text as an obvious
forerunner of the popular London theater that flourished 100 years later,
and therefore as ''Early Modern'' in its aesthetic. For example, the
character Nought's topical reference to ''...the comyn tapster of Bury'' (l.
274, in Bevington 1975, p. 912), referring to what must have been a local
alehouse, is a semiosic gesture of solidarity with the audience that
contradicts the play's conventional references to the alehouse, on the
mimetic level, as the symbolic locale of the sinful life. The only
significance a traditional historian of English might see in the word
''tapster'' is its Germanic origin; more interesting, to my mind, is the
ideological charge of the word at that point in time.

To jump ahead two centuries, William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700)
is generally treated as a Restoration play and hence as falling within the
Early Modern period, but in many respects the play strikes us as quite
modern. A mere phrase, ''A Chocolate-house,'' provided at the head of the
play's opening scene, is one of the first instances in English drama of an
explicit stage direction indicating the physical setting. There were great
consequences for the subsequent development of drama, as the bare
imaginative stage of earlier English theater gave way to particularized
settings and the ''fourth wall.'' The chocolate house (along with the
coffeehouse and the teahouse) was also a newly fashionable domain of the
growing bourgeois leisure class, for which the play was written, replacing
the very different social world of the tavern and the alehouse. Again, the
significance is not simply the formation of a curious new compound word,
''chocolate-house,'' of joint Nahuatl-Spanish and Anglo-Saxon roots,
reflecting the discovery of the New World; students need to know more about
what kind of social scene the word chocolate-house indexed when it entered
the language. The concept of ''Early Modern'' does not help us answer this
question but is quite irrelevant to it.


Andor, Jozsef (2004) The Master and His Performance: An Interview with Noam
Chomsky. Intercultural Pragmatics, 1-1, 93-111.

Bevington, David (1975) Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Brown, Roger, & Albert Gilman (1989) Politeness Theory and Shakespeare's
Four Major Tragedies. Language and Society, 18, 159-212.

Congreve, William (1700). The Way of the World. Accessed January 17, 2007
from the website Bibliomania.

Crystal, David (2004) The Stories of English. London: Penguin Books.

Crystal, David (2005) Pronouncing Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Graddol, David, Dick Leith, & Joan Swann (1996) English: History, Diversity
and Change. London: Routledge.

Hodge, Robert, & Gunther Kress (1988) Social Semiotics. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press.

Jucker, Andreas H. (2002) Discourse Markers in Early Modern English. In
Richard Watts and Peter Trudgill (eds.). Alternative Histories of English.
London: Routledge, 210-230.

Lass, Roger (2000) Language Periodization and the Concept of ''Middle''. In
Irma Taavitsainen, Terttu Nevalainen, Paivi Pahta and Matti Rissanen
(eds.). Placing Middle English in Context. Berlin and New York: Mouton de
Gruyter, 7-41.

Milroy, Jim. (2002) The Legitimate Language: Giving a History to English.
In Richard Watts and Peter Trudgill (eds). Alternative Histories of
English. London: Routledge, 7-25.

Nevalainen, Terttu (2002) Women's Writings as Evidence for Linguistic
Continuity and Change in Early Modern English. In Richard Watts and Peter
Trudgill (eds). Alternative Histories of English. London: Routledge, 191-209.

Pyles, Thomas & John Algeo (1993) The Origins and Development of the
English Language (4th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Strang, Barbara M. H. (1970) A History of English. London: Methuen & Co.

Wright, Laura, ed. (2000) The Development of Standard English 1300-1800:
Theories, Descriptions, Conflicts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

David I. Cahill teaches the history of the English language, critical
discourse analysis, critical theory, and cultural studies. His current
research interest is the application of critical theory and social
semiotics to the history of English, or more succinctly, the critical
history of English.

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