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Modern English (sometimes New English as opposed to Middle English and Old English) is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, which began in the late 15th century and was completed in roughly 1550.
With some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, are referred to as using Early Modern English or Elizabethan English. English was adopted in regions around the world, such as North America, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Australia and New Zealand through colonisation by the British Empire.
Modern English has a large number of dialects spoken in diverse countries throughout the world. This includes American English, Australian English, British English (containing English English, Welsh English and Scottish English), Canadian English, Caribbean English, Hiberno-English, Indo-Pakistani English, Nigerian English, New Zealand English, Philippine English, Singaporean English, and South African English.
According to the Ethnologue, there were over 1 billion speakers of English as a first or second language in 1999. English is spoken in a vast number of territories including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Southern Africa. Its large number of speakers, plus its worldwide presence, have made English a common language for use in such diverse applications as controlling aircraft, developing software, summaries of scientific articles, conducting international diplomacy, and business relations.
Early Modern English lacked uniformity in spelling, but Samuel Johnson's dictionary, published in 1755 in England, was influential in establishing a standard form of spelling. Noah Webster did the same in the United States, publishing his dictionary in 1828; see American and British English spelling differences.
Public education increased literacy, and more people had access to books (and therefore to a standard language) with the spread of public libraries in the 19th century. Many words entered English from other languages as a result of contact with other cultures through trade and settlement and from the migration of large numbers of people to the United States from other countries. World War I and World War II threw together people from different backgrounds, and the greater social mobility afterwards helped to lessen the differences between social accents, at least in the UK. The development of radio broadcasting in the early 20th century familiarised the population with accents and vocabulary from outside their own localities, often for the first time, and this phenomenon continued with film and television.
Outline of changes
The following is an outline of the major changes in Modern English compared to its previous form (Middle English). Note, however, that these are generalizations, and some of these may not be true for specific dialects:
- disuse of the T-V distinction (thou, ye).
- use of auxiliary verbs becomes mandatory in interrogative sentences.
- rise and fall of prescriptive grammarians.
Changes in alphabet and spelling were heavily influenced by the advent of printing and continental printing practices.
- The letter thorn (þ), which was already being replaced by th in Middle English, finally fell into disuse. The last vestige of the letter was writing the as þe, which was still seen occasionally in the King James Bible of 1611.
- The letters i and j, previously written as a single letter, began to be distinguished; likewise for u and v. This was a common development of the Latin alphabet during this period.
Consequently, Modern English came to use a purely Latin alphabet of 26 letters.
- Ethnologue's "ENGLISH: a language of United Kingdom"
- Shakespeare's Influence on Early Modern English