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I love Early-Modern English. It seems to me that words in Early-Modern English encode more information than their counterparts in Modern English.

I know of a few English reform movements, but none of them advocate for the revival of some of the most compendious elements of Early-Modern English.

Do you know of a (fringe) movement that advocates reviving some elements of Early-Modern English?

  • I assume that by Early-Modern you are using the term in the way that historians normally do; to cover the period between the Reformation of the 16th century and the French Revolution which began in 1789. That would include the lifetime of Shakespeare as well as writers such as Hazlitt and Cobbett, a period of about 250 years. It covers a great deal of English! – WS2 Feb 6 '14 at 14:14
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    I like using the word "thrice" - is that fringe enough? – oerkelens Feb 6 '14 at 14:17
  • @WS2 EME for students of literature runs basically from about 1500 or a little before to the Restoration - call it Malory to Milton. – StoneyB Feb 6 '14 at 14:27
  • @StoneyB That is an interesting fact; namely that in literature the 'modern age' begins about a century before it does in the real world. There must be an important message there somewhere. – WS2 Feb 6 '14 at 14:56
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    @WS2 The critical player is probably Caxton, who begins the process of nailing English's foot to the ground. – StoneyB Feb 6 '14 at 16:48
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No, for four reasons.

1) For the most part, EME does not encode more information than modern English.

If you find words like "afeared," "forsooth," or "sportive" to be more evocative than their modern English counterparts, it's probably because they take on a certain luster from their archaic nature in and of itself. If people still said "afeared" instead of "afraid," it wouldn't have that attraction, or the exclusive association with EME writers like Shakespeare. It's also to some extent a class marker; using an antique word shows that you've had access to education.

On the other hand, if we now always said "ocean," and "sea" had fallen out of use, Shakespeare's "sea of troubles" would sound different to our ears.

2) In those cases where there is more information encoded, English speakers got rid of that information for a reason.

For instance, English speakers started using "you" and "your" for the second person singular, replacing "thou" and "thy". If it was more important to English speakers to make that distinction, they would have kept it. They thought it was easier to have one word for both.

3) Having more information encoded in a single word isn't always a good thing.

English is as rich as it is because it has a large vocabulary. If you want to say "afeared," you have dozens of synonyms to choose from: frightened, spooked, creeped out, scared, terrified, et cetera, et cetera. Many obsolete EME words are obsolete because they encode too much. For example: "anon" can mean soon, or it can mean imminently, or it can mean now. It's generally more useful to use any of those three more specific words than the vaguer "anon."

4) Vocabulary, like grammar, is descriptive, not proscriptive.

This is the most important reason. Words aren't defined by grammarians; they are defined by the people who use them to communicate. No "movement" is going to change the way people speak, unless it's backed by a strong central government that also has charge of the educational apparatus of its speakers. See, for example, PRC character simplification and German Rechtschreibreform.

It's reasonable to say "People never say 'wot' anymore."

It's reasonable to say "I wish people still used the word 'wot'."

It's not reasonable to say, "Let's bring back the word 'wot'." Unless you enjoy fighting in the windmill-lists.

  • Let's bring back the word 'wot'. – Mitch Apr 10 '14 at 0:23
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    If y'all think the distinction between you and thou was unimportant, y'all should explain why several English dialects have resurrected it. – Peter Shor Apr 10 '14 at 2:11
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    It's worth noting that those dialects that have re-distinguished the second person singular and plural have done so in more regular and less heavily conjugated forms than were found in early modern english. So instead of "thou/thee/thine/thy/ye" you have "y'all/y'all's". It's possible that the simpler form is "worth it" to deal with from a lexical standpoint, where the older, more complex form was not. – chapka Apr 11 '14 at 14:35
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I don't know if I'd call it a movement, but there is a project to write an encyclopedia with a minimum of loan words: The Anglish Moot. It's a wiki, but one not endorsed by Wikipedia.

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