Technology Changes in Brit Lit: Quote and Thoughts


The four ages in English

In English literature the different ages also have been marked by major changes in the English language itself. Old English, Middle English and Modern English broadly correspond to the Age of Memory, Age of Manuscripts and Age of Books.

The Old English Beowulf, a bardic song, is the most complete remaining example of the first age. Courtier Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle English story collection, The Canterbury Tales, is the most complete (and wonderful) example of the second. The Age of Books in England began at the dawn of the Renaissance, only about 100 years before Shakespeare (a transitional figure), and is represented by thoroughly bookish neo-classical writers like John Milton and John Dryden (17th century AD) and almost everybody since their time through the twentieth century. There’s at least rough correlation in history among the Age of Books, the British Empire, and the spread of the English language around the earth.

The Beowulf-poet, Chaucer and Milton, if they could meet somehow, would not be able to communicate with one another very well because of the great changes in the language over the centuries. English teachers, of course, will have you understanding all of these people, and very many more besides…

But what about the fourth Age? Are we entering a time when the English language will change again into something strange and new? Perhaps machine language will play some role in transforming not only the technical processing of literature but also the form of English? Will people in the new age have trouble reading our “modern” English of 2000 AD, much as we have trouble reading Middle English? What shortcomings of books can be fixed by the new electronic medium?

That particular post also has some VERY interesting additional related readings sections.

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