By D. Leith
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Extra info for A Social History of English
Thus, while Tuscan developed as a literary norm during the later Middle Ages in Italy, it did not have a political dimension until the unification of the country in the 1860s. By that time, the municipal varieties of Italian in the old, independent citystates had become regional norms; and not only do these persist today, but they are tolerated to an extent unknown in France and England. Norway today is said to have two competing standards: one a Danishinfluenced legacy of Danish rule, the other consciously engineered after independence from Denmark in 1814, and based on the Norwegian dialects of the west.
Cultural contacts with France were an increasing source of tension in English life. The monarchy of France came to be seen as a foreign power, whose interests often clashed with those of the people of England. Moreover, while some kings of England waged long, costly, and fruitless wars against France, others lavished the wealth of England on French favourites. Either was likely to upset baron, lesser landowner, and merchant alike. Frenchmen, and the French language, were increasingly disparaged.
The selection of one discriminates, in principle, against speakers with other accents. By encoding the sounds of speech in an inconsistent and often arbitrary way, our spelling system at least manages to favour nobody. Contrary to what some people think, it is not a representation of the accent spoken by a small minority of the wealthy and privileged. We are all equally disadvantaged by it, and that is one of its strengths. Moreover there is often more pattern in it than is at first apparent, particularly if we abandon the expectation that at all points spellings must represent different sounds.
A Social History of English by D. Leith