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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The organism theory of language in England from 1570 to 1700 Baker, Ronald James


From 1570 until the early seventeenth century the dominant view of language in England is embodied in the image which represents a language as an organism, an organism following an inevitable cycle of growth, perfection, and decay. This organism theory of language, since the Elizabethans believe that English is in the first stage of the cycle, leads to a willing acceptance of neologisms,a, readiness to experiment with language, and a concentration on literary production (literature being the "flower" of the language plant) at the expense of grammar and dictionaries. During the seventeenth century the organism theory of language is weakened by the new science, antiquarianism, and the belief that English is now in, or close to, the period of perfection. It does, however, remain strong enough to lead to a desire to fix the language and to a hostility to neologisms.

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