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The class we are in (working, middle, upper class, etc.) influences our language so much that the most obvious way of distinguishing someone’s class is by listening to their accent.

Style shifting is something everyone does which means that they use more standard forms when they are in formal situations, and more vernacular forms when they are in casual situations.

These two areas of language are really interesting, but also really vast; so, I thought I’d split it up into a number of posts.

Today post? How these things came to be in the first place, which was, interestingly, due to the plague.


Did you know that the plague (or Black Death) killed half the population of Medieval England? In 1348-1350, half the people in England died.

Maybe you did know that, but have you ever thought about it? Imagine if that were to happen today. If 50% of the population of a country was wiped out by a disease. A disease which doesn’t discriminate between young and old, rich and poor, male and female.

The plague’s aftermath was, as you may be able to imagine, immense. That 50% covered every part of society: 50% of residences had no tenants; 50% of farm hands – gone. Household with servants were missing half their staff.

With much fewer people to do the jobs, they could demand higher pay. Suddenly, someone who was once worth very little was being paid multiple times the previous amount. You don’t want to pay me that much to plough your field? Fine. I’ll find someone who does. Good luck finding someone else without a job to do it.

In fact, Edward III created the Statute of Labourers just to stop this kind of behaviour (although it didn’t work; just because it’s illegal to demand more pay doesn’t mean it’s going to stop people from doing so.)

The plague also lead to the Peasant’s Revolt, where the working classes of Medieval England started to question the conditions they were being forced to live in, and the difference between these conditions and those of the rich.

The result was, slowly, the creation of the Middle Classes.

The Peasant’s Revolt created the role of representatives in parliament, leading to the creation of the House of Commons. It wasn’t easy – in fact, the idea of one person representing the opinions of others was so alien that Richard II executed the first ever representative for the commons.

Fast forward a few centuries and these events lead to the Middle Classes. The increased wealth and prestige of the working class meant that there were no longer simply The Aristocrats and The Commons, but more of a spectrum, as we see today.