Linguists in the past had a bit of a knack for giving linguistic phenomena dramatic names. I think The Great Vowel Shift is a wonderful example of this.
Contrary to what the name suggests, The Great Vowel Shift did not occur over night, but over a number of decades. Linguistic changes rarely happen quickly, because people’s language tends to stabilise when they’re in their early twenties, meaning that today’s 80 year-olds use the norms of language of 60 years ago. A form needs to be around for a long time for the whole of a speech community to use it.
Apologies, I’m digressing.
In Class, Language and Style Shifting – Part 1, I spoke about the plague. I didn’t actually speak about language though. I simply described the effects the plague had on the United Kingdom (which were rather momentous). Reading medieval poetry, such as Langland or Chaucer, we sometimes see references to the plague; in particular, labour shortages and the result of these. Continue reading