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European Chancelleries and the Rise of Standard Written Languages

European Chancelleries and the Rise of Standard Written Languages

Fisher, John H.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 3 (1986)

Abstract

The decline of dialects and the emergence of standard languages in Europe at the close of the Middle Ages is a familiar chapter in the histories of the individual languages, but I do not know of a discussion that points out how similar the process was in the various countries and the implications of this similarity for our understanding the nature of standard languages in general. A comparative study reveals that standard languages all emerged as written forms, not oral; that these written standards were created by government secretariats, not by literary figures; and that when spoken standards began to emerge in the 17th and 18th centuries, their grammar and pronunciation were based on the written standard and not vice versa.

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