By David Crystal
Last updated 2011-02-17
The Rocket has a small boiler of the figure and dimensions, annexed in the margin, which is constantly kept full of water this serves for the fire place, the grate being three feet wide and two feet long, with an area of six square feet, which gives six tenths of a square foot of fire grate for each horse power. The surface of this boiler exposed to the action of the fire is ten square feet. It is made of copper and the flat sides are strengthened by distance pieces and rivetts at every three inches, in each direction. By this means a large fire surface is obtained and a great strength is given to the boiler . . .
The consequences of this ‘Industrial Revolution’ lead to major developments in the sciences and technology, spearheaded by a generation of British entrepreneurs and inventors.
In Africa and South East Asia, colonial expansion continues unabated. Sierra Leone, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Gold Coast (Ghana) are among the many places added to the long list of British acquisitions.
The 20th century sees the British Empire slowly fall apart at the seams, but several major developments ensure its language nonetheless thrives.
The British Broadcasting Corporation is established in 1922, broadcasting first to the Empire, then the Commonwealth from 1931.
With the days of Empire a distant memory, the electronic revolution begins in 1972 with the sending of the first network email. The creation of the world wide web in 1991 diversifies communication – much of it in English - on an unprecedented scale.
A project is begun in 1884 to compile a 'New English Dictionary', which will eventually become the Oxford English Dictionary. In America, the need to define the identity of the new nation results in Noah Webster's 'American Dictionary of the English Language' appearing in 1828.
The 'novel' becomes the literary genre of the age, exemplified by the works of Dickens, Scott and Twain. These books introduce a wider range of spoken and non-standard English into written expression.
In the first half of the 20th century, the 'received pronunciation' of English is consolidated through public broadcasting, with the plummy ‘BBC accent’ perceived by many as the ‘proper’ way to speak.
In the twentieth century, English emerges as a world language, universally embraced across the globe. Hybrid, local variations of the language appear, such as Singlish (Singaporean English), as recently independent nations promote their identity through local varieties of the language. There are also moves to standardise English used in key areas of communication such as air traffic control (Air Speak) and maritime travel (Sea Speak).
The advent of the Internet massively increases exposure to a wide range of English styles and linguistic experimentation. New technology results in idiosyncratic varieties of English, such as the ‘text speak’ invented by mobile phone users communicating via SMS.
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