Year 13: June 2007 St. John’s Wort Language Change Question AQA Spec B English Language — student answer

9 June 2009

Text H appears to be possibly aimed at a doctor or ‘physitian’- description of precise look, smell, touch as well as place to find and when to find it. This information id provided in detail in order to direct the would be doctor to gathering the plant; whereas the website, gives no information as to when and where you would fnd the plant and only a brief description as to what it looks like- possibly due to the readiness of pictures at the websites disposal. It does however, say that it can be bought from pharmacies.

Text H, written in 1652, has a particularly descriptive style, arises because of its context. It was clearly a rural society where people would not buy plants from shops, but would have to search for them themselves. Nowadays, we have drugs and medicine at our disposal at our local pharmacy.

Government is put in italics as a subheading to introduce the second section of the 1652 piece. Essentially, it means that the piece will explain what the properties of taking the plant as a medicine are. Clearly government has changed in meaning since then. Now, the word almost always carries connotations of an official rule of a country and in turn the meaning has certainly narrowed to generally mean a group of people who rule a country. Years ago, particularly in this piece, the word had very broad connotations and could refer to it’s literal, basic meaning i.e. ‘ the rules of an object’. There is no equivalent word in text I, however, it does cover the same field, under the title ‘how does St. John’s Wort work?’ this title poses a question as opposed to a directive statement used in text H. in text I, it highlight today’s generations’ need for a dialogue approach to information. It also signifies today’s technological and interrogative approach to society.

This word in particular, used in conjunction with ‘government’ has also narrowed in meaning, despite the fact that semantically it is still fairly similar to what it means today. Contextually, in the 1652 text, the vertues in this sense referred to the benefits of taking the drug, however, now the lexical shift has adapted it to mean a persons good morals. Consequently, the word virtues, has been changed by text I to mean ‘how effective is St. johns wort?’ also the text has been broken up into two sections in text I, allowing the broad paragraph of text H’s ‘vertues’ to become a concise set of paragraphs in text I, highlighting the generation’s need for clarity.

Spelling and orthography
The spelling used in text H is typical of early-modern English language. It is also beginning to be very loosely standardised. Nearly all of the ‘glue’ words of the text i.e. the pronouns, the articles (‘the’ and ‘a’) prepositions and conjunctions are spelt nearly identically to today’s spelling. The word ‘Juyce’ in particular has changed in spelling over time. Primarily, the capitalisation of a word in the middle of a sentence, is no longer deemed standard, other than for a proper noun. One could speculate, that this is due to our Germanic history within language, whereby all nouns are capitalised. Secondly, the ‘y’ in ‘juyce’ has now been standardised to an ‘I’ perhaps due to the Anglicisation of language.
The suffixes of the verb endings have now changed as we have become a less inflective language where verb endings are less important.
Verb Forms
We can get a great sense of certainty of verb forms within the 1652 text. There are strong dynamic verbs to help explain the properties of the herb, such as: it helpeth, provoketh and is ‘much commended’. Very definitive sentence and strident in their meanings, suggesting certainty rather than possibility. However, compare the verb forms in the second piece, and they are very doubtful in tone such as: may alter, may have etc. highlighting the conditional tone of the piece.
The contexts of the two texts appear to be affecting the verb forms i.e. between conditional and unconditional. For example in 1652, there was very limited medical knowledge amongst doctors, let alone the average person. Therefore, ironically, the tone is far more certain in the older text, despite their lack of knowledge, because claims could be made in confidence. There is a marked sense of uncertainty when discussing medical issues in the modern text, as the more scientist discover, an increase of caveats arises, in order to not make sweeping statements.

The nouns in the 1652 text all appear to be capitalised. There are many factors than can be attributed to this, for example, the use of overgeneralisations due to the fact the grammar has not been standardised. Alternatively, this could be linked to English’s Germanic roots, whereby all nouns are capitalised.
The word ‘palsie’, listed as one of St. John ‘s worts cures, has narrowed in meaning, form meaning general sickness, to being specifically related to Cerebral Palsy. Additionally, the phrase ‘women’s courses’ used in the 1652 text, is clearly a euphemism for the female menstrual cycle, suggesting that it was somewhat of a taboo subject back then. Likewise, they use the term ‘make water’ instead of ‘passing urine’ suggesting, once again, the lack of medical knowledge to hand back in the 1600’s.
By Jim and Mr.G, with credits to Keith, Robbie, Bill and Haydn for brief contributions and to Faye for making an appearance.

1 comment

  1. Excellent Analysis!
    Extremely Useful!

    from Smehmud

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