イギリスにおける英語史記述の伝統は，19世紀後半に始まったといってよい．対象が英語という言語であるとしても，歴史の記述である以上，その時代のイデオロギーを反映せずにはいられない．19世紀後半の言語観は，標準英語を理想的な変種として称揚し，地域方言を含めた非標準変種はあたかも存在しないかのように扱うというものだった．昨今の variationist な英語史観からみると「政治的に公正でない」偏った立場のように見えるが，名立たる先達の英語（史）学者が公然とそのような立場を取っていたのである．Knowles (142--43) が，この状況について述べている．
In the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, the story of English gradually emerged in its modern form . . . . The study of words was fitted into a familiar account of English history identifying the different events that had led to the enlargement of the vocabulary; the coming of the Saxons, and the Danish and Norman invasions. Caxton could be seen as the harbinger of the new age that dawned at the end of the Middle Ages. A particular interest was taken in the sixteenth century, the growth of the vocabulary at this time being interpreted as an expression of the Renaissance. From an Anglican point of view, the Reformation was a major advance which led to Elizabethan English.
The belief in progress can give the impression that the language has marched onward and upward, while suffering setbacks on the way. Thus West Germanic leads on to late West Saxon, which in turn leads to Elizabethan English, and eventually modern Standard English. The emphasis on literary texts led to an interpretation of major literary figures as creators of the language, with the result that the Beowulf poet, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton were taken to illustrate the rise of the language . . . .
As the understanding of language broadened at the end of the nineteenth century, the 'internal' history branched out to cover the attributes of words, including spelling and pronunciation, semantic change and (to a limited extent) their changing grammatical behaviour. This 'internal' history has preserved some older beliefs about language change, including the ambivalence towards dialects. Although the relationship between dialects and Standard English has long been perfectly well understood, and this is made clear in explicit descriptions, conventional accounts of change in English pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary have never quite fitted the known 'external' history. Changes are given precise dates, as though they took place everywhere at about the same time in a standard language. In fact, there are changes usually ascribed to the Anglo-Saxon period which have still not taken place in the rural dialects of Cumbria. This approach to change is consistent with an older story, according to which (standard) Saxon collapsed after the Norman conquest, not to be reestablished until the end of the Middle Ages. Some scholars . . . have even sought to establish a historical link between the old and new kinds of Standard English.
19世紀後半からなされた英語史記述は，標準英語の確立を輝かしいゴールとして掲げた一種のホイッグ史観の産物といってよいだろう．先に述べたように，昨今は variationist な英語史観が広がってきたとはいえ，古英語（以前）から現代英語までの（そして未来の英語を見据える）英語史を記述するあたっての大局的な視点として，標準英語を中心におく伝統的な史観がどれだけ本当に薄まってきているかは疑問である．21世紀の新鮮さを目指す英語史にも，それは死に絶えていないどころか，いまなお色濃く残っているのではないか．
・ Knowles, Gerry. A Cultural History of the English Language. London: Arnold, 1997.
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