Daniel Dafoe’s popular novel, originally titled The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With an Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates (iii), like most classics underwent many editions through the years. However nothing but the first edition, which is the basis of this essay, can give us the look and feel of the time as intended to be shown by the author.
EARLY MODERN ENGLISH According to Volume 14 of The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Early Modern English period marked the expansion of the use of the English language outside England. But since English was spread at various times it has been subjected to different influences and additional variations caused by attempts at etymological spelling (Ward et al ch 15 sec 3 par 1). These were evident in the novel in two aspects of language: grammar and vocabulary (Ward et al ch 15 sec 1 par 1-2).
Among the inflectional changes during the early modern English was the dropping of the weak vowel in verbs ending in –ed (Ward et al. ch 15 sec 4 par. 7). Examples of these manifested not only in the title (the word deliver’d) but within the text itself such as call’d, fill’d, encreas’d, and fatigu’d. Spelling also appeared to be phonetically defective (Ward et al. ch 15 sec 3 par. 1) with words like perswasions, lyon, lye, and prophetick. Compounding of words were also used in the novel by examples of free-school, hand-maids, ground-tackle and fellow-slave.
However, the change in the verbs as well as the defects in spelling was not applied to the entire novel which makes us consider the reasons for such use. TOWARDS A PURITY IN STYLE Daniel Defoe, in his book An Essay upon Projects, emphasized that it was the responsibility of the society to polish and refine the English tongue and to purge it from all the irregular additions that ignorance and affectation have introduced as befitted the noblest and most comprehensive of all the vulgar languages in the world (8).
The spread of the English language was depicted in the novel when Robinson Crusoe teaches his servant Friday the English language. We may notice from an excerpt of their discourse below that although essentially Crusoe and Friday came to communicate effectively with each other, Friday’s English differs much from Crusoe’s parallel to their difference in status and origin: Friday, My Nation beat much, for all that. Master, How beat; if your Nation beat them, how come you to be taken?
Friday, They more many than my Nation in the Place where me was; they take one, two, three, and me; my Nation over beat them in the yonder Place, where me no was; there my Nation take one, two, great Thousand. Master, But why did not your Side recover you from the Hands of your Enemies then? Friday, They run one, two, three, and me, and make go in the Canoe; my Nation have no Canoe that time. (Defoe, “Robinson Crusoe” 254) Much is the same circumstance that brought about the variations and additions to the English language in which Defoe is clamoring for purity (“An Essay upon Projects” 8).
Shoar and Shore. Aside from the defective spelling mentioned earlier is the variation in the spelling (Ward et al. ch 15 sec 3 par. 1). An example if this is the word shore, spelled shore and shoar, in different context of the novel. It may be noted that shoar was only used in the part of Robinson Crusoe’s mishaps. That is to say, from the part of his captivity at Sallee until before his wreck on the island. These mishaps, Crusoe later reflected on, were results of his ignorance in the Providence of God and malcontent thus the use of the spelling shoar.
While his solitary life in the island described the learning process he underwent to survive and finally live harmoniously with his surroundings; hence the renewed use of the spelling shore. In this regard, one may interpret that the use of the word was intentional to show the need and difficulty in creating a standard for the English language. viz. and (viz. ). The use of foreign language in novels is quite common throughout the ages. As such, we came to attention on the use of the Latin word viz. Oxford English Dictionary defines viz.
as the abbreviation of videlicet which generally means namely or that is to say (1033). Although Defoe used viz. without parenthesis and viz. in parenthesis based on the same definition, its participation in the statement are quite different. The viz. without parenthesis was used in identifying and qualifying statements such as the “All the rest of that Day I spent in afflicting my self at the dismal Circumstances I was brought to, viz. I had neither Food, House, Clothes, Weapon, or Place to fly to…” (“Robinson Crusoe” 82). On the other hand, viz.
in parenthesis, which appeared in lines like “This was what I wish’d for; so I took them up, and serv’d them as we serve notorious Thieves in England, (viz. ) Hang’d them in Chains for a Terror to others…” (“Robinson Crusoe” 138), was used as such in order to explain earlier statement. The use of parenthesis to differentiate the use of the same word in the novel further reflects Defoe’s quest for refinement of the English language as mentioned previously. CONCLUSION Indeed, regardless of the plot of the story which categorized it to fiction, the culture and language of the time is unmistakable.
Robinson Crusoe, in its original version, allows us the indulgence to peek and appreciate not only the early modern English language but the period as well. The flexibility of the language then reflected the society of that time as it has always been for any period or era.
At the same time, the novel provided additional venue for the author to disseminate his ideas and further his individual attempt towards the transition to the modern English language and insertions to the importance of learning across the spectrum of the society. Such power language has to influence its readers, whether consciously or unconsciously.And the duality that the novel showed made it a favorite among children and adults alike. Fulfilling its objectives to entertain and propagate (however subtle it may be).
Defoe, Daniel. An Essay Upon Projects. New York: Adamant Media Corporation, 2005. Print. —. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself.
With an Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. London: printed for W. Taylor, 1719. Print. Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print. Ward, Aldolphus William, Sir, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907-21; New York: Bartleby. com, 2000 (Web) April 1, 2009.
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