Language and the written word

The history of the English language is a tale of many different voices. This written word timeline gives an introduction to that story through fifteen diverse treasures in the British Library collection. The timeline provides a mixture of texts, some literary, others more mundane, ephemeral or functional.

No list of texts tells the full story - at any point in history there are hundreds of different types of language in play. For this reason we have included here myths, histories, dictionaries, recipes, adverts, maps, poems and plays. These texts will allow you to glimpse just some of the many contexts in which language is used, changed and moulded.

Click on the links below to find out more...

c.1000 Beowulf

1000 Anglo Saxon Chronicle

1300s Chaucer

1400s Boke of Kokery

1400s Caxton

1500s Tyndale's bible

late 1500s-1600s Shakespeare

1600s Blount's dictionary

1600s Map of London

1700s The Halsewell logbook

1700s Johnson's dictionary

1800s Dickens

1800s Mrs Beeton

1800s Advertisements

1900s Owen's WWI poetry

1900s Virginia Woolf's novels