The introduction argues for the importance of language-learning and multilingualism in the history of early modern England. English-speakers who ventured beyond Dover could not rely on English and had to become language-learners, while even at home English urban life was often multilingual. It brings together early modern concepts of linguistic ability with approaches from sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and the social history of language in order to show how we can think about linguistic competence in a historical perspective. It demonstrates the importance of ‘questions of language’ to the social, cultural, religious, and political histories of early modern England, and to the question of England’s place in a rapidly expanding world. After an overview of the book’s structure, aims, and parameters, it closes by asking how taking a polyglot perspective might shift our understandings of early modern English history.
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