Maria Celina M. Maniclang History of the English Language
ABELS 1-2 Prof. Elmer BrabanteThe English language originated from a fusion of languages and dialects of various invaders, it means that invasions of different tribes took big part on the formation of the English language. It all started during the first century, Britain was invaded by the Romans. The inhabitants of Britain fought for their freedom until they gained independence from the Romans in 410 AD. Right after the Roman intruders had withdrawn from Britain, invaders from the north began attacking Britain. There were a lot of different Germanic tribes to invade Britain but there were only few who made an impact and those were the Saxons, the Angles, the Jutes, the Franks and the Frisians. The original inhabitants of Britain spoke Celtic language but most of them were driven to the west and north by the invaders. These Germanic tribes spoke different languages and practiced different cultures, but as time passed the differences of these Germanic tribes turned into likeness and became united until they eventually stopped seeing themselves as different individual tribes, but now considered their tribes as one or what we know as the Anglo-Saxon. Language as a part of culture, the Anglo-Saxon came to speak a language out of their different languages that developed and later resulted to Old English.
The English language went through three periods called Old English, Middle English and Modern English. Every period has its unique characteristics from phonological, lexical, morphological and grammar structure. In this evolution you will see that characteristics have come and go as English speakers pick up and discard certain words, phrases, grammatical concepts through the ages. These periods resulted to the development of the English we speak today.
The first form of English was Old English. It was spoken around 1100 AD. Words from the Old English is almost purely Germanic. The vowels in this period are: a, æ, i, o, u, y and ie. Old English used two different characters to represent the sound of th: ? and ð, b depending on what word it will be used. There are four main grammatical cases in Old English; Nominative: subject, Accusative: direct object, Genitive: used to express possession and Dative: indirect object. Nouns in this period were categorized and belongs to one of three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. The personal pronouns took person forms as first, second or third. Verbs were classified to either weak or strong class. Weak verbs are those words that when changed to past tense requires ‘ed’ at the end and its vowel remains the same, while strong verbs are words that replaces only the vowel when turned into past tense and it doesn’t need an ‘ed’ at the end. An example of Old English text can be seen in the epic poem Beowulf, the earliest literature written. Now that we live in the 21st century, 85 percent of the words in the Old English dictionary are no longer in use.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 began the transition from Old English to Middle English, when the Duke of Normandy from northern France invaded Britain and defeated the Anglo-Saxon. Normans descended from Vikings however, they abandoned Old Norse language which was spoken by the Vikings and adopted French. Even though French was not a branch of Indo-European languages, the Normans spoke French with Germanic influences called Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman was different from the standard French of Paris. Anglo-Norman was the verbal language of the court, administration and culture. Even after the Anglo-Norman was used, the lower classes continued to speak English which was a vulgar language at that time. That is the reason why there were two languages that developed analogously, this development resulted to Middle English: the mixture of the Old English and Anglo-Norman. The Normans gave 10,000 words to English that mostly related to nobility, government, administration and a large part of this words are abstract nouns ending in the suffixes “-age”, “-ance” “-ence”, “-ent”, “-ment” and “-tion” or with prefixes “con-“, “ex-“, “trans-“, and “pre-“. During this period, names of the animals in the field kept their English names but once they were cooked their names became French (eg. from “cow” to “beef”). The changes of vocabulary is explicitly and implicitly seen. Sometimes an Old English word was completely replaced to French (e.g. “uncle” replaced “eam”, and with other circumstances French and Old English are being combined to form a new word (e.g. French word “gentle” and Germanic word man combined to form the word “gentleman”). Often, different words with the same meaning survived and French based synonyms entered the English Language, but over time many synonymous words of Anglo-Saxon and French has subtle difference in meaning so the French won’t make big changes and let the English adjust to it and thus resulted to a more flexible English language. There are changes that became ingrained in the English language in this period. French changed the common English pattern “hw” to “wh” that they want to the consistent with “ch” and “th” and with this “hwaer” became “where”. They added “w” at words that started with “h” (e.g.”hal” became “whole”). Normans also used Latin-derived words that are connected with religion, law, medicine and literature but it is still the French words that continued to influence Middle English. During the Norman invasion, English as a language has no official status as a result of this, many of the grammatical features and inflections of Old English disappeared (e.g. noun genders were no longer practiced, Old English ? and ð which did not exist in the Norman alphabet were replaced with “th”). Unlike the Old English, three-quarters of the Middle English words are still used today.
The Great Vowel Shift marked the transition of the language from Middle English to Modern English, the changes between this periods were not just on pronunciation and vocabulary but it established a more standardized language, richer lexicon and literature. The Great Vowel Shift is an important series of pronunciation changes that took place between the 15th – 17th centuries. The phonological system of Modern English had contained broadly corresponding series of long and short vowels. Through this vowel shift, the Middle English vowel sounds changed their pronunciations such as /i:/ became /ai/, /e:/ became /i:/, /a:/ became /ei:/, /u:/ became /a?:/, /o:/ became /u:/ and /?:/ became /o?/., and other consonants changed too particularly those that became silent (e.g. the “b” in words like dumb and comb). The spelling of some words changed to reflect the changed in pronunciation (e.g. from rope to rap). Modern English has only two cases known as; the general case and genitive case. In terms of grammar, Modern English had a minimal change from the Middle English like at the end of this period “you” became more common than “thou”, adjectives lost their endings except for the comparative and superlative forms, many strong verbs became weak verbs, suffix endings which denoted a word’s function began to disappear.
The next wave of innovation in English vocabulary known as the Renaissance. It covers the “Age of Shakespeare”. The additions to English vocabulary was not a result of any invasions but it came from deliberate borrowings. Huge number of classical works were translated and many new terms as well as the whole category of words ending with Greek-based suffixes “-ize” and “-ism” were introduced. The pronoun “its” came to use and the progressive tenses developed. The main changes in the vocabulary during the Late Modern period were due to industrial revolution, scientific advancements and colonialism. New words seeped into English language through the expansion of the British Empire, at the same time its vocabulary had expanded to accommodate foreign words like “pajamas” and “shampoo” that were from the Indian languages. Although Late Modern English accumulated foreign words from many languages, French and Latin remained the largest word contributors’ in the vocabulary of the English language.