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The History of the English Language

An etymological and historically linguistic look into the story of our incredible, English language.
by

Justin Gagnon

on 31 January 2012

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Transcript of The History of the English Language

History of the English Language It has evolved for thousands of years Our language isn't static... In fact, it has evolved over thousands of years. The oldest traceable origins of our language is Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European is a language reconstructed by finding common traits between languages like German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hittite, and English. Here is a sample text of Proto-Indo-European:

To reks éhest. So nputlos éhest. So rēks súhnum éwel(e)t. Só tós(j)o gheutérm (e)prsket: "Súhxnus moi nhjotām!" So gheutēr tom rm éweuket: "Ihxgeswo deiwóm Wérunom". So reks deiwóm Werunom h(a)úpo-sesore nu deiwóm (é)ihxgeto. "ludí moi, phater Werune!" Deiwós Wérunos kmta diwós égehat. "Kwíd welsi?" "Wélmi súxnum." "Tód héstu", wéukwet loukós deiwos Werunos. Rēgós pótniha súhnum ngegonhe. It is obvious how complex the pronounciation and phonology was. The Grammar was also very complicated, since all words were inflected and changed spelling for different grammatical purposes, and not only did it have singular and plural, but also a "dual" number for two of a noun.

This is a reconstructed myth called
"The King and the God". The myth was reconstructed
using the same method used
to create the P.I.E. language. Eventually, P.I.E. split into different dialects all over Europe,
The Middle East and India. P.I.E split into Proto-Greek, Proto-Aryan, Proto-Celtic
Proto-Italic, Proto-Slavic, and Proto-Germanic... Proto-Germanic eventually split into North, West, and East Germanic. The English language is categorized as a
West Germanic Language. A Germanic Tribe: The first English speakers called themselves the
"Angles", or "Anglo-Saxons." The English they spoke sounded
nothing like the English we speak today. There were actually three stages of the English Language. Old English Middle English Modern English English Is also called Anglo-Saxon Named after the Germanic tribes who came from Denmark and invaded England. Although it is difficult for a modern listener
to understand Old English, the majority of the
words used in casual English prose is of Old English origin. However, over half the words in the English language are Latin or Greek in origin. But these Greco-Latin words weren't incorporated into our lexicon until Middle English. However, a few Latin words did find their way
into Old English. Some examples that survived until today are wine and
win, which came from Latin vina and vincere, respectively. (Please note that Classical Latin "V" was probably pronounced like English "W") The Norse Language also had a great effect on English. Some of these words of Norse origin include (but are not limited to):

*knífr -> knife

*húsbóndi -> husband

*armr -> arm

*angr -> anger

*gæispa -> gasp

*ský -> sky

*taka -> take The most famous document written in Old English is the tale of Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon hero who killed the troll Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. Beowulf's name, in fact, comes from Old English Beo "bee" and Wulf "wolf". This either means "bee hunter" or is a poetic phrasing to discribe a bear: "Wolf of the bees". Here is a sample text in Old English from the opening of Beowulf:

HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning! In Translation:

LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he! In 1066 a.d., power in England began to shift from Anglo-Saxon to French,
a Romance Language. This greatly influenced the English language because many English
who served the new French monarchs learned their languages and, consequently,
thousands of words of Latin origin came into the English vocabulary. Also, because early Christian clergy were required to learn Latin to be able to read the Bible, many words came to English straight from Latin. This explains why there is such a multitude of synonyms in English;
many times there were three words to describe one concept. For Example:

"Kingly" from Old English

"Royal" from French

"Regal" from Latin It is possible for speakers
of Modern English to
understand Middle English
because many words are still
used today and spelt in a
similar way. However,
it would be very difficult to
communicate with someone
speaking it since words
were pronounced
differently. One famous piece of literature in Middle English is
called the Canterbury Tales. Here is a sample Text:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour,

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye In Translation:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit

The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower;

When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,

Quickened again, in every holt and heath,

The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun

Into the Ram one half his course has run,

And many little birds make melody

That sleep through all the night with open eye If you can read this... You can speak modern English!!! Be it also, if thou canst speaketh this, thou knowest the tongue of English Moderne!!! (It is a common misconception to call Shakespearean English "Old English" when, in fact, it is categorized as Modern English.) Modern English started between 1450 and 1750. This period was
known as "The Great English Vowel Shift." Albert C. Baugh Justin Gagnon For instance, the Middle English word "time"
was pronounced "teema" while after the vowel
shift it was pronounced as it is today. Other Germanic Languages, such as Dutch and German,
also experianced a vowel shift. Our native
language
truely isn't
static. Not
only has it
evolved
dramatically
over the past
5000 years,
it has also
changed
over-
whelmingly
in the past
few centuries

The words
"thou" and
"thee" were
used until the
1700's Who Knows what will come of our language in the future? Will it become the world language? Will it die out completely;
giving way to another language
to take the global spotlight? Great changes may come within your
lifetime. And minor changes are almost
certain. It is currently debated whether or not the word "whom" will be removed from the English Language. Ic þance þé Thank You! The History of the English Language says that:
"An idiom is a form of expression peculiar to one language."

An example is saying "on Sunday", when, in fact, nothing can
literally be "on" Sunday. These idioms and expressions are the most adaptable and the
most likely to change. They change not in a matter of centuries
but in a matter of years. In example, who still says "thou", "hither",
"groovy", "wizard" or "catch you on the flip side"? Albert Baughe, the author of A History of the English Language, in fact, argues that all languages are constantly changing and
are never set in stone: "Language constantly changes...the Latin of Cicero or the French of
Voltaire is the product of centuries of development and that language is a constant state of change."
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