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Transcript of Mother Tongue
from the Arabic, hashashin "hashish-users"
Have you ever wondered what
makes an assassin any different
from a killer or a murderer?
A Shia Muslim sect during the Crusades who would intoxicate themselves with hashish before targeting the leaders of an opposing army.
targets politically prominent persons
Grammar is a later addition and the rules come and go.
We all come factory-wired for language.
William Ollier, 1855
pronounced /f/ as in tough tuf/;
pronounced /i/ as in women /’wimin/; and
pronounced /sh/ as in nation /’neyshun/.
We need the laws of grammar when our wires get crossed and we fail to understand one another.
If language were flawless, this wouldn't happen, of course. But the perfect language hasn't been invented yet. Although Latin is close.
The Scientific community created Esperanto, a "universal tongue" derived from Latin, as alternative to English.
The rules of English are so screwy, they complained, that you could theoretically spell fish as
We get words like kettle, wine, cheese, butter, cheap, plum, and gem from the Roman invasion.
We pay the price for such poetic ambiguity. English is not easy, as languages go, and this is how it all started, beginning with Caesar.
Being intelligent men, the Celts left the women and hid in the trees.
As soon as Caesar crossed the Channel,
we came out of the trees and killed the regiments he left in charge.
Notice how Latin wasn't fully adopted, as it was in France and Spain, but used only as top dressing.
By 43 CE, the Romans had succeeded in subjugating the Celts and in setting up a Roman administration. Hadrian’s wall was built to ward off the Celts that remained in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Roman Britain 43-410 AD
The Fourth Century
After 400 years, the last Roman ruler in England, bent on becoming Emperor, left the islands in 410 CE, and took the last of the legions with him.
While the Celts were at long last left in possession of Britain, they were also now almost defenseless against the impending attacks from the mainland.
Of all the tribes that invaded Britain, none had greater influence on English that the Frisians, who came from a province in the north of the Netherlands (Holland). The Frisian language, being the language of the victor, introduced words like "blue" and expelled the native Celtic language, save for a few words, like crag, London, and Avon.
This is the period of King Arthur, who was not entirely mythological. He was a Romanized Celt, a general, though probably not a king. He had some success against the Anglo-Saxons, but it was only temporary. By 550 CE or so the Anglo-Saxons were firmly established in England.
English was in England.
began making piratical raids on the eastern coast.
having been invited by King Vortigern, settle in Kent.
According to 8th century historian Bede, these
were the main lines of the invasion, which went
on for a hundred years before all the Celts were
killed, driven into Wales, or reduced to slavery.
We were whiskers away from speaking Danish, had not the warrior-scholar-king Alfred defeated the Danes (Denmark).
That battle, plus his indefatigable support of literary scholarship, kept English from the edge of extinction.
Alfred the Great
English was nearly buried for three hundred years by French because of Guillame le Conquérant, the first Norman King of England, had defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings in the summer of 1066.
Scandinavians (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) who in the 8 CE became known as the Vikings, set out on raids for food and plunder, a number of them settled in France, but they had stayed their so long that they adopted the French language. So William only spoke French—but thanks to Alfred, his ascent to the throne was chronicled for posterity in English.
William the Conqueror
Indo-European roots of Father
Sanskrit Greek/Latin German English
Darth Vadar, dark father
After many hit-and-run raids by the Norsemen, we borrowed the Norse words:
sky, give, law, egg, outlaw, leg, ugly, scant, sly, crawl, scowl, take, thrust
After the Conversion, more words from Latin
angel, candle, priest, martyr, radish, oyster, purple, school, spend
The great majority of Old English words were native, and now only 14 percent remain so. Most of these, to be sure, are common high-frequency words:
the, of, I, and, because, man, mother, road
Most borrowed words were taken from Latin and French. A short French list:
parliament, majesty, treaty, alliance, tax, government, parson, sermon, baptism, incense, crucifix, religion, veal, beef, mutton, bacon, jelly, peach, lemon, cream, biscuit, blue, scarlet, vermillion, curtain, chair, lamp, towel, blanket, parlor, dance, chess, music, leisure…
English began 1,500 years ago, when Germanic tribes (mainly Angles and the Saxons) invaded Britain, a Celtic-speaking land already colonized by Latin-speaking Romans. Into this Anglo-Saxon stew went big dollops of French, Italian, Spanish, German, Danish, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, and more Latin.
In 55-54 BCE, Julius Caesar
has the bright idea of
Which means I have to come back
this is the story of how it got that way.
Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. New York: Avon, 1991. Print.
Roberts, Paul. "Something About English." Reflections on Language. Ed. Stuart Hirschberg and Terry Hirschberg. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 316-326. Print.
O'Conner, Patricia T. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, NY: Putnam, 1996. x-xii. Print.
The Adventure of English. By Melyvn Bragg. Perf. Melvynn Bragg. BBC, 2003. DVD.