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Change in English Language

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George Lim

on 13 April 2014

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Transcript of Change in English Language

Change in English Language
c.1000 - Beowulf

Original text with literal translation in brackets:
Hwæt we garde-
    (Lo! We, of the Spear Dan-)
na ingear dagum, þeod cyninga
    (-es in days of yore, of those great kings,)
þrym ge frunon huða æþelingas elle[n]
    (of their power heard, how those princes deeds of valour)
In present day English:
We spear-Danes in days of old
heard the glory of the tribal kings,
how the princes did courageous deeds.

Fronting is used commonly used in Old English. For instance, "spear-danes in days of old", the phrase 'days of old' is used instead of its modern equivalent, 'spear-danes in the olden days'.
In the phrase, "deeds of valour accomplished", the verb "accomplished" is placed after the object "deeds of valour". In modern English, the sentence structure 'subject-verb-object' (SVO) is normally used. The modern equivalent of the phrase would be "how those princes accomplished deeds of valour". Languages are normally classified according to sequences in syntactical structure, and this shows that English could have branched out from a main language family.
Words in Old English are significantly different from modern English; the spelling has such vast differences that it would be impossible for us to comprehend, such as the use of archaic alphabetical symbols 'æ','þ' and 'ð' that are now obsolete . However, there are some words that remain unchanged for over a millennium, words such as 'we' are still being used today. The main reason behind this is because 'we' is a function word. Words in closed class categories rarely change as they perform the grammatical work in a sentence, holding content words together and making sense out of the combination of words.

Some Old English words might have a radically different spelling compared to modern English, but the pronunciation of the word has not changed much as they still sound slightly similar to the English of today. For example, the word "cyninga" (kyniŋg) and its modern day equivalent 'kings' (kiŋs) has slightly changed over the years but can still be recognised when spoken.

Word loss can be seen from the text as almost none of the words has survived. They have either been omitted or they have undergone major orthographical changes.

The word "fremedon" is the plural form of 'fremman' which means 'accomplish' has a different meaning in modern English. The word 'frame' (v.) was influenced by the related Old English word 'fremman' and the meaning changed from "make ready" to "prepare timber for building" to "framing timber". The word has undergone the process of narrowing, as it has become more specific over time.
Background Information
Beowulf is the oldest surviving piece of English literature. It tells the breathtaking story of a struggle between the hero, Beowulf, and a bloodthirsty monster called Grendel. It was written down in about 1000, but the poem may have been created by storytellers as early as the 700s.
Original Text:

Take and make a foyle of gode past with a roller of a foot brode. & lyngur by cumpas. make iiii Coffyns of þe self past uppon þe rolleres þe gretnesse of þe smale of þyn Arme. of vi ynche depnesse. make þe gretust in þe myddell. fasten þe foile in þe mouth upwarde. & fasten þee oþere foure in euery syde. kerue out keyntlich kyrnels above in þe manere of bataiwyng and drye hem harde in an Ovene. oþer in þe Sunne. In þe myddel Coffyn do a fars of Pork with gode Pork & ayrenn rawe wiþ salt. & colour it wiþ safroun and do in anoþer Creme of Almandes. and helde it in anoþer creme of Cowe mylke with ayrenn. colour it with saundres. anoþur manur. Fars of Fygur. of raysouns. of Apples. of Peeres. & holde it in broun. anoþer manere. do fars as to frytours blanched. and colour it with grene. put þis to þe ovene & bake it wel. & serue it forth with ew ardaunt.

In present day English: 

Take and make a foyle of good pastry [foyles as in paper, i.e. sheets of pastry as thin as paper] with a roll a foot long and longer in proportion. Make four coffins [pastry cases] from the same pastry, with the roll the width of the small of your arm, and six inches deep. Make the biggest one in the middle. Fasten the pastry sheets at the mouth upwards. And fasten your other four [sic] on every side. Quaintly carve out keyntlich [battlements] above in the manner of embattling, and dry them until they’re hard in an oven or in the sun. In the middle coffin, do a mixture of pork with good pork and raw egg with salt. And colour it with saffron and do another crème of almonds, and put in the other cream of cow’s milk with egg. Colour it with sandlewood. Another manner – meat of figs, raisons, apples and pears and make it brown. Another manner - do the meat as you would for blanched fritters and colour it with green. Put this into the oven and bake it well. And serve it with hot water.

c.1390 - The Forme of Cury - Chastletes
The alphabets 'u' and 'v' were still considered the same letter, just variations of each other. Their usage depends on their placement in the word. The same applies to 'y' and 'i', and the letter 'þ' (thorn) is used in place of the digraph 'th' which is used in present day English. Spelling can have many variations as a result of a lack of standard orthography.

The syntax in Middle English and Modern English is very similar but there are some slight differences, and this could be due to the context that is in use. In the original manuscript, "make iiii Coffyns of þe self past uppon þe rolleres þe gretnesse of þe smale of þyn Arme. of vi ynche depnesse.", sentences are separated with punctuation marks; full stops are used at the end of sentences but because of the absence of the comma, clauses in sentences can only be separated using conjunctions or a new sentence is created. The lack of commas in this recipe could be due to the fact that the instructions are separated into shorter sentences for the sake of clarity.

An 'e' is placed after numerous words in Middle English and unlike modern English where it would normally be silent, the letter is pronounced in Middle English as the schwa.

The word "coffyns" means 'pastry cases' in Middle English. However, the word has undergone a shift and a coffin is now a box used to contain unpleasantly revolting dead people, instead of tasty pastries. The meaning of the word has changed significantly and the current definition has a huge contrast with its original meaning.

The word 'good' is derived from the word 'gode' and this exemplifies the change in orthography over the years.
The Latin symbol '&' (ampersand) is used in place of 'and', showing that English in the past contains some Latin influence.
The pronoun "þyn" is used instead of 'your'.

Background Information
This is the oldest known cookery manuscript in the English language. It is entitled The Forme of Cury (meaning 'Form of Cookery' in Middle English). It was written by the master-cooks of King Richard II, and is in the form of a scroll made of vellum - a kind of fine calfskin parchment. This section shows a recipe for 'chastletes', which were small pastry castles. The pastries were filled with pork or almonds and coloured with saffron or sandalwood.
Original text:
To the Reader.
Such as by their place and calling (but especially Preachers) as have occasion to speak publiquely before the ignorant people, are to be admonished, that they never affect any strange inckhorne tearmes, but labour to speake so as is commonly received, and so as the most ignorant may well understand them: neyther seeking to be ouer fine or curious, nor yet liuing over carelesse, using their speach as most men doe, and ordering their wits as the fewest have done. Some men seeke so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers language, so that if some of their mothers were alive, they were not able to tell or understand what they say; and yet these fine English Clearkes will say they speake in their mother tongue; but one might well charge them for counterfayting the Kings English. Also, some far journied gentlemen, at their returne home, like as they love to goe in forraine apparrell, so they will pouder their talke with over-sea language.

1613 - Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall
Background Information
Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall, first published in 1604, was the first single-language English dictionary ever published. It lists approximately 3000 words, defining each one with a simple and brief description. At this time the English language was expanding - influenced by trade, travel and new innovations in the fields of arts and sciences. The Table Alphabeticall was an attempt to explain 'hard' words - i.e. those unfamiliar to the general public.
The spelling of words have continued to change and have some differences from modern English, but the language itself is much easier to understand compared to a few hundred years ago. Early Modern English has very similar orthography to Modern English, but spelling is still inconsistent. The letters 'u' and 'v' are still considered variations of the same alphabet, thus the word 'over' is spelled as "ouer".
Inflections in Early Modern English are similar to Modern English; '-ed' is placed at the end of a word, showing that it is in past tense, e.g. "admonished", past tense of 'admonish'. The word "gentlemen" is the plural form of gentleman, showing that strong word class nouns dates back hundreds of years ago and it has not changed since.

Even though the letter 'e' is still present at the end of some words, it is now silent and not pronounced, a change from Middle English where most vowels and consonants are pronounced. The spelling of the word continued to change and the letter is finally omitted in present day English.
Syntax is the subsystem that is least susceptible to change. In fact, the sentence structure in Early Modern English is the same as the one we use to day in Modern English as it has remained unchanged since. Sentences like "the most ignorant may well understand them" follow the sentence structure 'Subject-Verb-Object'. Subject: 'the most ignorant'. Verb: 'understand'. Object: 'them'.
Some words that are used in Early Modern English are now obsolete, such as the word "inckhorne", as new words enter the English vocabulary.

The meanings of some words have changed. For example, the word "outlandish" is used to mean non-native or of foreign origin. However, the meaning has shifted to 'having a foreign appearance' and shifted again to describe something that is strange or bizarre. This could be a result of xenophobia, as people might find foreigners strange, thus the derivation of its definition.

1729 - Swift, A Modest Proposal
Original text [pages 10 and 11]:
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well nurs'd, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome Food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricassée, or a Ragoust.
I do therefore humbly offer it to publick Consideration, that of the Hundred and twenty thousand Children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for Breed, whereof only one Fourth part to be Males; which is more than we allow to Sheep, black Cattle, or Swine, and my Reason is, that these Children are seldom the Fruits of Marriage, a Circumstance not much regarded by our Savages, therefore, one Male will be sufficient to serve four Females. That the remaining Hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in Sale to the Persons of Quality and Fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the Mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good Table. A Child will make two Dishes at an Entertainment for Friends, and when the Family dines alone, the fore or hind Quarter will make a reasonable Dish, and seasoned with a little Pepper or Salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth Day, especially in Winter.
I have reckoned upon a Medium, that a Child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar Year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to Twenty-eight Pounds.
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.
INFANT's Flesh will be in Season throughout the Year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave Author, an eminent French Physician, that Fish being a prolifick Diet, there are more Children born in Roman Catholick Countries about nine Months after Lent, than at any other Season: therefore, reckoning a Year after Lent, the Markets will be more glutted than usual, because the Number of Popish Infants, is at least three to one in this Kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral Advantage by lessening the Number of Papists among us.

Background Information
Jonathan Swift's attack on the British government's inability to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland is one of the literary canon's most famous examples of satire. It proposes that the most obvious solution to Ireland's economic crisis is for the Irish to sell their children as food: shockingly, it also suggests various ways in which they can be prepared and served. It was first published anonymously, in 1729, and the detached, serious tone of its narrator emphasises the horror of what Swift is actually recommending: only in its final paragraphs, when the essay turns to the realities of the Irish economic system and the problems caused by absentee landlords, does the author's view become clear. Despite its power as a piece of rhetoric, A Modest Proposal did not lead to any lasting changes for Ireland's rural poor; and just over a century later, thousands would perish in the Great Potato Famine.
Inflections of past tense have changed since Middle English, as both "-ed" and "-'d" are used as past tense inflexions for verbs, e.g. "nurs'd" and "nursed"
The word "publick" changed from the Middle English word 'publique' and it finally changed to the Modern English word "public". This shows that silent letters are gradually removed from words because they are not pronounced by people and therefore end up obsolete. Other examples include "prolifick" and "Catholick".
"Encreaseth" is an obsolete spelling of 'increase', and the archaic suffix '-eth' or '-th' that used to form the third person singular of the presence tense of verbs is no longer in use in Modern English.

A silent 'k' is placed at the end of some words, such as "Catholick" and "prolifick".

The word "computed" used in the context means 'calculated', but the meaning has broadened to calculating an amount with the possible use of a computer, showing that technological advancements in the modern era has shaped the meaning of language.
The words "Fricassée" and "Ragoust" have French origins that date back to around the 15th century, and the meaning of the word is still around till this date.

Some nouns such as "Acquaintance" and "Consideration" start with a capital letter, showing that they used to be proper nouns in the 1700s. They have undergone a change within the word class and are considered common nouns in present day English.

1878 - Invention Of The Telephone
Original text:
The telephone, an instrument by which sound can be conveyed to, it would appear, an unlimited distance—by which conversation can be carried on between persons separated by many miles of sea and land—is unquestionably one of the most marvellous of modern adaptations of scientific knowledge to practical use. The discovery and successful working of the electric telegraph has familiarised us with achievements of science which fifty years ago would have been considered miraculous, and a bare intimation of the possibility of which might, two or three centuries previously, have led the unfortunately ingenious speculator to the stake as a wizard. We can, and daily do, transmit messages to and fro between almost every part of the habitable globe [—messages which are not only read off by skilled operators as easily as the pages of a printed book, but are printed by the telegraph itself; and to that really amazing command of the forces of nature we now add the power of transmitting, by the Telephone, the tones of the human voice, distinct articulations, perfectly pronounced words, and musical sounds, to any distance to which the necessary wires may be extended; and, by the most recent adaptation of the instrument, the Phonograph, a message of any length can be spoken on to a plate of metal, that plate sent by post to any part of the world, and the message absolutely re-spoken in the very voice of the sender.
So marvel follows marvel! Voice by Telegraph is followed by voice by Post-card, and the New Year heralds the Future with a new wonder.]

Background Information
This book, entitled All About the Telephone and Phonograph, was published in 1878, the same year Thomas Edison patented his great invention the phonograph. Two years earlier, Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone. These inventions were to transform forever the way humans communicated with one another. For the first time in history, people could exchange ideas without being in the same space. Voices disconnected from the speaker's body, could travel across great distances, or be preserved on disc long after the speaker had spoken. The cover of the book shows Queen Victoria trying out the telephone for the first time.
The morpheme 'phone' has produced the derivational morpheme such as "phono" which is used in words like "phonograph", and the derivational morpheme 'tele' when bound with a root can create new words such as "telephone" and "telegraph". The creation of these new words are due to technological advancements which occurred after the Industrial Revolution, resulting in numerous inventions.

Many words have undergone broadening to accommodate the increased ways in which its meaning can be expressed. "Messages" were sent by means of transportation but now, messages can be transmitted by using a telegraph. Before the invention of the telegraph, a 'message' would not be electronically transmitted. The word "transmit" used to mean 'to pass or send something', but the word is now a terminology use in I.T and telecommunication, meaning to send an electronic signal. The different ways of communication has led to the change in word meanings.

New vocabulary is constantly added to the dictionary to name the new inventions following the Industrial Revolution. E.g. Telephone, telegraph, phonograph


• http://www.stanford.edu/~kiparsky/Papers/kroch01.pdf
• http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary
• http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/grammar/overview.html
• http://glosbe.com/
• http://www.etymonline.com/
• http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/timeline/index.html
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