Monday, 15 August 2016

English and its History


English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca.

It is an official language of almost 60 sovereign states, the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, and a widely spoken language in countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and southeast Asia.


It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the United Nations, of the European Union, and of many other world and regional international organisations.

 English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the fifth century, are called Old English.

Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England.

Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London and the Great Vowel Shift.

Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, Modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries. English has now become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and in professional contexts such as science.

There is little morphological inflection in Modern English, and the syntax is generally isolating. English relies on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and negation. Despite noticeable variation between the forms of English spoken in different world regions, English-speakers from around the world can communicate with one another effectively. Different accents are distinguished only by phonological differences from the standard language, whereas dialects also display grammatical and lexical differences.

Classification of  English

English is an Indo-European language, and belongs to the West Germanic group of the Germanic languages. Most closely related to English are the Frisian languages, and English and Frisian form the Anglo-Frisian subgroup within West Germanic. Old Saxon and its descendent Low German languages are also closely related, and sometimes Low German, English, and Frisian are grouped together as the Ingvaeonic or North Sea Germanic languages.Modern English descends from Middle English, which in turn descends from Old English. English and all the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Germanic. Middle English also developed into a number of other English languages, including Scots and the extinct Fingallian and Forth and Bargy dialects of Ireland.

English is classified as a Germanic language because it shares new language features (different from other Indo-European languages) with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, German, and Swedish. These shared innovations show that the languages have descended from a single common ancestor, which linguists call Proto-Germanic. Some shared features of Germanic languages are the use of modal verbs, the division of verbs into strong and weak classes, and the sound changes affecting Proto-Indo-European consonants, known as Grimm's and Verner's laws. Through Grimm's law, the word for foot begins with /f/ in Germanic languages, but its cognates in other Indo-European languages begin with /p/. English is classified as an Anglo-Frisian language because Frisian and English share other features, such as the palatalisation of consonants that were velar consonants in Proto-Germanic.

English sing, sang, sung; Dutch zingen, zong, gezongen; German singen, sang, gesungen (strong verb)

English laugh, laughed; Dutch and German lachen, lachte (weak verb)

English foot, German Fuß, Norwegian and Swedish fot (initial /f/ derived from Proto-Indo-European *p through Grimm's law)

Latin pes, stem ped-; Modern Greek πόδι pódi; Russian под pod; Sanskrit
पद् pád (original Proto-Indo-European *p)

English cheese, Frisian tsiis (ch and ts from palatalisation)

German Käse and Dutch kaas (k without palatalisation)


English, like the other insular Germanic languages, Icelandic and Faroese, developed independently of the continental Germanic languages and their influences. English is thus not mutually intelligible with any continental Germanic language, differing in vocabulary, syntax, and phonology, although some, such as Dutch, do show strong affinities with English, especially with its earlier stages.

Because English through its history has changed considerably in response to contact with other languages, particularly Old Norse and Norman French, some scholars have argued that English can be considered a mixed language or a creole – a theory called the Middle English creole hypothesis. Although the high degree of influence from these languages on the vocabulary and grammar of Modern English is widely acknowledged, most specialists in language contact do not consider English to be a true mixed language.

History of English

Proto-Gernamic to Old English 

The earliest form of English is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon (c. 550–1066 CE). Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. In the fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain and the Romans withdrew from Britain. By the seventh century, the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in Britain, replacing the languages of Roman Britain (43–409 CE): Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, and Latin, brought to Britain by the Roman occupation. England and English (originally Anglaland and Englisc) are named after the Angles.
Old English was divided into four dialects: the Anglian dialects, Mercian and Northumbrian, and the Saxon dialects, Kentish and West Saxon. Through the educational reforms of King Alfred in the ninth century and the influence of the kingdom of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect became the standard written variety. The epic poem Beowulf is written in West Saxon, and the earliest English poem, Cædmon's Hymn, is written in Northumbrian. Modern English developed mainly from Mercian, but the Scots language developed from Northumbrian. A few short inscriptions from the early period of Old English were written using a runic script. By the sixth century, a Latin alphabet was adopted, written with half-uncial letterforms. It included the runic letters wynn <ƿ> and thorn <þ>, and the modified Latin letters eth <ð>, and ash <æ>.

Old English is very different from Modern English and difficult for 21st-century English speakers to understand. Its grammar was similar to that of modern German. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs had many more inflectional endings and forms, and word order was much freer than in Modern English. Modern English has case forms in pronouns (he, him, his) and a few verb endings (I have, he has), but Old English had case endings in nouns as well, and verbs had more person and number endings.

The translation of Matthew 8:20 from 1000 CE shows examples of case endings (nominative plural, accusative plural, genitive singular) and a verb ending (present plural):

Foxas habbað holu and heofonan fuglas nest

Fox-as habb-að hol-u and heofon-an fugl-as nest-


fox-NOM.PL have-PRS.PL hole-ACC.PL and heaven-GEN.SG bird-NOM.PL nest-ACC.PL

"Foxes have holes and the birds of heaven nests"

Middle English 

In the period from the 8th to the 12th century, Old English gradually transformed through language contact into Middle English. Middle English is often arbitrarily defined as beginning with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066, but it developed further in the period from 1200–1450.

First, the waves of Norse colonisation of northern parts of the British Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries put Old English into intense contact with Old Norse, a North Germanic language. Norse influence was strongest in the Northeastern varieties of Old English spoken in the Danelaw area around York, which was the centre of Norse colonisation; today these features are still particularly present in Scots and Northern English. However the centre of norsified English seems to have been in the Midlands around Lindsey, and after 920 CE when Lindsey was reincorporated into the Anglo-Saxon polity, Norse features spread from there into English varieties that had not been in intense contact with Norse speakers. Some elements of Norse influence that persist in all English varieties today are the pronouns beginning with th- (they, them, their) which replaced the Anglo-Saxon pronouns with h- (hie, him, hera).

With the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the now norsified Old English language was subject to contact with the Old Norman language, a Romance language closely related to Modern French. The Norman language in England eventually developed into Anglo-Norman. Because Norman was spoken primarily by the elites and nobles, while the lower classes continued speaking Anglo-Saxon, the influence of Norman consisted of introducing a wide range of loanwords related to politics, legislation and prestigious social domains. Middle English also simplified the inflectional system. The distinction between nominative and accusative case was lost except in personal pronouns, the instrumental case was dropped, and the use of the genitive case was limited to describing possession. The inflectional system regularised many irregular inflectional forms and gradually simplified the system of agreement, making word order less flexible. By the Wycliffe Bible of the 1380s, the passage Matthew 8:20 was written

Foxis han dennes, and briddis of heuene han nestis

Here the plural suffix -n on the verb have is still retained, but none of the case endings on the nouns are present.

By the 12th century Middle English was fully developed, integrating both Norse and Norman features; it continued to be spoken until the transition to early Modern English around 1500. Middle English literature includes Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In the Middle English period the use of regional dialects in writing proliferated, and dialect traits were even used for effect by authors such as Chaucer.

Early Modern English 


The next period in the history of English was Early Modern English (1500–1700). Early Modern English was characterised by the Great Vowel Shift (1350–1700), inflectional simplification, and linguistic standardisation.

The Great Vowel Shift affected the stressed long vowels of Middle English. It was a chain shift, meaning that each shift triggered a subsequent shift in the vowel system. Mid and open vowels were raised, and close vowels were broken into diphthongs. For example the word bite was originally pronounced as the word beet is today, and the second vowel in the word about was pronounced as the word boot is today. The Great Vowel Shift explains many irregularities in spelling, since English retains many spellings from Middle English, and it also explains why English vowel letters have very different pronunciations from the same letters in other languages.

English began to rise in prestige during the reign of Henry V. Around 1430, the Court of Chancery in Westminster began using English in its official documents, and a new standard form of Middle English, known as Chancery Standard, developed from the dialects of London and the East Midlands. In 1476, William Caxton introduced the printing press to England and began publishing the first printed books in London, expanding the influence of this form of English. Literature from the Early Modern period includes the works of William Shakespeare and the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James I. Even after the vowel shift the language still sounded different from Modern English: for example, the consonant clusters /kn gn sw/ in knight, gnat, and sword were still pronounced. Many of the grammatical features that a modern reader of Shakespeare might find quaint or archaic represent the distinct characteristics of Early Modern English.

In the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, written in Early Modern English, Matthew 8:20 says:

The Foxes haue holes and the birds of the ayre haue nests

This exemplifies the loss of case and its effects on sentence structure (replacement with Subject-Verb-Object word order, and the use of of instead of the non-possessive genitive), and the introduction of loanwords from French (ayre) and word replacements (bird originally meaning "nestling" had replaced OE fugol)
 
 

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