A History of English Some Highlights
Early Influences Celtic borrowings: A few Celtic words, such as crag, entered what would become the English language. Latin loans: Roman soldiers and priests came to the British Isles before the massive invasions of Northern Europeans.
Northern Invasions Angles, Jutes, Saxons Frisians, Danes, and Norwegians brought new languages.
Angles, Saxons, and Jutes “Germanic invaders called the native Celts wealas (‘foreigners’), from which the name Welsh is derived. The Celts called the invaders ‘Saxons,’ regardless of their tribe, and and this practice was followed by the early Latin writers…References to the name of the country as Engaland (‘land of the Angles’), from which came England, do not appear until c. 1000” (Crystal 7).
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Although most European chronicles of the era appeared in Latin or French, these were written in Old English. These manuscripts make up multiple chronicles. The chronicles cover the period from around the birth of Christ to the twelfth century.
Question In 1066, what event took place that changed the course of the English language?
Answer The Battle of Hastings According to legend, King Harold plucked an arrow out of his eye.
Domesday Book In 1086, King William (Guillaume) ordered a survey of English lands, written in Latin.
Which Witch is Which How did we end up with such weird spellings?
The Story of Ye How do you pronounce the word ‘ye’?
It all goes back to a thorn What now looks like the letter ‘y’ was a thorn, a letter sounding like the contemporary ‘th.’ Over time, readers sounded this out with a ‘y’ sound.
U need to see a V Many manuscripts used a v at the beginning of a word and a u within the word.
A New Look for Old English Scribes added letters to make words look more like Latin or French, languages considered more cultivated than English; for example, det became debt and iland became island.
British Bilingualism French held its place as the language of government, law, literature, and, along with Latin, in the church. English remained the language of household staffs and other so-called common people. Sometimes upper-class employers learned English in order to talk with their servants.
French words in English Baron, count, courtier, duchess, duke, marchioness, marquis, noble, peer Appetite, beef, biscuit, confection, plate, raisin, supper, treacle, veal, vinegar Ambush, army, battle, enemy, garrison, lieutenant, moat, peace, sergeant By heart, come to a head, have mercy on hold one’s peace, take leave
English-French Pairs Sheep-mutton Calf-veal Deer-venison Pig-pork Begin-commence Child-infant Doom-judgment Freedom-liberty • Happiness-felicity • Hearty-cordial • Help-aid • Hide-conceal • Holy-saintly • Meal-repast • Stench-aroma • Wish-desire
Words from Other Languages Latin: Alias, homicide, diocese, mediator, scripture, lucrative, tolerance Netherlands: poll, skipper Spanish: cork, savvy Portuguese: marmalade Arabic: saffron, admiral, mattress, algebra, alkali, zenith Persian: chess, rook, checkmate
Middle English “The period we call Middle English runs from the beginning of the 12th century until the middle of the 15th” (Crystal 30).
Language Standardization William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476. “In 1041, movable clay type was first invented in China…Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with replaceable/moveable wooden or metal letters in 1436 (completed by 1440)” (About.com)
Caxton’s Concerns Should he replace foreign words? Which regional varieties should he use? Should he edit local writers to make their more works more widely understood? Scribes wrote with many variations. Which spellings and punctuations should he use?
Dictionaries Grammar books appeared, recording and prescribing language use. Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, further standardized English usage.
Middle English Literature Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a story from Arthurian legend, written in English but showing the influence of the French courtly tradition. Late 14th century The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1345-1400)
E-Mod The Renaissance Shakespeare Protestant Reformation Printing Presses First English colonization of America: tobacco, potato, and other words enter the language Early Modern English (1400-1800)
Bible Translations John Wycliffe risked his life by translating the Bible in the fourteenth century. Although he survived, opponents burned his bones after his death. How did the Protestant Reformation change English?
King James Bible 1611 This translation became one of the most commonly used Christian bibles in the world.
English in Education Shakespeare read Cervantes at a time when scholars considered Spanish a more important language than English. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Latin still served as the tongue spoken by educated Europeans. By the end of the 1700s, scholars had begun to consider English a language appropriate for academia.
Shakespeare’s Neologisms William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Shakespeare’s plays and poems introduced accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy-free, lack-lustre, laughable, premeditated, puppi-dogs, and submerged. Not all of his words remained in the language. Neologisms that failed to survive include abruption, appertainment, cadent, exsufflicate, persistive, protractive, questrist, soilure, tortive, ungenitured, unplausive, and vastidity.
Vocabulary According to some linguists, English contains some 500,000 words. Shakespeare employed about 30,000. The King James Bible contains about 12,000. Generally, speakers with well-developed vocabularies employ 30,000 That leaves the most articulate among us about 470,000 words short.
English Today Modern English came into being during the eighteenth century. Even so, authors such as Jane Austen (1775-1817) use formulations that seem odd to our ears and words, such as ‘direction’ as an address, that now convey different meanings.
English Outside of England An American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828 Noah Webster (1758-1843)
The Use of English has Spread 1.Mandarin Chinese (1.1 billion) 2.English (330 million) 3.Spanish (300 million) 4.Hindi/Urdu (250 million) 5.Arabic (200 million) 6.Bengali (185 million) 7.Portuguese (160 million) 8.Russian (160 million) 9.Japanese (125 million) 10.German (100 million) 11.Punjabi (90 million) 12.Javanese (80 million) 13.French (75 million) Estimates of language use varies. George Weber’s articleTop Languages: The World’s 10 Most Influential Languages” in Language Today (Vol. 2, Dec 1997).
English in a Global Context “More than 40 countries around the world consider English their primary language” (University of Texas at Austin website). Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Micronesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, South Africa, St. Lucia, St.Vincent, Swaziland, The Grenadines, The Philippines, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
English in a Global Context Many other countries, such as India and Nigeria, recognize English as one of their official languages The United States federal government does not recognize English as an official language.
Language Change Will Continue Words enter from other countries, especially as their authors contribute to contemporary English literature. Neologisms arise from mixtures of English with Hindi, Yoruba, and Spanish. Technology contributes to language formation with new terms and altered spellings.
Works Cited Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: U of Cambridge, 1997. English Department, University of Texas at Austen. <http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/english/>. Accessed 10 Sept. 2008. “English in the World.” <http://www.about.com>. New York: New York Times, 2008. Accessed 10 Sept. 2008. Knowles, Gerry. A Cultural History of the English Language. London: Arnold, 1999.