The evolution of the English language. Introduction. There are three phases in the evolution of the English language : Old English (450 - 1150), Middle English (1150 - 1500) and Modern English (1500 - present ). The Celtic language belonged to the Indo-European family.
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Introduction • There are three phases in the evolution of the English language : Old English (450 - 1150), Middle English (1150 - 1500)and Modern English (1500 - present). • The Celtic language belonged to the Indo-European family. • Latin had a considerable impact on the language, particularly during the Christianisation of the island.
Old English • The language of the Anglo Saxon people was rich in words related to farming. They also introduced pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs and everyday words. • Old English was spoken from 450 to 1150. • It was an inflected language (the meaning of words changed according to their declensions).
Old English • The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish and West-Saxon. • After the process of unification of the different Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, in 878 by Alfred the Great, there was a decline in the importance of regional dialects, but they didn’t stop existing. • Most of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom.
Old English • Some of the most important surviving works of Old English literature are Beowulf, an epic poem; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a record of early English history; and Caedmon Hymn, a Christian religious poem. There are also a number of prose works. • Poetry is considered the heart of Old English literature.
Middle English • At the beginning of the 13th century French was the language of the enemy and English regained importance also because it was spoken by the merchants and craftsmen, who formed the emerging middle class. • The English from being an inflective language became analytic (the meaning in a sentence was given by word order and not by form).
Middle English • The French influence was enormous. • The Middle English was spoken from1150 to 1500 • It consisted of several regional dialects. Gradually the East Midlands dialect became the most important, because of the increasing commercial and economic importance of London. The triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London shared the same kind of English.
Middle English • Chaucer who came from the East Midlands wrote in English marking the birth of it as a national language. • In this period there was a considerable production of ballads and romances (matter of Britain – King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table- and the matter of France – Charlemagne). • It was significant that William Caxton adopted the Middle English language for printed works.
Modern English • In spite of all this, the language of the government was still French. • A turning point went when in 1415 king Henry V used English in his official documents. English became the language of the kings and gradually the one of the institutional life. • A major change in the pronunciation of vowels marked the transition from Middle English to Modern English during the 15th and 16th centuries. This change was termed the Great Vowel Shift.
Modern English • In the early part of the Modern English period, the vocabulary was enlarged by borrowings from other languages. • The revival of interest in Latin and Greek during the Renaissance brought new words into English from those languages. Other words were introduced by English travellersand merchants after their return from journeys on the Continent.
Modern English • William Shakespeare incorporated a wide vocabulary reflecting the new geographical and cultural horizons of the Renaissance. • In the late 17th century and during the 18th century, certain important grammatical changes occurred and the formal rules of English grammar were established during that period. • The Modern English is the language that we speak today.
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