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A History of English. Chapter 1 Introduction. Introduction 1. “To Aetius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons.” Bede (730), Ecclesiastical History of the English nation; Gildas, De Excidio Britannicae Picts,Scots, Huns

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A history of english

A History of English

Chapter 1


Introduction 1
Introduction 1

  • “To Aetius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons.”

  • Bede (730), Ecclesiastical History of the English nation; Gildas, De Excidio Britannicae

  • Picts,Scots, Huns

  • “They consulted what was to be done, and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations; and they all agreed with their King Vortigern to call over to their aid, from parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation…”

Introduction 2
Introduction 2

  • In the year of our Lord 449…the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king, arrived in Britain with three long ships, and had a place assigned them to reside in by the same king, in the eastern part of the island, that they might thus appear to be fighting for their country, whilst their real intentions were to enslave it. Accordingly they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the north to give battle, and obtained the victory; which, being known at home in their own country, as also the fertility of the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, a more considerable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a still greater number of men, which, being added to the former, made up an invincible army.”

Introduction 3
Introduction 3

  • “In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wurtgern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them”

    (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)

Introduction 4
Introduction 4

  • Saxons, Angles, Jutes

  • “In a short time, swarms of the aforesaid nations came over the island, and they began to increase so much that they became terrible to the nations themselves who had invited them…”

  • 457: “In this year Hengest and Aesc (the leaders of the Jutes) fought against the Britons at a place called Crayford and there slew four thousand men; and the Britons then forsook Kent […]”

  • 473: “In this year Hengest and Aesc fought against the Welsh […] and the Welsh fled from the English as one flies from fire […]”

  • The history of English as a narrative

A history vs the history
A history vs. The history

  • There is not one story to tell

  • The familiar narrative originated in the 19th century, drawing on the idea of a national identity

  • Nationalism assumes the existence of an unchanging national essence residing in shared ethnic origin, fixed territory, common language

  • Emphasis on early history, on Anglo-Saxon roots, on Standard; varieties neglected

One “truth”:English is a contact language, a MischspracheContact situations: Latin, Celtic, Scandinavian (Viking), Norman French, Central French, Latin again

When did english begin
When did English begin?

  • The name of the language: Pytheas, Pretanoi, Britanni, Britannia

  • Picti, Wealas, Angli, Aethelbert, Angli, Anglia, Englisc, Englaland, England

  • The roots: Indo-European family of languages

When did english begin1
When did ‘English’ begin?

  • The traditional answer: When a branch of the West Germanic family of languages was brought to what is today England, from the 5th century onwards, by the Germanic peoples collectively known as Anglo-Saxons (a number of tribal groupings, each of which spoke a different, though mutually intelligible variety)

Franks casket

Fisc flodu ahof on fergenberig

War† gasric grorn †ær he on greut gisworn

Den Fisch hat die Flut emporgehoben auf die Strandeshöhe

Es ward der Ozean bekümmert als er auf das Geröll antrieb

Franks Casket

Traditional periods
Traditional periods

  • Old English: ca. 500-1100

  • Middle English: 1100-1500

  • Early Modern English: 1500-17/1800

  • Late Modern English: 1700-1900

  • Modern English: 1900-???

  • Postmodern English? Global English?

  • Beowulf, Geoffrey Chaucer

Henry sweet before the royal society 1873
Henry Sweet before the Royal Society 1873

  • I propose, therefore, to start with the three main divisions of Old, Middle, and Modern, based mainly on the inflectional characteristics of each stage. Old English is the period of full inflections, Middle English of levelled inflections, and Modern English of lost inflections.

  • gifan,given, give

  • nama, name, name

The history of english a story of invasions and cultural revolutions
The history of English: a story of invasions and cultural revolutions

  • The Germanic Invasion 449

  • The Norman Invasion 1066

  • The Renaissance, the Printing Press, the discovery of the New World,and the Reformation 1500

  • The independence of the American colonies: the end of the English monopoly on the language 1776

Other important factors
Other important factors: revolutions

  • The invasion of the Scandinavians from the end of the 8th century onwards

  • The Royal dynasties: Lancaster, York, Tudors

Intralinguistic criteria
Intralinguistic criteria revolutions

  • The branching off of English from other Germanic dialects

  • The loss of inflections

  • The end of French influence

  • Latin and Greek loans

  • Standardization of Spelling and Grammar

  • The spread of English: New Englishes

  • industrialization

What is english
What is English? revolutions

  • Standard English vs. Varieties

  • Dialects and Registers

  • Written vs. Spoken English

  • Englishes, the English Languages

  • Lingua franca

What is a standard language
What is a standard language? revolutions

  • A standard language is a written variety which is either imposed or promoted over a wider geographical area than where it originated with the aim of making it the principal or sole written form in the country as a whole

  • It is regulated, codified, and has overt prestige

Standard varieties of english
Standard Varieties of English revolutions

  • West Saxon Standard

  • No Standard English in Middle English: instead Latin and French

  • The London standardization from 1400 on: English as a national language promoted by the Lancastrians (Henry IV, V)

  • Chancery Standard: spelling standardization, printing press

When did english begin another answer
When did English begin: another answer revolutions

  • A more realistic answer: with the development of a standardised written form of the language, under the influence of Latin (providing a guide as to what a standardised language should look like)

  • This did not happen before the ninth century under King Alfred the Great

  • This answer underestimates dialects

Alternative histories
Alternative histories revolutions

  • Old English as the first phase of several phases in a single on-going language

  • Old English as the ancestor of an English within which Sots is a distinct entity

  • Old English as the common ancestor of both English and Scots

  • Language history as a continuum

  • English as a pluricentric language

  • English-Only Europe?

Samuel daniel
Samuel Daniel revolutions

“And who in time knows wither we may vent

The treasure of our tongue, to what strange shores

This gaine of our best glorie shal be sent,

T’inrich vnknowing Nations with our stores?

Which worlds in th’yet vnformed Occident

May come refin’d with th’accents that are ours?”

Causes of language change external
Causes of language change: external revolutions

  • Imperfect learning

  • Substratum

  • Individual variation

  • Linguistic accomodation

  • Migration, Prestige

  • Replacement

  • Contact vs. Separation

Causes of language change internal
Causes of language change: internal revolutions

  • Ease of articulation

  • Analogy

  • Reanalysis

  • Grammaticalization

Sources of information on language change
Sources of Information on Language Change revolutions

  • Evidence from archaeology

  • Theoretical reconstruction

  • Spelling and Misspellings

  • Rhymes

  • Translations

  • Modern dialects as mirrors to the past

  • ‘Linguists’