The English language A History Fernando Trujillo
Main divisions • Old English • From the first Anglo-Saxon settlements (500) to about 1100. • Middle English • From about 1100 to about 1500. • Modern English • From about 1500 to the present day.
Old English features • OE was synthetic, or fusional, rather than analytic or isolating. • The noun, verb, adjective and pronoun were highly inflected. Consequently, word order was not as rigid as in Present-Day English. • The vocabulary of OE was overwhelmingly Germanic in character (approximately 85 per cent of the vocabulary used in OE is no longer in use in Modern English). • Word formation largely took the form of compounding, prefixing and suffixing; there was relatively little borrowing from other languages. • Gender was grammatical not logical or natural (...).
i-umlaut • I-umlaut refers to a set of changes in which vowels were raised or fronted by a high front vowel /i/ or approximant /j/ in the following syllable.These changes affected back vowels,front vowels, and diphthongs and operated over any number of intervening consonants. • It is responsible for: • Mus (sg.) > musiz (pl.) > mys (pl.) = mouse-mice. • Full – fill • Food – feed • Goose – geese • Tooth – teeth • Blood – bleed • Man – men • Tale – tell, ...
Personal Pronoun: Second person In Old English, thou and thee were always singular, and ye and you always plural, but in Middle English times the custom arose of using ye/you as a polite or deferential way of addressing a single person, and this usage spread; thou and thee gradually dropped out of use in everyday speech, and finally disappeared (except in some regional dialects) round about 1700. The difference between ye and you was the same as that between he and him: one was nominative and the other accusative. This distinction was maintained until the sixteenth century (Barber, 2000: 123).
Other languages’ influence • Short in the case of Celt: Thames, Avon, London, Dover, Kent. • Larger in the case of Latin: apostle, bishop, monk, ... • Very large in the case of Scandinavian languages: again, anger, awe, bag, bull, bull, cake, die, dirt, egg, fellow, flat, fog, get, give, happy, ill, kid, knife, silver, sister, take, ugly, want, weak, window, wrong, /sk-/ words such as skirt, skill, sky, the pronouns they, them and their, are in verb to be and the “-s” ending in the simple present.
Middle English • From 11th to 16th century • English is not the “official” language until the 14th century • The “standard” now is not Wessex English but Mercian English: London & Cambridge.
Main features • Sound simplication and loss of declensions. • Fixation of word order. • Use of the –es plural (from Northern English) and the –en plural (from Southern English).
Main features • Sound changes: • Lengthening of short vowels: • Old, child, climb, blind. • Bake, hope. • Huge influence of Latin and French, particularly in the law, the army, aristocracy, fine arts, administration, religion, and culture. • Important orthographic changes (the scribes).
Modern English Fennell (2001: 1): “Typically, studies of the development of English (...) divide the language into four stages: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern or Present Day English...The dates for the periods of English I have chosen (...) are as follows: Old English: CE 500-1100; Middle English: 1100-1500; Early Modern English: 1500-1800; Modern English: 1800-present”.
Main features: Early Modern English • Huge influence from Latin • Anglo-saxon modelling of latin terms: desperate, immaturity, debt, doubt, receipt, indict, adventure, verdict. • Use of auxiliary do (from causative “he did them build a castle”) and possessive determiner its.
Main features • The use of printing: William Caxton (1476). • The fixation of spelling • Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary • The dissappearance of ‘r’ before consonants in some (rhotic) varieties of English: arm • The explosion of vocabulary • The expansion of the English language