This day I wrote an article for the University Magazine about the History of English language… It is a kinda introduction to the earlier stages, avoiding much details and the modern years’ politics.. So, the article is going to follow up Lynda Mugglestone’s Oxford summary of “A History of English”.
As Sir William Belford said, all historical description is based on acts of interpretation(tellers, tales). These cannot be all known, particularly because there was not a single record made for instance by a phonograph that was invented in 1877. Otherwise, language is mapped through a progression of canonical landmarks of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Johnson and other famous English writers’ works without remains from the spoken language as “London’s thief language”.
Thus, we should speak about “a” history-variation if language instead of “the” history of language.
In the less distant past of English language, there is the Old English
that held Proto-Germanic patterns. About 300 BC, German tribes moved from Scandinavia and separated. This geographical separation meant linguistically separation too, since the Proto-Germanic language family split into North (Norwegian), East (Gothic) and West
(German, English) German families. Thus, the Old English used Germanic Runic “FUTHARK” alphabet in Britain in which the “Beowulf
” epic poem was written. Then, the Runic alphabet was changed by the Roman alphabet after Pope Gregory and Augustine sent Christian missionaries to Britain about 597. The reign of Alfred the Great (871) brought English-Latin education. The language of King Alfred was influenced by Northern, German and Latin languages in inlflection making (Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, and Dative cases) as well as in vocabulary (to have = habban, iow = you, learning = liornunga).
Historically, the end of the Old English is marked by the 1066 Norman Conquest; however, the old language remained used until the 13th century. Therefore, the birth of the Middle-English
is between this period. In that time, the language repertoire of Britain contained Norman French, Scandinavian Old Norse and several dialects as
British, Irish and Pictish. Accordint to the historical sociolinguist James Milroy, the people of Medieval England were bilingual, speaking either English and Norse in lower class or English and French in upper class. The consequences of this multilingualism were tons of loan words just as the Latin altar, mass and school,
battle, and the Norse knife, fellow
. Considering the regional dialects of Britain, there has been a serious issue in communication since each region was influenced by different language family, for instance, while in South English I kepe, thou kepest, he/she/it kepeth
in Scotish I keip, thou keipis and he/she/it keip.
It worth to mention, Chaucer’s vernacular fable collections and Wycliff’s Bible that helped to standardize English.
In Middle English of Chaucer, the long vowels were generally pronounced very much like the Latin-derived Romance languages of Europe (e.g. sheep as “shape”, me as “may” and mine as “meen”); however, after the Great Vowel Shift of the Early Modern English, the pronunciations of these words have changed to much more like they are spoken today. Other important early developments of the 16th century is the spreading printing press that stabilized the spelling. This period in literature is called the Golden Age that is partially the grace of a man who single-handedly changed the English language of the late 16th and early 17th century. William Shakespeare took advantage of the relative freedom and flexibility and the protean nature of English and played with grammatical rules such as in changing the function of nouns as verbs, adverbs, adjectives and substantives ( “it out-herods Herod”, “dog them at the heels”, “the good Brutus ghosted”, and “uncle me no uncle”).
After the years of Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and the colonialization welcome the Late Modern English
that faced the issues of dialects again. Interestingly, some English pronunciations and usages ceased when they arrived in America while they continued to evolve in Britain itself, so that, in some respects, American English is
closer to the English of Shakespeare than modern British English is. Thus, the history of English encompasses about three bigger stages of development from the Indo-European Proto-Germanic through the Norman French and Latin and finally fulfilling a role as a global language
and contancting hundreds of language every day, loaning new words from Spanish, Chinese or Algerian dialect… Is it a positive effect on the development of English language or not? It will be clear in the Future…