Thursday, August 14, 2008
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
By Richard K. Munro, MA
August 13, 2008 San Felipe River (Kern River. Bakersfield)
English or the “right-true Saxon” tongue as it was once known is a Germanic language, related at its heart to Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and German. English is a not an ancient language, only coming into prominence in the last five hundred years. It is not the oldest native language of the British Isles and Ireland but to day it is the preeminent language of many English-speaking nations such as England (the U. K.), the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. English has become the native language of more than 350,000 million people and is the most important second language in the world. English is worth studying because it is very useful in business, law, medicine, computers, diplomacy and education. English has a vast and famous literature, an influential musical culture and arguably the greatest film and entertainment industry in the modern world. English is also the language of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and the Roosevelts and so has been an instrument in spreading democracy and human rights throughout the world.
The history of English is traditionally divided into three periods usually called Old English (or Anglo-Saxon), Middle English, and Modern English. Three Germanic tribes, called Angles, Saxons and Jutes, invaded Roman Britain in the fifth century AD. They may have first come as barbarian mercenaries and when the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain. the Anglo-Saxons or English –who were pagans- gradually took over from the native Romano-Britons who were Christian. King Arthur the legendary King of Camelot is supposed to have rallied the Britons against these pagan invaders from a time; this allowed Wales and Scotland to develop as independent countries with their own languages and traditions.
OLD ENGLISH MIDDLE ENGLISH MODERN ENGLISH
c. 500-1110 C 1350- 1450 From 1600 to present
nama name name
him him him
comon come come
beon be be
waeter In the watter (water) In the water
Genoh (enough) plentee Plenty(enough)
mildheortness mercy Mercy; mildheartedness
wraelice In pilgramage Pilgrimage , traveling
cniht knyght knight
Hwaet what what
eg egge Edge
Ealda man The olde man The old man
findan finden find
fundon founde found
funden founden found
Christianity came at the pagan Anglo-Saxons from two directions who had it was said ,“neither numbers, nor letters, nor God.” If the Anglo-Saxons had remained pagan it is possible that their language may never have been widely written and so may not have survived its many travails. Missionaries from Roman Britain spread Christianity to Ireland and Scotland (St. Patrick c 432, St. Columba,c 563 and St. Mungo c 560. for example) thus preserving the ancient faith and knowledge of schooling, books and the alphabet. In turn, these Celtic missionaries reintroduced Christianity and the Latin alphabet to the Anglo-Saxons. The Irish were instrumental in this time period in fomenting education and Christianity not only in England but on the continent as well planting an early missionary base on Lindisfarne Island as well as schools in Charlemagne’s empire. The other force in Christianizing the Saxons came from Rome beginning with the mission of St.Augustine to Aethelbert, King of Kent, in AD 597. Aethelbert was chosen because he was married to a Frankish Christian princess who encouraged the new religion. The story goes that Aethelbert, afraid of the powers of the Christian “sorcerers”, chose to meet with them in the open air to ensure that they wouldn’t cast a wicked spell over him!
Augustine's original intent was to establish an archbishopric in London, but at that time the London English were hard-core pagans, slavers and polygamists and so were very hostile to Christians. Therefore, Canterbury, the capital of the Kentish kingdom of Aethelbert , became the seat of the pre-eminent archbishop in England. The Church was a very important force in medieval English society. It was the only truly national entity –international really- tying together the various warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The early monasteries of Northumberland were vital centers of learning and the arts until they were wiped out by savage Viking raids of the 9th century. There was an ancient prayer known round the Isles that went like this: A furore normannorum libera nos domine ("From the fury of the Norsemen deliver us, O Lord!"). Much of England, Ireland and Scotland were conquered by the Vikings (c.800-1263) and the northern dialects of English were very influenced by Old Norse (an ancestor of Norwegian and Swedish). Some examples are fellow, hit, sly, take, skirt, scrub, gill, kindle, kick, get, give, window, skipper, sister, thrall (slave),earl(warrior/noble), want and dream (it meant ‘joy’ in Anglo-Saxon.).
Anglo-Saxon England's most famous historian and Doctor of the Church , the monk Bede, known as the Venerable Bede, lived most of his life at the monastery of Jarrow, in Northumbria (died 735). His famous book was "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People".
Nearby, the monastery of Lindisfarne is famous for its' celebrated hand-colored illuminated Bible, an 8th century masterpiece of Celtic- inspired art, which is now in the British Library.
Churches were almost the only forum for education during the Middle Ages. Under the auspices of Alfred the Great church schools were encouraged for common people, and many Latin works were translated into English. The higher church officials also played important secular roles; advising the king, witnessing charters, and administering estates of the church, which were extensive. The Magna Charta (1215) was written in Latin and so was the Arbroath Declaration of 1320. Much of early common law was written in French. But the language of everyday community life in England became English.
No written records of the Anglo-Saxon language survive from before the seventh century. The main written language in England as English Britain began to be called was Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1066 the Normans, under William the Conqueror, conquered the Anglo-Saxons and killed their last king Harold at the Battle of Hastings. There are no loanwords of unquestionably French origin that occur prior to 1066. Essentially the Anglo-Saxons ceased to exist as an independent people from that time. The Anglo-Normans spoke French and used it as a language of administration; they also learned Latin for the Church and the Universities.
FRENCH LOANWORDS IN ENGLISH
French English Commentary/Spanish cognate
Chateau-fort castle castillo
jongleur juggler Malabarista; juglar)poet/minstrel is a false cognate
prison prison prisión
service service Servicio
gouvernment government gobierno
administration Administration administración
avocat attorney Lawyer/advocate/abogado
court court corte
crime crime Replacing the Anglo-Saxon word ‘”sin”
Delito ; CRIMEN is MURDER (AS)
juge judge juez
jury jury jurado
noble noble noble
royal royal real
prince prince príncipe
duc duke duque
armée army ejército
capitaine captain capitán
cabot corporal cabo
lieutenant lieutenant Teniente/alférez
sergent sergeant sargento
soldat soldier soldado
boeuf beef Cow (Anglo-Saxon)
mouton mutton Sheep (AS)
porc pork Pig (AS)
veau veal Calf (AS)
dignité dignity dignidad
feindre Feign fingir
fruit fruit fruta
lettre letter Carta (“letras”=words of a song or letters)
litérature literature literatura
magicien;magique Magician , Magic AS: Sorcerer/sorcery
miroir mirror AS Looking-glass
question question Pregunta; cuestión
recherche search Buscar; investigar
secret secret secreto
son Sound (noise) Sound /saludable(AS)=healthy,solid
solace solace solaz
chapitre chapter Capítulo
dictionnaire dictionary AS word-book
bestiaux Cattle (beasties) Ganado
gain wage sueldo
calibre Gage (or gauge) Indicador/calibre
garant Warranty Garantía (limitada)NOT the same as guarantee.Partially FALSE COGNATE
garant guarantee Garantía de fábrica
mars March marzo
mélodie Melody/tune(AS) melodía
Nature/ caractère nature Naturaleza/carácter
courage courage Coraje, valor
aventure Adventure; love affair aventura
spécial special Specially part AS
chef chief jefe
chef chef Chef o jefe de cocina
champion champion campeón
Psalmodie/chanter chant cantar
machine machine Note French sound not Greek “K”
sauvage savage Wild (AS)
couleur Color (colour) color
honor honor honor
vertu virtue virtud
fleur flower Flor
soupe soup sopa
Debris; décombres debris escombros
De luxe De luxe De lujo
denouement denouement Or resolution
élite elite élite
Hors d’oeuvre Hors d’oeuvre Appetizers (tapas)
Reveille Reveille “reVALLEY” in British English
RE-valley in Am. English
quitter To leave (AS) “to quit”
arrêter To stop (AS) “to arrest” ê indicates “s” sound was dropped.
demander To ask (AS) “to demand”
penser To think (AS) “to be pensive”
ami Friend (AS) Amicable ‘
“mon ami” is almost universally known in English just as “mi amigo”
pont Bridge (AS) Pontoon (temporary Military bridge)
Many English expressions are direct translations of French. For example, if you please (s’il vous plait), marriage of convenience (marriage de convenance), that goes without saying (ça va sans dire, reason of state (raison d’etat)), trial balloon (ballon d’essai) even every day expressions like the arm of the professor (le bras d’ professeur rather than the more Anglo-Saxon “the teacher’s arm). Also we have question de connaissances générales ;general knowledge question ;champion du monde champion of the world (world champion)
Many more French expressions entered the English language in the 16th and 17th century when French was the lingua franca of educated people. French remained the spoken language par excellence in Scotland until the 17th century and 18th century. Mary Queen of Scots, previously the Queen of France, never spoke English as the Queen of Scotland but habitually spoke French (or Latin). General Wolfe used French-speaking Highlanders as interpreters and as scouts who could penetrate the French lines at will as they did at Quebec in 1759. French remains an important foreign language in the British Isles as well as Canada and there are many mixed Belgian-English and French-English families who are completely bilingual and of course millions of Canadians speak French and English. I daresay one of the differences between educated British English and American English is that British English uses far more French words and phrases than does American English. In any case, thousands of French words are identical or nearly identical to their English cognates.
English might have died out completely except for the fact that England, being part of an island, was separated from France and tended to thus be isolated. England and France –cousin nations really- fought many wars for supremacy. At one time England claimed and occupied most of France. The ruling families which continued to speak French until abut the 1350’s. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in Middle English using thousands of French borrowings. The London dialect, for the first time, begins to be recognized as the "Standard", or variety of English taken as the norm, for all England. Other dialects are relegated to a less prestigious position. Over the years the Anglo-Norman French of the ruling classes created an English-French patois with a vocabulary that was heavily Latin and French and a very simplified grammar and inflectional system. For example, English lost its masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives (a few exceptions survive today: we say a BLONDE girl but a BLOND boy; we say fox and vixen for a female fox. ) Gradually French lost its prestige and popularity with the English ruling class and French though still used in the courts was studied as Latin was as a foreign language. By 1362 English had replaced French as the common language of the English parliament.
HERE IS a QUOTATION FROM Merriam Webster. I can read Middle English (Chaucer) with some annotation but I cannot read Anglo-Saxon nor am I an expert on Anglo-Saxon so here it is best to go word by word from an expert source:
The following brief sample of Old English prose illustrates several of the significant ways in which change has so transformed English that we must look carefully to find points of resemblance between the language of the tenth century and our own. It is taken from Aelfric's "Homily on St. Gregory the Great" and concerns the famous story of how that pope came to send missionaries to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity after seeing Anglo-Saxon boys for sale as slaves in Rome:
Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, "Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon."
A few of these words will be recognized as identical in spelling with their modern equivalents—he, of, him, for, and, on—and the resemblance of a few others to familiar words may be guessed—nama to name, comon to come, wære to were, wæs to was—but only those who have made a special study of Old English will be able to read the passage with understanding. The sense of it is as follows:
Again he [St. Gregory] asked what might be the name of the people from which they came. It was answered to him that they were named Angles. Then he said, "Rightly are they called Angles because they have the beauty of angels, and it is fitting that such as they should be angels' companions in heaven."
Some of the words in the original have survived in altered form, including axode (asked), hu (how), rihtlice (rightly), engla (angels), habbað (have), swilcum (such), heofonum (heaven), and beon (be).
Perhaps the most distinctive difference between Old and Modern English reflected in Aelfric's sentences is the elaborate system of inflections, of which we now have only remnants.
The period of Middle English extends roughly from the twelfth century through the fifteenth...
Other important early developments include the stabilizing effect on spelling of the printing press in 1474. William Caxton published the first printed English book in England. This began a long process of standardization of spelling. During the Renaissance, there was a large influx of neologisms from Latin and Greek in this great age of translations from Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The King James Bible was published in 1611 and is the most influential English book of all time, closely followed by the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare himself coined many new expressions and words and wove them all together in the most artistic and imaginable way possible. In 1755 Samuel Johnson published his English dictionary and the classical writers of this period (Gibbon, Pope, Swift, Boswell) used a highly polished syntax and an elaborate vocabulary borrowing many words from French, Latin and Greek. The rise of the British Empire led to the spreading of English all over the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India , Canada, Bahamas, Jamaica, the Thirteen Colonies) After Independence American English consciously develops as a separate dialect with its own spellings , grammar and jargon. After the industrialization of Britain and then the USA, the English-speaking peoples became a world-wide military, naval and commercial powers often trailblazing new business techniques and new technologies. English bestsellers are translated to dozens of languages and most of the great books of the world are translated into English. The great age of the primacy of the English-speaking peoples may be at its close but I think it is a fair bet that English will remain important in my lifetime and for the rest of the 21st century. Keep learning the “right true Saxon tongue”; continue studies in the excellent English language.