It is generally known that as time goes on, most things tend to change, evolve and grow. This could be said about a long list of thing, including humans, music, fashion, technology and many more. But what isn’t commonly thought about is the evolution of language; more specifically the English Language. Being one of the most spoken and rapidly learned language worldwide, one might ponder the evolution of the it and how the English language came to be. Spoken today is called Modern English, but this language took hundreds of years to be developed into from its Greek, Latin, German, Russian and other European roots. To further understand the fluidity of the English language, a Catholic prayer that was once written in Anglo-Saxon or Old English is rewritten in Middle English and Early Modern English. Through these stepping stones of the English language, one could analyze the difference in letter symbols, punctuation, and pronunciation.
At first glance, the Old English version seems to be in a completely different language. One would never believe that the English we speak today derived from Old English. But as one tries to decipher the words and the passage at hand, few words became certain to be derived from Old English. Although most are not Catholic and wouldn’t know this as a religious passage, the major clue was the capitalization of the first word: father. Although spelled “Faeder” in Old English, it was easy to assume that it was a prayer from prior knowledge about the Catholics reference to God as Father.
Not only that, “Faeder” and “Father” have similar pronunciation and many of the same letters. Some words seem familiar through context clues such as “willa” and “will”, “becume” and “become”, and “forgyf” and “forgive”. However, there are words that are completely unfamiliar and are unused in Modern English such as “gedaeghwamlican”, “heofonum”, and “gyltendum”. This proves to show that has time goes on, words and symbols begin to change, words begin to be spoken in different sounds, and grammar starts to shift away from its original roots.
From the Old English and the Middle English translations, grammar seems to change the most and is the most noticeable. Similar to how English is spoken today, the first line of the Middle English translated prayer starts off as “Oure fadir,” which is very similar to the Modern English “Our Father.” But in the Old English version, the prayer starts as “Faeder ure.” In many languages like Spanish and Latin, verbs and possessors are generally put in front of the possessive, unlike Middle and Modern English. As seen in the Old English version, father comes before “ure” or our. This analyzation displays the roots of English and how the language evolves and eventually strays from its origin.
Also seen clearly in the Middle English version of the Catholic prayer, words seem closer to the Modern English spoken today, although some symbols and spellings reveal its true age. More words become recognizable such as “kyngdom” to kingdom, and “heuene” to heaven. These words show how over time, words begin to shift and change, although it started as something else. A symbol that stays constant from Old English on to Middle English is a letter close to “p”. This symbol is pronounced a “th” sound. Although this symbol is replaced with the letter “t” and “h” in Modern English, the words such as “pi” and “pat” are equivalent to the Early Modern English words “thy” and “that”. This different usage of symbols but same sounds exemplifies the change in letter themselves, but not the sound it once came from. The Middle English truly shows the steps it took to get from Old English to Early Modern English.
When we read the Early Modern English of this Catholic prayer, we can understand it clearly, though words that are used in the prayer are not used in our daily vocabulary and writing. Words such as thy, and art, which has a different meaning from Modern English, are not used and are rarely seen in modern writing explosions. Early Modern English has been changed and developed so dramatically that people don’t talk the way the prayer goes. The proof that shows how fluid English is by the usage of slang. Just as spelling, pronunciation and grammar of words and sentences changed from the three stepping stones of English evolution, modern English words are being condensed and meaning of words change.
The evolution of the English language doesn’t stop with us. Although there are three stepping stones of the English language, in the future there is a possibility that a New English will emerge. Just as it did over the course of hundreds of years, the English language will continue to evolve and change. Meanings will alter and spelling will change. A hundred years from now, Old English will seem to be a language in the past.
Courtney from Study Moose
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