Histroy of English Language

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 17 November 2016

Histroy of English Language

History of English language will explain, why learning English as a second language is difficult without proper instruction, even though basic components are same. Throughout its history English has been influenced by the varieties of language. Living languages never remain static. Every language is the product of change and continues to change as long as it is spoken. Only dead languages like Latin or Sanskrit change no longer, since no one speaks them now. The changes, while they do occur are gradual and slow and hence almost imperceptible. Over a span of centuries, however, their cumulative effect is appreciable.

Shakespeare English is difficult for modern readers; Chaucer’s is almost is incomprehensible without formal instruction. The History of the English language: The origin During the Roman invasion, the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. English belongs, in all its stages, to the Indo European family of languages, formerly called Indo-Germanic, and still earlier Aryan. Indo European is the name given to the set of linguistic forms from which nearly all European languages as well as those of Persia and very large part of India can be shewn to descend.

The historians have used the word Indo-European because it merely suggests that the languages it comprises cover most of the Europe and India mark the length of its confines. The predominance and pioneering s of the position of the German Philologist English is one of the most important languages in the world today. More the an 350 million people in Great Britain are native speakers. In addition 150 million non-native speakers of English are there. English however is not spoken by large number of people in the world . Chinese, for instance spoken by more than 880 million people in China alone.

Among the western languages English has the advantage in numbers. Spanish in spoken by about 210 million people. Russian is spoken about 200 million people Portuguese is spoken about 105 million people etc . Importance of a language is associated with political role played by the nations using it and their influence in the international affairs. Several reasons may be adduced for current importance and popularity of English. Historically the colonial expansion of the British Empire over which the sun never sets, was responsible for the imposition of the English on aspiring natives.

Even after achieving independence many countries like Nigeria, India, Ghana continue to use English as official language for several reasons. The nature of the English language and its tolerance to change has made it very popular. One of the major assets of the English language is the mixed character or its vocabulary. English being the Germanic descent has many words from the Germanic languages viz, German Dutch, Flemish, Danish, Scandinavian, Swedish, Norwegian. It also shares a large number of words with the European languages derived from Latin viz,French Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

Hence English seems very familiar to anyone who speaks a Germanic and Roman language. Instead of making new words chiefly by the combination of existing elements, English has shown the marked tendency to go outside its own linguistic resources and borrow from other languages. These words have been so well assimilated into English the no one ever remembers or recognizes that they have been borrowed. Any etymological dictionary will show that English has borrowed from almost every language of the world; Hebrew Arabic Hindi Tamil,Malay,WestAfrica,Chinese,Brazil etc.

This is the reason why we call English a cosmopolitan vocabulary which is an asset to any language which seeks to attain international use. Modern linguists therefore accept the dynamic nature of language. One of their axioms is that there are no pure forms of language, for language, for languages keep changing all the time. If English had remained pure over the centuries, we should still be speaking the language of Chaucer. Throughout the history, the English language has accepted with comparative equanimity words from other languages with which it has been in contact.

There have been periods in which speakers and writers have indulged in large-scale use of foreign words. In general, most people will agree that the foreign contribution to English has been useful. Some languages avoid as far as possible the use of alien terms; instead they substitute new words made up of native elements. English however, has always accepted foreign words. Many hundreds of words of non-English origin are now part and parcel of the English vocabulary, indistinguishable from the native stock except to those with some knowledge of etymology.

Of all the world languages, English has probably the vocabulary which is the most copious, heterogeneous and varied, at the same time this also one of the reason that learning English as second language becomes difficult. All the people, with whom its speakers have come in contact during more than thirteen centuries of its growth, have left permanent marks on the language. Some of the contacts have been deep and lasting like Greek, French and Latin. A study of the history of the English language, therefore, unfolds the panorama of English history-both social and political.

With an empire over which sun never sets, the English language has been particularly open to foreign influences. The Romans with whom the ancient Germanic tribes had dealings, the Romanized Britons, the Latin fathers of the church who were once eagerly studied the Danish and Norwegian invaders, the Norman French conquerors, the revival of ancient Latin and Greek classics at Renaissance, the Italian artists and men of letters of the 16th century the colonizing nations of the same century—all these have made their contributions to the English language.

Arab mathematicians from Spain have enriched the language: so have American Redskins and Indian sepoys. The Italianate Englishman of Queen Elizabeth’s time of whom Shakespeare made fun and famous writers like Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift have left something of value in the English word—hoard. It is no doubt, that such statement might fairly be made about other language and their history; but what stands out so remarkably about English is the abundance, the unparalleled variety and the length of the time during which foreign influences have been effective.

Further, no other language has so much copious and heterogeneous material. In historical linguistics the contribution of particular foreign language to another is referred to as borrowing . In common parlance, ‘borrowing’ means getting something form somebody on the understanding that it is to be returned. Luckily, this definition does not apply to words which are borrowed, never to be returned. Linguists wonder whether ‘stealing’ might be a more appropriate term for this phenomenon. As Haugen says” The borrowing takes place without the lender’s consent or even awareness and the borrower is under no obligation to repay the loan.

One might as well call it stealing, were it is not the owner is deprived of nothing and feels no urge to recover his goods. The process might be called adoption, for the speaker does adopt element from a second language into its own. Even though English language has adopted variety of languages into it, the basic structure of the English language has not changed. English language’s basic structure is, it has fixed word order. Due to more than two hundred years of English rule, Tamil has borrowed copiously from English. Now these words are not recognized as foreign at all.

One hears an uneducated Tamil speaker use words like office school, ticket, gate, bus etc. In fact, practically no one remembers the Tamil equivalent of these words. The problem arises for the second language learners only when they were asked to use the language or reproducing it. Tamil is Dravidian language spoken by more than 65 million people. It is the official language of Tamil nadu state in India and one of the official languages of Srilanka also. Large Tamil-speaking communities also reside in South Africa,Singapore, Malaysia and the other Indian ocean islands.

The earliest Tamil inscriptions dates from 200B. C. The literature in the language have a 2,000-year history. There are 247 letters in the Tamil alphabet. The 247 letters in the Tamil alphabet can be divided into 12 vowels 18 consonants, 216 vowel consonants and 1 special letter. The vowel consonants are formed by combining the vowel letters and consonants letters. The vowel-consonants letters also have long and short sounds. The History of English is divided into three ages. Old English, Middle English and Modern English.

There are 26 letters and 44 sounds, in that there 6 pure vowels and 18 diphthongs and 20 consonants in English language. Compared to Tamil language English has less number of letters ,but ironically language that has 247 letters(Tamil) has limited in terms of vocabulary, but English language that has 26 letters has million words. According THE HINDU newspaper which published an article duirng 2006, The department of Tamil language in the University of Madras has benn revising, enlarging and updating the Tamil lexicon.

During 1924-39, the University of Madras had Published the Tamil Lexicon in seven volumes comprising 124,405 entries. Such a dictionary was pioneering venture in the pre-independence period. Prof. Vaiyapuri Pillai had played a huge role in the complication and publication. There have been persistent demands for updating and expanding the lexicon. The many social, political and technological changes in the six-decade period have direct bearing on the Tamil language. It is in this background that the Department of Tamil language of the Madras University had out forth its plan to revise enlarge and update the lexicon.

The present Tamil lexicon, under preparation ,will come out in 10 volumes, comprising atleast 500,000 entries ,will be bilingual in nature and at the same time render the meaning chronologically. On top of the vast difference in the number of letters in their alphabet, the Tamil language also differs in many grammatical items compared to the English language. The earliest period of English was formerly called as ANGLO SAXON. The history of English language is divided into three main periods .

They are old English (from earliest writings till 1100) Middle English extends from about 1100A. D- 1450A. D, from 1450A. D till date its Modern English. The English language is spoken or read by the largest number of people in the world, for historical, political and economic reasons. First and foremost feature of English language is its extraordinary receptive and adaptable heterogeneousness-the varied ease and readiness with which it has taken to itself material from almost everywhere in the world and has made the new elements of language its own.

Throughout its history English has accepted with equinamity words from other languages with which it has been in contact. Foreign elements with ease and assimilated them all to its character. Though it is copiousness of vocabulary is outstanding. A second outstanding characteristic of English is simplicity of inflexion-the ease with which it indicates the relationship of words in a sentence with only the minimum of change in their shapes or variation of endings. A third quality of English is its relatively fixed-word order.

An inflected language like Latin or Russian can afford to be fairly free in the arrangement of its words, since the inflexions show clearly the proper relationship in the sentence and ambiguity is unlikely. Of all world languages, English has probably the vocabulary which is most copious, heterogeneous and varied. All the peoples with whom its speakers have come into contact during more than thirteen centuries of the growth, have left permanent marks on the language. Some of the contacts have been deep and lasting like those of ancient Rome and France.

Others have been casual like those of Spain or Czechoslovakia. During the Roman invasion, the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. While the Roman soldiers in town used Latin, the Britons in the countryside spoke Celtic. Later this was replaced by English. The history of the English language in Britain begins with the settlement of the Angels, Saxons and Jutes in Brtian. These three tribes came from the plains near Schelswing Holstein in North Germany. They had to encounter varying degrees of hostility from the Celts. For mutual protection the tribes combined into small kingdoms.

The most important among these were: Northumbria, Mercia. East Anglia, Wessex, Sussex, Essex and Kent. Under King Alfred Wessex enjoyed the leadership in learning. The English language of today reflects many centuries of developments. The political and social history of England has exerted a considerable impact on the language. The Christianizing of Britain in 597 brought English into contact with Latin civilization and many Latin words were added to the English vocabulary. Then the Scandinavian invasion resulted in considerable two people and their languages.

For two centuries after the Norman Conquest English remained the language of the lower classes. When English once more gained importance, it had been considerably changed from what it was in 1066. In a similar way the Hundred Years’ War, the rise of an important middle class, the Renaissance the development of the British empire, the growth of commerce and industry, science and literature have all contributed to make the English language what it is today. In short the English language reflects in its entire development the political, social and cultural history of the English people.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 17 November 2016

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