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A Brief Look At The History Of English

2007 words - 9 pages

The history of English is conventionally, if perhaps too neatly, divided into three periods usually called Old English (or Anglo-Saxon), Middle English, and Modern English. The earliest period begins with the migration of certain Germanic tribes from the continent to Britain in the fifth century A. D., though no records of their language survive from before the seventh century, and it continues until the end of the eleventh century or a bit later. By that time Latin, Old Norse (the language of the Viking invaders), and especially the Anglo-Norman French of the dominant class after the Norman Conquest in 1066 had begun to have a substantial impact on the lexicon, and the well-developed ...view middle of the document...

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). Others, however, have vanished from our lexicon, mostly without a trace, including several that were quite common words in Old English: eft "again," ðeode "people, nation," cwæð "said, spoke," gehatene "called, named," wlite "appearance, beauty," and geferan "companions." Recognition of some words is naturally hindered by the presence of two special characters, þ, called "thorn," and ð, called "edh," which served in Old English to represent the sounds now spelled with th.Other points worth noting include the fact that the pronoun system did not yet, in the late tenth century, include the third person plural forms beginning with th-: hi appears where we would use they. Several aspects of word order will also strike the reader as oddly unlike ours. Subject and verb are inverted after an adverb -- þa cwæð he "Then said he" -- a phenomenon not unknown in Modern English but now restricted to a few adverbs such as never and requiring the presence of an auxiliary verb like do or have. In subordinate clauses the main verb must be last, and so an object or a preposition may precede it in a way no longer natural: þe hi of comon "which they from came," for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað "because they angels' beauty have."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. Nouns, adjectives, and even the definite article are inflected for gender, case, and number: ðære ðeode "(of) the people" is feminine, genitive, and singular, Angle "Angles" is masculine, accusative, and plural, and swilcum "such" is masculine, dative, and plural. The system of inflections for verbs was also more elaborate than ours: for example, habbað "have" ends with the -að suffix characteristic of plural present indicative verbs. In addition, there were two imperative forms, four subjunctive forms (two for the present tense and two for the preterit, or past, tense), and several others which we no longer have. Even where Modern English retains a particular category of inflection, the form has often changed. Old English present participles ended in -ende not -ing, and past participles bore a prefix ge- (as geandwyrd "answered" above).The period of Middle English extends roughly from the twelfth century through the fifteenth. The influence of French...

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