Evolution of the English Language and the Emergence of “World Englishes”
As technology is bringing the world closer together, increasing the contact between peoples of different languages and cultures, the English language has established itself as the tool for communication, becoming the lingua franca of today’s globalized society. This role that English has taken can be traced back to a unique evolutionary history that should be understood on two separate levels. This first level of evolution that English has undergone is in the nature of the language itself. The language has seen an evolution through the changing of words, sayings and pronunciation that has produced a language much different then that of its antecedents. On the second level, is the process and battles the language underwent to achieve linguistic hegemony amongst other world languages.
The evolution of English into the form we know today can be traced back to the amalgamation and assimilation of many different languages and dialects on the British Isles. Linguists and historians have traced the beginning of English to an Anglo-Frisian dialect brought to Britain by a group of Germanic invaders known as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes during the 5th century AD. The invaders called their language ‘Anglisc’ and this is where the modern words English and England originate. The English of this time period is widely known as “Old English” and would be unintelligible to speakers of modern day English.
The next major step in the evolution of the English language occurred in the 10th century when French-speaking William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England. The invading Normans governed England through a French speaking bureaucracy and for a time there existed a linguistic division between the French speaking aristocracy and English-speaking commoners. In the 15th century this gap closed and English re-emerged as the language of the Isle, albeit with the addition of a large number of French words and a slight modification of English pronunciation. This addition of a large number of French words is what contributes to the superficial appearance modern English has of being Romance language like French or Spanish. English of this period, known as “Middle English”, and examples of this are available in writings of the famous poet Chaucer.
Towards the end of the era known as “Middle English”, in the 16th century an event occurred that linguists have dubbed “the great vowel shift”. This event caused a sudden change in the pronunciation of English words, producing shorter pronunciation of most vowels. There are a number of theories as to the cause of this event and its origin remains a subject of intense debate among linguist. One prominent theory states that the shift evolved in response to the influx of immigrants to southeast England after the Black Death and the need for these migrants to shift their accent so that they could be understood. Shortly after...