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'the English Language Shows, In Miniature, The History Of England Itself.' Discuss.

2124 words - 8 pages

The Old and Middle English evolved with their influences from the languages of the ruling powers. Manuscripts provide evidence of the changes in orthography and hints at the changing pronunciation as the seat of power passed from the Germanic Anglo-Saxon to the French Norman. As a result, there was a constantly changing relationship from the phonemically characterised spelling of the Old English to one whose spelling may not reflect the pronunciation in the Middle English.The Old English (AD 450-1100)The ruling force that helped shape the Old English language was the Anglo-Saxons (AD 450-850). They hailed from some warrior tribes of Northern Germany such as Jutes, Angles and Saxons. (Graddol, 1996, p 41, 44-45) Their different linguistic background leads to a variation in dialects for the different parts of the country (Graddol, 1996, p 44-45, 134). In an effort to promote a standardized English, King Alfred (AD 849-899) commissioned the translation of some Latin texts into the dialect of West Saxon, the leading political and cultural centre. That made West Saxon the dominant dialect (Graddol, 1996, p 107). Another force that invaded England was the Scandinavian's Vikings. Their linguistic influence was on a smaller scale and fell mainly in the northern part of England (Graddol, 1996, p 72)Although the dialects varied, the manuscripts showed little variation in the spelling of different words. The scribes had agreed on a certain convention for writing. They agreed to base Old English on the Roman alphabet. They modified the Roman set to accommodate the English sound system, such as þ (thorn for th sound) and D (eth for the heavier and thicker th sound). (Graddol, 2002, p 141). Besides, the scribes produced books from a relatively small area with "little dialect variation and effective institutional control (Graddol, 1996, p 72).One example of an English poem of the era was the story of Caedmon from Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Graddol, 1996, p. 111-112). The poem, written in Old English, brings out some of the conventions adopted by King Alfred's scribes. Scholars could not use recordings as evidence for their sounds so they made a few assumptions about the relationship between the sounds and the spelling. First, they assumed that the spelling was close to the pronunciation. That means, unlike modern English, there are neither silent letters nor any other unnecessary letters. Second, the spelling adapted the sound value of spoken Latin, the language with which linguistic scholars have more historical evidence to work on than Old English. Last, the Old English used a combination of known alphabets to represent phoneme in an unfamiliar sound or sounds in unfamiliar position, such as /s/ in sing and /sp/ in sprecende. (Graddol, 1996, p 113).The Middle English (AD 1100-1450)After the Germanic and Scandinavian invaders, the Norman came. They brought along the French language. The court and the aristocrats were drenched in...

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