The Evolution Of English Essay

1036 words - 4 pages

Language A: English Language and Literature Part 1: Language in a Cultural Context Topic - The Evolution of English
The Evolution of the English LanguageThe history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles came from Englaland and their language was called Englisc - from which the words England and English are derived. Germanic invaders entered Britain on the east and south coasts in the 5th century.Old English (450-1100 AD)The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English. Nevertheless, about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots. The words be, strong and water, for example, derive from Old English.Part of Beowulf, a poem written in Old EnglishMiddle English (1100-1500)In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. The new conquerors (called the Normans) brought with them a kind of French, which became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes. For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French. In the 14th century, during the Black Death (1349-1350), English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added. When the plague killed about one third of the English population, the laboring and merchant classes grew in economic and social importance, and along with them English increased in importance. This language is called Middle English. It was the language of the great poet Chaucer (1340-1400). An Example of Middle English, by ChaucerModern EnglishEarly Modern English (1500-1800) An excerpt from Shakespeare's Hamlet.Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation (the Great Vowel Shift) started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases from classical Latin and Greek entered the language. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In 1604 the...

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