A History of the English Language
Before the Germanic tribes arrived, the Celts were the original inhabitants of Britain. When the Germanic tribes invaded England, they pushed the Celt-speaking inhabitants out of England into what is now Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland. The Celtic language survives today in the Gaelic languages, and some scholars speculate that the Celtic tongue might have influenced the grammatical development of English, though the influence would have been minimal (Bryson 1990). Around A.D. 850, Vikings or Norsemen made a significant impact on the English language by importing many North Germanic words into the language. From the middle of the ninth century, large numbers of Norse invaders settled in Britain, especially in the northern and eastern areas and, in the eleventh century, a Danish (Norse) King, Canute, ruled England. The North Germanic speech of the Norsemen had a fundamental influence on English. They added basic words such as “that,” “they,” and “them,” and also may have been responsible for some of the morphological simplification of Old English, including the loss of grammatical gender and cases (Bragg 2003). The majority of words that constitute Modern English do not come from Old English roots (only about one sixth of known Old English words have descendants surviving today), but almost all of the 100 most commonly used words in modern English do have Old English roots. Words like “water,” “strong,” “the,” “of,” “a,” “he” “no” and many other basic modern English words derive from Old English (Bragg 2003). Still, the English language we know today is a far cry from its Old English ancestor. This is evidenced in the epic poem Beowulf, which is the best known surviving example of Old English (McCrum, et al 1986), but which must be read in translation to modern English by all but those relative few who have studied the work in the original. The Old English period ended with the Norman Conquest, when the language was influenced to an even greater extent by the French-speaking Normans. The Norman Conquest and Middle English (1100-1500)
In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England and the Anglo-Saxons. After the invasion, the Norman kings and the nobility spoke a dialect of Old French known as Anglo-Norman, while English continued to be the language of the common people. This class distinction can still be seen in the English language today in words such as “beef” vs. “cow” and “pork” vs. “pig.” The aristocracy commonly ate beef and pork, which are derivatives of Anglo-Norma, while the Anglo-Saxon commoners, who tended the cattle and hogs, retained the Germanic and ate cow and pig. Many legal terms, such as “indict,” “jury,” and “verdict” also have Anglo-Norman roots because the Normans ruled the courts. It was not uncommon for French words to replace Old English words; for example, “uncle” replaced “eam” and “crime” replaced “firen.” French and English also combined to form new words, such as the French “gentle” and the Germanic “man” forming “gentleman” (Bryson1990). To this day, French-based words hold a more official connotation than do Germanic-based ones. When the English King John lost the province of Normandy to the King of France in 1204, the Norman nobles of England began to lose interest in their properties in France and began to adopt a modified English as their native tongue. When the bubonic plague 黑死病devastated Europe, the dwindling population served to consolidate wealth. The old feudal system crumbled as the new middle class grew in economic and social importance as did their language in relation to Anglo-Norman. The highly inflected system of Old English gave way to, broadly speaking, the same system of English found today which, unlike Old English, does not use distinctive word endings. Unlike Old English, Middle English can be read (albeit with some difficulty) by modern English speakers. By 1362, the linguistic division...
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