Late Modern English, a global language spoken around the world by over 2 billion people can trace its roots to the Germanic language introduced by Anglo-Saxon invaders in the 5th century. Before the arrival of the Anglo Saxons, many parts of Britain were bilingual Celtic-Latin speakers, although very few traces of Celtic remain in the English language – other than in place names, for example Avon and Ouse – which derive from the Celtic word for ‘water’, and words found more in local dialects than mainstream English – for example ‘broc’ for badger.
The Germanic languages of the Anglo Saxons themselves evolved as a result of centuries of Roman occupation and interaction among different tribes. Furthermore the invaders did not introduce a single language that can be referenced as ‘ground zero’ for English; rather they brought a mix of dialects that together form the basis of the language. Changes in lexis, orthography, semantics and syntax, the influence from other languages, and modifications in use have combined to produce a language that is, at first glance very different from its Germanic origins. I intend considering the extent to which the English language has changed over the last 1500 years, with particular reference to these linguistic features
Examining different versions of the same text highlights lexical changes over time. An Old English version of Genesis Ch3 v1 bears little resemblance to the modern version, we can pick out a few words – ‘God’, ‘wife’, ‘and’ – but otherwise the language looks completely alien. Similarly comparison of Old and Modern English versions of Caedmons’s Hymn reveal few easily recognisable words a basic knowledge of German, would however offer a clue to others – for example ‘barnum’ meaning children.
Loan words have come in use in English as a result of contact with other nations – through trade, invasion and colonialism. Many words of Norse origin made their way into common usage, and remain today. These...
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