Discuss with examples how the English Language has changed over time.

Topics: English language, Middle English, History of the English language Pages: 7 (2339 words) Published: June 8, 2004
Benjamin Martin stipulates that no language can ever be permanently the same, but will always be in a variable and fluctuating state. Every existing language undergoes change with time. To the advantage of human beings, these changes occur gradually. Had this not been the case, people would be faced with the task of relearning their native language almost every twenty years. As a result of these changes occurring moderately and gradually, it change is hardly noticeable. Several English language changes are revealed in written records. A wealth of knowledge about of the history of English is available, because it has been written for approximately one thousand years. Changes in a language are the changes in the grammars of those who speak the language. These are disseminated when new generations of children learn the language by acquiring the grammar that has been altered. Observations of the past one thousand years of the English language, reveal changes in the phonological, morphological, syntactic, as well as semantic and lexical components of the grammar. No level of the English language has remained unchanged during the course of history. If English speakers today were to hear the English spoken three hundred years ago, it would sound like a completely foreign language.

Three main stages are usually recognized in the history of the development of the English language. Old English, formerly known as Anglo-Saxon, dates from the period 449 to 1066. Middle English dates from 1066 or 1100 to 1500. Modern English dates from about 1500, and is subdivided into Early Modern English, from the period 1500 to 1660, and Late Modern English, from 1660 to the present time. The fist period of the English Language, Old English, is the ancestor of the Modern English spoken today - although it is somewhat different in appearance and sound. Old English, a variant of West Germanic, was spoken by certain Germanic people, (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes), in the regions presently comprising of southern Denmark and northern Germany. Old English was an inflected language characterized by strong and weak verbs, a dual number for pronouns, for example, a form for "we two" as well as a form for "we". It had two different declensions of adjectives, four declensions of nouns, and grammatical distinctions of gender. Although rich in word-building possibilities, Old English was limited in vocabulary. It borrowed few proper nouns from the language of the conquered Celts. About half of the most commonly used words in modern English have Old English roots. Words such as "be", "water", and "strong", for example, derive from Old English roots. Old English's best known surviving example, is the poem Beowulf written in about the year 1100. A line from Beowulf reads: "Hæfde se góda Géata léoda cempan gecorone þára þe hé cénoste findan mihtefíf-týna sum." In Late Modern English this would be translated as, "The mighty man, had carefully chosen, from the tribes of the Geats, champions, battlers, the best he could find."

At the beginning of the Middle English period, which dates from the Norman Conquest of 1066, the language was still inflectional; at the end of the period the relationship between the elements of the sentence depended basically on word order. However, as early as 1200, the three or four grammatical case forms of nouns in the singular had been reduced to two, and to denote the plural, the noun ending -" es" had been adopted. The declensions of the noun were further simplified by dropping the final n from five cases. Also, by neutralizing all vowel endings to "e", which sounded like the "a" in Modern English "sofa", and by extending the masculine, nominative, and accusative plural ending "as", which were later neutralized also to " es". Only one example of a weak plural ending, oxen, survives in Modern English; "brethren" is a later formation. Several representatives of the Old English modification of the root vowel in the plural, such as "man",...

References: 1. Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., Hyams, N. An Introduction to Language. Thomson-Heinle Corporation Inc. Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich Co. 7th Edition, 2003.
2. "English Language," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2004.
3. "History of the English Language,", by David Wilton, 1997-2004.
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