(24) The development of the English language.
The Germanic tribes, Jutes, Saxons and the
Angles, came to England around the 5th century AD and began to live in the
Jutland, Holstein and Schleswig areas. Later on the Jutes settled in Kent
and the southern Hampshire, the Saxons in the rest of the south of the
Thames area and the modern Middlesex, and the Angles spread throughout the
rest of England and as far as up to the Scottish lowlands. In Germanic,
Angles were called the Angli, and that was transformed to Engle in Old
English, and thus the land of all the three tribes was collectively called
(Engle + land) England. The Jutes, Saxons and Angles still held their
dialects separately. Later on two separate Anglian dialects developed. The
dialect of the north of Humber river was called Northumbrian
and of the south was called the Mercian. Also the Saxons
dialect was called West Saxon as they were settled in the west, and
the dialect of Jutes was called the Kentish who were on the
southern and eastern sides of the river Thames. Thus, there were four main
dialects in England.
In the beginning, the Northumbrians held prominence in
literature and culture, but after the Viking invasions (793-865) the
cultural leadership went to the West Saxon group. In the later part of 9th
century the Parker Chronicle (or Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) was written, and
thus, West Saxon’s dialect became the “Standard Old English.” According to
the literary development of the English language, it could be classified
as: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern
Old English (9th and 10th century).
The English language uses the Latin alphabet of 26
consonants and vowels. In the beginning there were very few words of
general use like, words of kinship: faeder, modor, brothor, sweostor,
and dohtor; 25 names with their inflections like mon, men
(man, men) and some adjectives and verbs. There were two demonstratives:
se, seo, thaet (that) and thes, theos (this) but there were
no (‘a’ or ‘the’) articles. So ‘the good man’ was written as ‘se
(that) goda mon,’ and ‘a good man’ was written as ‘an (one)
goda mon.’ Verbs had only two tenses, present-future and past with
their inflections. Hors (horse) and maegden (maiden) were
neuter gender; eorthe (earth) was feminine but lond (land)
was neuter; sunne (sun) was feminine, but mona (moon) was
masculine. Inflections were used in abundance, so the word order in a
sentence was not of much importance in those days as long as the theme was
understood. But Old English is totally incomprehensible for a Modern
English knower. It was more like the modern German of today. For example:
Hie ne dorston forth bi th ere ea siglan (They dared not sail
beyond that river).
Modern English (1660 onward).
1660 to 1700 is called the Restoration period
because the Parliament, on the public urge, restored the monarchy under
Charles II. The period between 1700 and 1750 is called the ‘Augustan
Age of English literature’ because the English writers of this period
tried to capture the soul of the Latin literature of the period of King
Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), which was considered the peak of the development
of Latin literature when Virgil, Horace and Ovid produced
The further development of English literature happened
with the publication of Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English
Language” in 1755, and Robert Lowth’s grammar in 1761. The
extensive (two volume) work of Samuel Johnson was simplified by the single
volume of his dictionary in 1756 which continued to be used up to the 20th
century. In fact, since the 13th century, every century had its reformers
of the English language.
The grammarians of the 18th century like Robert Lowth
and James Buchanan etc. took a critical view and spent a lot of time in
correcting the shortcomings and the improprieties of the English language
that were commonly in use. For example: ‘I had rather not,’ ‘a third
alternative,’ ‘more perfect,’ and ‘you was’ etc. The ‘you
was’ term was very commonly used among educated people in those days.
It was changed to ‘thou wast’ and then to ‘thou wert’ and
finally to ‘you were.’ They held the view that Latin was still a
superior language. During that time Lindley Murray published his
Grammar in 1795 followed by English Reader in 1799 and
English Spelling Book in 1804. During that period Noah Webster
(1758-1843) produced his Spelling Book in 1783, the first edition of his
American Dictionary of English Language in 1828 and a
subsequent edition in 1840.
Vocabulary of Modern English.
The vocabulary of English language is a mixture of
Germanic (Old English and Scandinavian), Greek, Latin and French where
almost half of it is Germanic and Greek and half is Latin and French with
some of the words from almost all of the notable languages of the world as
it had taken free admission from everywhere.
A sample of other adaptations are: Spanish-cigar,
mosquito, tornado, tomato (tomate) and potato (patata). Hebrew-amen,
manna, messiah, rabbi and jubilee. Norwegian-ski. Finnish-
sauna. Russian-mammoth and vodka. Czech-robot. Hungarian-paprika.
Portuguese-marmalade, flamingo and molasses. Turkish-turban,
coffee and caviar. Hindi-sahib, maharajah, jungle, cheetah, karma,
mantra and dhoti. Persian-divan, purdah, bazaar and chess. Tamil-curry.
Chinese-tea. Japanese-judo and jujitsu. Malay-ketchup,
sago and bamboo. Polynesian-taboo and tattoo. African languages-mumbo
jumbo and voodoo. Caribbean-hammock, hurricane and tobacco. These
are just a few examples of adaptations.
(19th and 20th century) In 1864 Frederick James
Furnivall founded the Early English Text Society to initiate the
revival of the Medieval English literature and to synchronize it with the
gradual development of the English language. As a result of that “A New
English Dictionary on Historical Principles,” edited by Sir James A.H.
Murray and assisted by three more editors, Bradley, Charles Onions and
Craigie, was published in 12 volumes along with its supplements from 1884
to 1928. It gives the inventory and the history of words in use from 1150
up to 1500 of all the five dialects of the Middle English. After 1500 only
literary English words are taken, not the dialecticals. It enormously
contains the quotations from the English literature and records, and
incorporates the words that have entered into English vocabulary from the
earliest records to the existing date along with their history and origin.
It contains more than 15,000 pages and over 400,000 words. A revised and
concise edition of this dictionary called “The Oxford English
Dictionary” was first published in 1933.
Dialects of Modern English. There are a number of dialects and
subdialects in United Kingdom. For instance, Southeast England, Northern,
Midland, Norfolk, South Western, Wales and Lowland Scottish etc. Then, the
English speech of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, India,
Gulf countries and Africa has its own peculiarity.
The latest form of the most advanced English language.
The English language is considered to be the world
language of today. It has an extensive amount of words not found in other
languages and its rich vocabulary may sufficiently accommodate all the
situations of a social and technical nature. But, even at the maximum
height of its evolution (which took a full 1,500 years since the arrival
of the Germanic people in England in the 5th century AD) could you be sure
of the spellings of the names of people or their pronunciations unless you
are told? Isn’t it a dilemma that the vowels have no fixed sound or
phonetic value, like, father, eye, now, son, sun,
where a, e, o and u, all of them sound as
a, (long or short), and o is either o or a as in
Joan, John, Johnny? It is because the basic
alphabetic structure was scientifically wrong from the very beginning;
and this is the case with all other languages of the world.