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A History of the English Language

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1 A History of the English Language
Year 11 English Language

2 Language What is a language?

3 Language Currently there are 6000 different languages in the world being heard, spoken, signed, seen, read and written. There are also thousands more that were used in the past that are classified as ‘dead’ and are no longer spoken. These languages have been grouped into ‘families’. To be grouped together, the languages must have similarities or be traced to a common ancestor.

4 Language English belongs to one of the biggest language ‘families’ called the Indo-European family. Other languages in this family include Greek, French, Gaelic, German and Spanish. They all share an earlier common language called Proto-Indo-European or PIE for short. Some linguists believe that PIE was spoken as far back as 4000 BC, yet its origin is unsure with Russia, India and Turkey as possibilities. Nevertheless, it spread as people migrated and settled in different parts of the globe. The way each group of people spoke slowly began to change and what was PIE had transformed itself into hundreds of different languages.

5 Timeline 4000BC – Cuneiform used in Iraq
3000BC – Hieroglyphics used in Egypt 1500BC – Phoenician alphabet developed 600BC – Etruscan alphabet developed BC – Rise of the ancient Greeks 450 AD – German tribes arrive in Britain 1066AD – William the Conqueror takes over England 1440AD – Printing Press invented 1564AD – William Shakespeare born 1755AD – Dr Johnson’s ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ was published 1828AD – Noah Webster’s ‘American Dictionary of the English Language’ was published 1983AD – Introduction of the internet

6 The First Alphabets The earliest form of writing came from Iraq in approximately 4000BC. It was called cuneiform meaning ‘wedge shaped’. Wedges were pressed into a soft clay, thus making symbols or signs to represent words and sounds. There were 1500 different combinations – compare this to our alphabet of 26 letters today!

7 The First Alphabets Egyptians, on the other hand, carved or drew pictures to represent sounds or ideas. This form of writing was known as ‘hieroglyphics’, meaning ‘holy writing’ as it was mainly holy priests who used the language. In the writing systems like cuneiform and hieroglyphics, some of the symbols or signs represented sounds, whilst others stood for ideas or whole words. They could also be combined.

8 The First Alphabets It was the Phoenicians who are said to have developed the first actual alphabet. They lived north of Egypt near Lebanon and Syria. The first two letters were ‘aleph’ and ‘beth’. Aleph + beth = Alphabet! The Phoenician alphabet had 22 letters – all consonants. The first bible – written in ancient Hebrew, was based on the Phoenician alphabet.

9 The First Alphabets The alphabet was also adopted by the ancient Greeks. In 1000BC they created additional letters (vowels). The ancient Greek alphabet turned into the alphabet for Russian, Bulgarian and additional languages in this area of the globe. The Greek alphabet was adopted and changed by the Etruscans in Italy who were an ancient people living in Italy before the Romans.

10 The First Alphabets The Romans adapted the alphabet used by the Etruscans, using it for their language – Latin! It is this alphabet which we use to write English as well as French, Spanish and Italian and... It is the most widely used alphabet in the world. Popular computer font – ‘Roman’.

11 Old English In terms of languages, English isn’t very old. Starting in England, it began approximately 1500 years ago. Prior to English, the people of the United Kingdom (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) spoke Celtic languages.

12 Old English West Germanic invaders from Jutland and southern Denmark began populating the British Isles in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. The three groups of invaders were Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. Together they were called Anglo-Saxons.

13 Old English The words England and English come from the word Angle.
The people spoke a mutual language that is called Old English. The ‘Anglo-Saxons brought their own alphabet with them called runes, which is what Old English is written in!

14 Old English Christian monks from Ireland and other parts of Europe also arrived in ‘England’. They each wrote and spoke in Latin, thus using the Roman alphabet. Over time they began to speak Old English / Anglo Saxon too, but they used the Roman alphabet as it was much easier to use than runes.

15 Old English These invaders pushed the original, Celtic-speaking inhabitants out of what is now England into Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, leaving behind a few Celtic words. These Celtic languages survive today in Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland and in Welsh.

16 Old English The Vikings invaded England in the 9th and 10th centuries.
The language they spoke, Old Norse, also used runes. Monks continued to use the Roman alphabet to write Old English.

17 Old English About half of the most commonly used words in modern English have Old English roots. Words like be, water and strong, for example, derive from Old English roots.

18 Middle English William the conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England and the Anglo-Saxons in 1066AD. He spoke in French, as well as his fellow conquerors, but they also used the Roman alphabet. The new royalty spoke a dialect of Old French known as Anglo-Norman.

19 Middle English As William the Conqueror spoke French, it became what is known as an ‘official language’ of England. It is from this point that quite a few ‘silent’ letters infiltrated English from French, where letters like ‘h’ are not pronounced. For example, ‘h’ in ‘hour’comes from the French ‘heure’ spoken as ‘er’.

20 Middle English People also started including letters in English words that weren’t even French in origin ‘to make them look more French’. For example, ‘u’ was added to ‘labor’ and ‘color’ – originally Latin words. People also felt that English should look more like Latin and as a consequence, a ‘b’ crept into words like ‘doubt’. Originally it had been omitted as people didn’t pronounce it. The words ‘psalm’ and ‘rhubarb’ had origins in ancient Greek, which used the letters ‘psi’ and ‘rho’.

21 Middle English The way people spoke over time changed, even though the way they spelt words didn’t. *NB: The Great Vowel Shift started in the midst of the 15th century. The Shift refers to the change in the way that people pronounced their vowels (a, e, i, o, u). These sounds shifted to another area in their mouth. For example, ‘goot’ became ‘goat’. With this change in pronunciation, letters were included in words or they disappeared because they were written down differently.

22 Middle English The influence of the Normans can be illustrated by looking at two words, beef and cow. Beef commonly eaten by aristocracy, derives from the Anglo-Norman, while the Anglo-Saxon commoners, who tended the cattle, retained the Germanic cow.

23 Middle English Many legal terms, such as indict, jury and verdict have Anglo-Norman roots because the Normans ran the courts. Over time, the French nobles lost their loyalty to France and began to speak a modified English instead of Anglo-Norman.

24 Middle English In 1349, the Black Death developed, killing about one-third of the English population. The middle class grew in economic and social importance, and along with them, English increased in importance compared to Anglo-Norman. The mixture of the two languages came to be known as middle English.

25 Early Modern English The next wave of innovation in English came with the Renaissance. The revival of classical scholarship brought many classical Latin and Greek words into the language.

26 Early Modern English Students having difficulty understanding Shakespeare would be surprised to learn that he wrote in modern English. Many familiar words and phrases were coined or first recorded by Shakespeare. Words he bequeathed to the language include ‘critical’, ‘leapfrog’, ‘majestic’ and ‘dwindle’. Some 2,000 words and countless catch phrases are his. Newcomers to Shakespeare are often shocked at the number of clichés in his plays until they realise that he coined them and they became clichés afterward. ‘One fell swoop’, ‘vanish into thin air’ and ‘flesh and blood’ are all Shakespeare’s.

27 Early Modern English Two other major factors influenced the language and served to separate Middle and Modern English. The first factor was the Great Vowel Shift. Long vowel sounds began to be made higher in the mouth and the letter ‘e’ at the end of words became silent. In Middle English name was pronounced ‘nam-a’, five was pronounced ‘feef’ and down was pronounced ‘doon’.

28 Early Modern English The last major factor in the development of Modern English was the advent of the printing press. William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476. Books became cheaper, and, as a result, literacy became more common. Publishing for the masses became a profitable enterprise, and works in English, as opposed to Latin, became more common. Finally, the printing press brought standardization to English. The dialect of London, where most publishing houses were located, became the standard. Spelling became fixed, and the first English dictionary was published in 1604.

29 Late Modern English The principal distinction between ‘early’ and ‘late’ modern English is vocabulary. Pronunciation, grammar and spelling are largely the same, but Late Modern English has many more words. These words are a result of two historical factors. The first is the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the technological society. The second was the expanding British Empire.

30 Late Modern English At its height, Britain ruled one quarter of the earth’s surface, and English adopted many foreign words and made them its own. Hindi, and the other languages of the Indian subcontinent, provided many words such as pundit, shampoo and pyjamas.

31 Late Modern English Virtually every language on earth has contributed to the development of English, from Finnish (sauna) and Japanese (tycoon) to the vast contributions of French and Latin.

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