Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Discuss the influence of the German conquest on the rise of English language

The English language of today is far different from that of fifth century, or more earlier period. It is the language that has resulted from the history of dialects spoken by the Germanic tribes who came to England to be settled in. By the passage of time it has changed and modified greatly and reached today. One of the main characteristics of the English language is that it is the result of several successive linguistic “invasions”. Each of these invasions has added to the language's linguistic diversity and has had an impact on its form and structure. This, together with its readiness, both historical and current, to incorporate loanwords from other languages has led to its great richness.

Almost directly following the departure of the Romans, and perhaps as early as AD 449, an event occurred that profoundly affected the of history. In that year began the invasion of Britain by certain Germanic tribes including Anglo- Saxons, Angles and Jutes and the true seeds of English were sown. For more than a hundred years the bands of conquerors and settlers migrated from their continental homes in the region of Denmark and the Low Countries and established themselves in the south and east of the island, gradually extending the area they occupied until it included all but the highlands in the west and north. At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They divided the territory into some 12 kingdoms and spent much of their time fighting amongst themselves.

They spoke a mutually intelligible language, similar to modern Frisian--the language of northeastern region of the Netherlands--that is called Old English. Four major dialects of Old English emerged, Northumbrian in the north of England, Mercian in the Midlands, West Saxon in the south and west, and Kentish in the Southeast.

Also influencing English at this time were the Vikings. Norse invasions, beginning around 850, brought many North Germanic words into the language, particularly in the north of England. Some examples are dream, which had meant joy until the Vikings imparted its current meaning on it from the Scandinavian cognate draumr, and skirt, which continues to live alongside its native English cognate shirt. The majority of words in modern English come from foreign, not Old English roots. In fact, only about one sixth of the known Old English words have descendants surviving today. But this statistic is deceptive; Old English is much more important than this number would indicate. About half of the most commonly used words in modern English have Old English roots.

The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English. In fact a page of Old English is likely at first to present a look of greater strangeness than a page of French and Italy because of the employment of certain characters that on longer a part of English alphabet. But Old English shares certain characteristics common to all Germanic languages. It means that English belongs with German and certain other languages because of features it has in common with them.

Thus, the English language owes its origin to the German conquest. The German tribes Anglo, Saxon and Jutes came to England and made it happen what is called old English. From old English gradually emerged the modern today’s  English. 


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.