Showing posts with label History of English Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History of English Language. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Emergence of English as an Unrivalled Global Lingua Franca

English is a global language and as a language its prominence in our day to day life has been unquestionably proven. Occupying the third world by number of native speakers and first place as a second language, English reigns in business, culture, communication and the Internet. Political power and the successive waves of colonization of the British Empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, replaced by political influence, military and economic U.S. since the late nineteenth to the present day are some of the leading factors that have caused the quick dissemination of English language all over the world.English is spoken by over 400 million users worldwide. 200 million of them live in North America and 60 million in the British Isles. Mother tongue of 15 million people in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, English is the second language of millions of people in India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Bangladesh, Philippines and many other countries.

Influence of Empire

The first factor that caused the dissemination of English language is the expansion of the British Empire. The British Empire expanded dramatically, and during the 1700s British English established footholds in parts of Africa, in India, Australia and New Zealand. The colonisation process in these countries varied. In Australia and New Zealand, European settlers quickly outnumbered the indigenous population and so English was established as the dominant language. In India and Africa, however, centuries of colonial rule saw English imposed as an administrative language, spoken as a mother tongue by colonial settlers from the UK, but in most cases as a second language by the local population.

English as administrative language 

English has been accepted as administrative language in some countries where English is not the first language. Elsewhere in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent, English is still used as an official language, even though these countries are independent of British rule. However, English remains very much a second language for most people, used in administration, education and government and as a means of communicating between speakers of diverse languages. As with most of the Commonwealth, British English is the model on which, for instance, Indian English or Nigerian English is based. In the Caribbean and especially in Canada, however, historical links with the UK compete with geographical, cultural and economic ties with the USA, so that some aspects of the local varieties of English follow British norms and others reflect US usage.

An international language

English is also hugely important as an international language and plays an important part even in countries where the UK has historically had little influence. It is learnt as the principal foreign language in most schools in Western Europe. It is also an essential part of the curriculum in far-flung places like Japan and South Korea, and is increasingly seen as desirable by millions of speakers in China. Prior to WWII, most teaching of English as a foreign language used British English as its model, and textbooks and other educational resources were produced here in the UK for use overseas. This reflected the UK's cultural dominance and its perceived ‘ownership’ of the English Language. Since 1945, however, the increasing economic power of the USA and its unrivaled influence in popular culture has meant that American English has become the reference point for learners of English in places like Japan and even to a certain extent in some European countries. British English remains the model in most Commonwealth countries where English is learnt as a second language.

Moreover, as the world's leading powers mainly speak English, other countries that want to do business with those countries must learn English. Many people hope to immigrate or go to school in English speaking countries so it is important that they learn the language.

Undoubtedly in the modern life the Internet and the media are the driving forces of this process. As most of the technologies are operated by English language, so it also helps the dispersal of English language.

However, as the history of English has shown, this situation may not last indefinitely. The increasing commercial and economic power of countries like India, for instance, might mean that Indian English will one day begin to have an impact beyond its own borders.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Features of the Middle English

In the development of the English language the Middle English is the stage during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century. Middle English developed out of Late Old English in Norman England (1066-1154). The Middle English period ended at about 1470, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the introduction of the printing press to England by William Caxton in the late 1470s. At the beginning of the period English is a language that must be learned like a foreign tongue; at the end it is Modern English.

The Middle English period (1150–1500) was marked by momentous changes in the English language, changes more extensive and fundamental than those that have taken place at any time before or since. Some of them were the result of the Norman Conquest and the conditions which followed in the wake of that event. Others were a continuation of tendencies that had begun to manifest themselves in Old English.
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Decay of Inflectional Endings

The changes in English grammar may be described as a general reduction of inflections. Endings of the noun and adjective marking distinctions of number and case and often of gender were so altered in pronunciation as to lose their distinctive form and hence their usefulness. To some extent the same thing is true of the verb. This leveling of inflectional endings was due partly to phonetic changes, partly to the operation of analogy. The phonetic changes were simple but far-reaching.

Loss of Grammatical Gender

Another feature of the middle English is the Loss of Grammatical Gender. Old English had grammatical genders (m., f., and n.), like the modern continental languages. And like its modern counterparts, Old English sometimes exhibited a disparity between grammatical and biological gender. Hence þæt wif, “the woman” (n.), se stan, “the stone” (m.), or seo giefu, “the gift” (f.). But starting in the tenth century, we begin to see the loss of grammatical gender in Old English. This loss begins in the north of England and over the next few centuries spreads south, until grammatical gender is completely gone from the language by the middle of the fourteenth century. The loss of grammatical gender is pretty much complete in Northumbria by the beginning of the eleventh century. By the middle of that century the loss becomes apparent in texts from the Midlands and is largely complete there by the beginning of the thirteenth century, although some Midlands dialects retain vestiges of grammatical gender until the end of the thirteenth century. The south of England loses grammatical gender over the course of the late-eleventh through thirteenth centuries, and Kent is the last holdout, maintaining grammatical gender into the middle of the fourteenth century.

Middle English Syntax

For the most part, Middle English syntax (or sentence structure) is similar to Modern English. The default, or basic, word order is Subject-Verb-Object. The most direct way to avoid this kind of ambiguity is through limiting the possible patterns of word order. The process of development from the highly synthetic stage of Old English (see § 40) to the highly analytic stages of Late Middle English and Modern English can be seen in the Peterborough Chronicle. Written in installments between 1070 and 1154, this text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronide spans the period from Old English to Early Middle English. Within the continuations of the text it is possible to trace first a significant loss of inflections and afterwards a corresponding rigidity of word order, making clear the direction of cause and effect.

French Influence on the Vocabulary

 French influence is much more direct and observable upon the vocabulary on the middle English. Where two languages exist side by side for a long time and the relations between the people speaking them are as intimate as they were in England, a considerable transference of words from one language to the other is inevitable. The number of French words that poured into English was unbelievably great. There is nothing comparable to it in the previous or subsequent history of the language.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some Characteristics of Old English

The pronunciation of Old English words commonly differs somewhat from that of their modern equivalents. The long vowels in particular have undergone considerable modification. Thus the Old English word stan is the same word as Modern English stone, but the vowel is different. Words like heafod (head), fæger (fair), or sawol (soul) show forms that have been contracted in later English. All of these cases represent genuine differences of pronunciation.
The a sound has shifted to the sound of o in Modern English. Other vowels have also undergone changes, e.g.

fōt (Old English ) —— foot (Modern English)
cēne (Old English ) —— keen (Modern English)
hū (Old English ) —— how  (Modern English)

However, some of the first look of strangeness that Old English has to the modern reader is due simply to differences of spelling. Old English made use of two characters to represent the sound of th: þ and ð, thorn and eth, respectively, as in the word wiþ (with) or ða (then), which we no longer employ.

Old English represented the sound of th by p and ð as in the word wiρ (O. E.) —— with (Mod. E.), and the word ðā (O. E.) —— then (Mod. E.), the sound of sh by sc as in scēap (O. E.) —— sheep (Mod. E.) or scēotan (O. E.) —— shoot (Mod. E.), and the sound of k by c as in cynn (O. E.) —— kin (Mod. E.) or nacod (O. E.) —— naked (Mod. E.).

The vocabulary of Old English consisted mainly of Anglo-Saxon words. But when the Norman Conquest in 1066 brought French to England much of the English vocabulary was replaced by words borrowed from French and Latin. If we open any Old English dictionary, we find that about 85 percent of the Old English vocabulary was no longer in use during this period. Of course, the basic elements of the vocabulary have remained. They express fundamental concepts of human life, such as: mann (man); wīf (wife), cild (child), hūs (house), bern (bench), mete (meat , food) , gærs (grass), lēaf (leaf) , fugol (fowl, bird), gōd (good), hēah (high), strang (strong), etan (eat), drincan ( drink ), slæpan (sleep ), libban (live ) . feohtan (fight), etc.

Old English was a highly inflected language. It had a complete system of declensions with four cases and conjugations. So Old English grammar differs from Modern English grammar in declensions and conjugations.

There are two classes of languages in the world: synthetic and analytic. A synthetic language is one which shows the relation of words in a sentence largely by means of inflections. An analytic language is one which indicates the relation of words in a sentence by means of word order, prepositions or auxiliary verbs, rather than by inflections.

Old English is a synthetic language. Old English nouns and adjectives have four cases: the nominative case, the genitive case, the dative case and the accusative case. Apart from these four cases, Latin nouns have the ablative and the locative cases. That is to say, Latin nouns have six cases just like Modern Russian nouns.
Take a Latin sentence for example.

The sentence “Nero interfecit Agrippinam.” (Nero killed Agrippina.) has the same meaning as the sentence “Agrippinam interfecit Nero.” This is because the word Nero is in the nominative case, and the word Agrippinain is in the accusative case. Therefore no matter where these words stand, they express the same meaning.

In Modern English, a noun used as a subject and object does not have different forms. There remain today only two case forms: those of the nominative case and the possessive case: man, man’s. Modern English depends upon word order to show the relation of words in a sentence. Different word order may result in different meaning. The sentence “Nero killed Agrippina.” is completely opposite to the sentence “Agrippina killed Nero.” in meaning.


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

What are the assets of English language?

English, the world’s lingua franca, has some intrinsic assets as well as liabilities. Today’s English language reflects many centuries of development. During this long journey, English has enriched itself from its contacts to other languages and cultures. Now, in number of speakers as well as uses for international communication, English is one of the most important languages of the world. But apart from the advantages, English also has some disadvantages which are also not negligible. Here follows a discussion on the relative advantages and disadvantages of English language. 

 In A History of The English Language, Abert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable pointed out three assets of English language which are as follows.

Rich vocabulary

One of the prominent assets of the English language is its enriched vocabulary. English has got mixed character of it’s vocabulary. English is classified as a Germanic language. That is to say,it belongs to the group of languages to which German, Dutch, Flemish, Swedish, and Norwegian also belong. It shares with these languages similar grammatical structure and many common words. On the other hand, more than half of its vocabulary is derived from Latin. Some of these borrowings have been direct, a great many through French, some through the other Romance languages. As a result, English also share a great number of words with those languages of Europe. To a lesser extend the English vocabulary contains borrowings from many other languages. Instead of making new words chiefly by the combination of existing elements, English has borrowed from Hebrew and Arabic, Hungarian, Hindi- Urdu, Bengali, Malay, Chinese, the languages of Java, Australia, Polynesia, West Africa and from one of the aboriginal languages of Brazil. And it has assimilated these heterogeneous elements so successfully. So,  cosmopolitan a vocabulary is an undoubted asset to any language that seeks to attain international use. Some examples of foreign words that are in use in English language.

Words from Italian language: balcony, canto, duet
Words from Spanish: alligator, cargo, mosquito
Words from Persian : jasmine, dervish, divan

Inflectional simplicity: 

A second asset that English possesses to a preeminent degree is inflectional simplicity. In the process of simplification, English has gone further than any other language in Europe. Inflections in the noun as spoken have been reduced to a sign of the plural and a form for the possessive case e.g. boy, boys and boy, boy’s etc. The elaborate Germanic inflection of the adjective has been completely eliminated except for the simple indication of the comparative and the superlative degrees e.g. fast, faster, fastest. The verb has been simplified by the loss of practically all the personal endings, the almost complete abandonment of any distinction between the singular and the plural, and the gradual discard of the subjunctive mood. The complicated agreements that make German difficult for the non-native speaker are absent from English.

Natural gender:

In the third place, English enjoys an exceptional advantage over all other major European languages in having adopted natural gender. Other European languages such as French require a student memorizing, along with the meaning of every noun, its gender.  In the Romance languages, for example, there are only two genders- masculine or feminine. In the Germanic languages, the distribution of the three genders appears to the English student to be quite arbitrary. The distinction must be constantly kept in mind. In Germany, for example, sonne (sun) is feminine and mond (moon) is masculine. In the English language all this was stripped away during the Middle English period. Gender in English is determined by meaning all nouns naming living creatures are masculine or feminine according to the sex of the individual, and all other nouns are neuter. But when English speakers speak of a ship as feminine, sun and moon as masculine or feminine, they only mean to use them is rhetorical purpose , but not for grammatical purpose.


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