Development of English

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If you looked at the French and Italian words hundred-cent and cento respectively – you would easily guess that they are related, and they are. They both developed from the Latin word centum. And if you looked at the German word hundert you could recognize it as a close relative of the English word. You would be right again, but you could not prove it quite so easily, because we do not have any written records of the early form of Germanic from which modern English and German developed. We have to prove the relationship by other methods which are too complicated to go into here.

You would probably not guess that hundred and centum are also related; but if you happened to think of these two words along with horn and corno, house and casa, and various other pairs that begin with h in English and c in Italian, you might suspect that these resemblances were systematic, and that English is also related to Italian, although not nearly as closely as French is. Your suspicions would be justified. Experts can trace the relations among all four of these languages and a good many others. We can say roughly that French and Italian are sister languages, both born of Latin; that English and modern German are approximately second cousins; and that English and Italian are something like third cousins twice removed.

Nobody Knows for sure how languages began, or even whether it began just once or at a number of different times and places. What we do know is that some languages, as we have just seen, show evidence of a common origin, while others do not. If our written records went back a few thousands years further it is possible that we might find signs of resemblance between the languages that we have just mentioned and Chinese or Arabic or Navajo. But if such resemblances ever existed, they disappeared a long time ago, and it seems most unlikely that we will ever find any evidence to prove them. We must therefore study them as separate families, though they may have had a common ancestor about which we now know nothing.


English belongs, in a rather complicated way, to the Indo-European family, which includes most of the European languages and a few Asiatic ones. We do not know where the original speakers of the parent Indo-European language lived. Guesses about their homeland range all the way from northwestern Europe to central Asia. According to all the early records they were a tall, blond, and warlike people, with a good deal of energy and intelligence. In their native land they had developed neither writing nor cities, so there is not much evidence about how they lived when they were at home. But when they left home and went out in search of new lands – which they did in various waves from about 2500 B.C. to about 1000 B.C. – the Indo-Europeans seem to have been generally successful in conquering the countries they came to.

When a wave of them settled in a territory already crowed, they mixed with the original population. In time they lost their distinctive appearance by intermarring with the earlier inhabitants, and sometimes they also gave up most of the features of their language. When a wave went to a more thinly settled territory, they naturally preserved their physical characteristics comparatively unchanged for a much longer time; and they were likely to preserve the distinctive features of their language also, though the two things did not always go together.

The Slavic and Celtic languages, as well as Indian, Persian, and some others, are of Indo-European origin, but the three branches with which English is most concerned are the Greek, Latin, and Germanic, particularly the last. All languages are changing to some extent all the time; and before the invention of writing they seem to have changed faster. Since the various waves left at different times, they were speaking noticeable different varieties of Indo-European at the times of their departures; and the further changes that took place after they left made their languages more and more unlike. As they split up and settled (more or less) in different regions, the difference became so great that the Greeks, for instance, could not possibly understand the Germans; and a little later some of the Germans could not understand the others.

Old Germanic split into North, East, and West Germanic. West Germanic split into High and low German. And low German split into further dialects, including those of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. There were Differences in pronunciation, and even in word ending, between these last three; but most of the root words were enough alike to be recognizable, and the three tribes seem to have had no great Difficulty in understanding each other. About 450 A.D. members of all three tribes moved into what is now called England ( from Ange-land ), and began to take it over. It is at this time that we usually say the English language, as such, began.

Реферат опубликован: 14/04/2007