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Доклад: development of English

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. It is worth noticing that even at the very beginning of English as a separate language there was no one simple standard. The Jutes undoubtedly thought that the Angles “talked funny”, and vice versa. Efforts have been made for centuries to develop a set of standard practices, and there is much to be said in their favor; but they have never been quite successful, and they never will be. There is just no way to make millions of people talk exactly alike. These early English settles do not seem to have made much of an effort to understand the language of the Britons who lived in England ( then called Britain ) before they came. The Britons also spoke an Indo-European language, but it belonged to the Celtic rather than the Germanic branch, and was by now completely unrecognizable to the newcomers. The English added only a handful of Celtic words to their language – not nearly as many as the Americans later picked up from the Indians. We can only guess about how the language would have developed if the descendants of these three tribes had been left to themselves. The fact is that two great invasions and a missionary movement changed the language enormously. The total result of these and other influences was that the English vocabulary became the largest and most complex in the world, and the grammar changed its emphasis from inflections ( changes in the forms of words ) to word order. Here are some English place names which came from the Anglo-Saxon language; · Southampton, Brighton, Preston, Northampton ( “ton” meant “a place surrounded by a hedge” ); · Salisbury, Canterbury, Edinburgh ( “burgh”, “bury” meant “to hide” ); · Nottingham, Birmingham, Cheltenham ( “ham” meant “home” ); · Sheffield, Chesterfield, Mansfield ( “field” meant “open country” ).


Some three hundred years after the West Germanic tribes had settled in England, there was another wave of invasions, this time by Scandinavians. In the history books these people are usually referred to as “Danes”, but there were Swedes and Norwegians among them, and their speech was probably no more uniform than that of the first wave. The dialects they spoke belonged to the northern rather than the Western division of Germanic. They differed rather more from the dialects of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes than these differed from each other – roughly, about as much as Spanish differs from Italian. In spite of Different habits of pronunciation, most of the root words were enough alike to be recognizable. The difficulty caused by Differences in Inflection was partly solved by dropping some of the inflections altogether and being broad-minded about the others. Spelling was not much of a problem, because most people could not read nor write, and those who could, spelled as they pleased. There were no dictionaries to prove them wrong. Although these Danes moved in on the English, and for a time dominated them politically, their conquest was nothing like as thorough as that of the English over the Britons. After the early fighting the two peoples settled down together without much attention to their separate origins, and the languages mingled. On the whole, English rather than Danish characteristics won out; But many of the words were so much alike that it is impossible to say whether we owe our present forms to English or Danish origins, and occasionally the Danish forms drove out the English ones. Sometimes both forms remained, usually with a somewhat different meaning. Thus we have shirt and skirt, both of which originally meant a long, smock-like garment, although the English form has come to mean the upper part, and the Danish form the lower. Old English rear and Danish raise are another pair – sometimes interchangeable, sometimes not. Here you can see Scandinavian words which came into the English language: happy, low, ugly, ill, loose; to take, to die, to call; sister, husband, sky, fellow, law, window, leg, wing, harbour.


In 1066 the Normans conquered England. They, like the Danes, had originally come from Scandinavia. But they had settled in northern France, and for some undiscoverable reason had given up their own language and learned to speak a dialect of French. For several centuries Normans, and other Frenchmen that they invited in later, held most of the important positions in England, and it seemed quite possible that French would become the standard language of the country. But the bulk of population were still English, and they were stubborner than their rulers. Most of them never learned French, and eventually – though only after several centuries – all the nobles and officials were using English. It was not, however the English of the days before the conquest. A good many French words had gotten into the language; and most of the inflections that had survived the Danish pressure had dropped out, with a standard word-order making up for their loss. We need not go into the argument about whether the new word-order had to develop because the ending dropped out, or the ending disappeared because the new word-order made them unnecessary. The two changes took place together, and by the time of Chaucer ( died 1400 ) the language had become enough like modern English to be recognizable. The pronunciation was quite different and the spelling was still catch-as-catch-can; but a modern student can get at least a general idea of Chaucer’s meaning without special training, while he can no more read Old English than he can German or Latin, unless he has made a special study of it. Compare the two following passages:

Hwaet! We gardena in geardagum What that Aprille with his shoures soote

Theodcyningas thrym gefrunon The droghte of March hath perced to the root In the first two lines From Beowulf ( about 700 A.D. ), only we and in are readily recognizable; while in the first two from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, only soote ( sweet ) offers much of a problem. From Chaucer’s time to our own the language has developed with no outside pressure comparable to that of the Danish and Norman invasions. Still more endings have Disappeared, and there have been other changes; but the greatest development has been in the vocabulary. A considerable number of Chaucer’s words have dropped out of use, and a much greater number of new words have been added. Some of these new words have been made by compounding or otherwise modifying old ones, but most of them have been borrowed from other languages, particularly Latin.


Even before they came to England our ancestors had picked up a few Latin words; and they learned others from the Christian missionaries who began to convert them in the sixth century. These early borrowings were taken directly into the spoken language, and most of them have now changed so that their latin origins are not easy to recognize. Street ( “via strata” ), wine, bishop, priest and church ( the last three originally borrowed from Greek by the Romans ) are examples. Another example is the word “castra” ( “a military camp” ) which can be found in the names like Lancaster, Winchester, Leicester, Chester, etc. After the Norman Conquest borrowings from Latin were enormously increased. French itself is directly descended from Latin, and we cannot always tell whether an English word came directly from Latin or through French. Suspicion, for instance, could have come into English by either route. But we do Know that many words must have come straight from Latin, either because they don’t occur in French or because their French forms are different. Scholars often could not find an English word for an idea they wished to express; and even if they could, they might think that a Latin word was more exact or more impressive. English has also borrowed words from many languages, particularly Greek, and is continuing to do so at present; but ever since the late Middle English period it has been a matter of helping ourselves, rather than yielding to pressure.


The changes that took place in the language throughout the Old and Middle English periods were a natural development, unguided by any theory. Men talked more or less as their neighbors did, and anybody who wrote tried to indicate the sound of his speech on paper. There were still no dictionaries, no grammars, and no printed books of any kind. As far as we know, very few people thought about the language at all; and most of those who did think about it seem to have considered it a crude and rather hopeless affair, unworthy of serious study. There were exceptions, of course, but they did not have much influence. Local differences were so great that a man trained in northern England would have serious difficulty reading a manuscript written in the southern part. However, the dialect of London had a certain prestige throughout the country; and although this dialect itself was by no means uniform, and changed with shifts in city population, it gradually came to be accepted as the standard. By the latter half of the fifteenth century it was quite generally used in writing throughout the country except in the extreme north. The introduction of printing in 1476, with London as the publishing center, greatly strengthened the influence of the London dialect. Strong local differences in spoken English remain to this day, especially among the less educated classes. But throughout the modern period written ( or at least published ) English has been surprisingly uniform. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MOVEMENT TO REGULARIZE THE LANGUAGE Until the eighteenth century the uniformity was the result of social pressure rather than of educational theory. Early English grammars ( the first appeared in 1586 ) had been written either to help foreigners learn English or to prepare English students for study of Latin grammar. On the whole these books neither had nor were intended to have any influence on the use of English by native speakers. It was not until about 1750 that there was any general attempt to teach Englishmen systematically how to use their own language. It is too bad that this attempt was not postponed for a few more generations. Since the really scientific study of various languages had not yet begun, the eighteenth century grammarians had to base their work on a set of theories that we now know are definitely wrong. For one thing, they thought that grammar had an absolute existence, and must therefore be the same in all languages. Since they believed that this grammar was well preserved in Latin and badly frayed in English, they often tried to reform a natural English expressions on a Latin model. For another thing, they thought that the simplifying of inflections, which had been going on for centuries, was decay instead of progress. They could not do anything about the ones that had already completely disappeared, but they did make a deliberate and fairy successful effort to preserve those that were just disappearing. We would not have so many irregular verbs today if they had just let nature take its course. Perhaps the most dangerous of their ideas was that they could keep the language from ever changing any more. They argued that Latin had remained unchanged for centuries, and they saw no reasons why English should not do the same. They failed to realize that the only reason classical Latin had remained unchanged was that the men who had written it had been dead for a long time. There were still scholars – there are a few even today – who could imitate classical Latin. But as a natural language for the people, Latin had developed, in different areas, into Italian, French, Spanish, and so forth. All of these languages, as well as English, are still changing, and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to change as long as they are used. If these theories had merely been the bad guesses of a few scholars, they would not have done much harm. But they became the guiding principles in most scoolroom instruction just at the time when education was becoming general, and when the study of the English language was beginning to be recognized as an end in itself and not merely as a preliminary step to the study of Latin. As a result, during the two hundred years in which English has been seriously taught in our schools, it has been taught almost entirely on a set of theories which can now be proved unsatisfactory, so that a great part of the effort has been wasted. Since most students find it hard enough to learn English grammar without making comparisons with other languages, we need not go into a detailed explanation of why the eighteenth-century theories were wrong. But the basic structural difference is easily grasped. Latin is a synthetic language. That is, it is highly inflected, and the relations between words are shown primarily by their endings. Old English was also synthetic, but modern English has become an analytical language. Most of the endings have dropped off, and even those that remain are much less important than they used to be, since the relations between words are now shown largely by word-order and function words, such as connectives and auxiliary verbs. It is now rather generally held that the shift from a synthetic to an analytical structure is an improvement, but most eighteenth- century grammarians considered it a calamity and tried to stop it. One effect of this misdirected effort has been to interfere with the natural development of the language. By 1750 most of the Old English irregular verbs either had dropped out of use or had become regular: help, holp had become help ,helped; wash, wesh had become wash, washed, etc. A number of others were in the process of making the same change: blow, blew to blow, blowed; throw, threw to throw, throwed; etc. We should probably still have some irregular verbs even if eighteenth-century grammarians had not deliberately resisted this development, but there would certainly not be so many. Most of us probably have a feeling that such forms as blowed and throwed are intrinsically wrong; but our acceptance of helped and washed as correct shows that this is purely a matter of habit. At the same time, many of those troublesome verbs like sing and take , which have separate forms for the past participle, were simplifying to a single past form. This change also was resisted, on the theory that the small number of inflections was “the greatest defect in our language”. The fact that only about forty of our verbs now have these separate forms proves conclusively that we don’t need them, and most of them would probably have disappeared by now if they had been allowed to depart in peace. But after two centuries of insistence on the importance of these unfortunate survivals, we may never get rid of them. AFTER-EFFECTS OF EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY GRAMMATICAL THEORIES Of course the language continued to change in spite of all objections; and if the grammarians had done no more than slow up the rate of change it could be argued ( although not proved ) that their efforts had on the whole been useful. But they did something much worse than this. By insisting on rules which often had no foundation in the speech habits of the people, they converted “grammar” into an artificial and generally distasteful subject. When a Frenchman studies French grammar, he is learning how educated Frenchmen actually talk and write; and in his later life he can practice what he has learned in school with a comfortable assurance. But a good deal of what an Englishman or an American learns under the name of grammar has nothing to do with the use of our language; and a good deal more is in direct conflict with the actual practices of most educated people. The result is that many Americans go through life feeling inadequate, even guilty, about their language habits. Even if they actually speak English very well, they seldom have the comfort of realizing it. They have been taught to believe in a mysterious “perfect English” which does not exist, and to regard it as highly important; but they have never had the structure of the language explained to them.


In the early part of the seventeenth century English settlers began to bring their language to America, and another series of changes began to take place. The settlers borrowed words from Indian languages for such strange trees as the hickory and persimmon, such unfamiliar animals as raccoons and woodchucks. Later they borrowed other words from settlers from other countries – for instance, chowder and prairie from the French, scow and sleigh from the Dutch. They made new combinations of English words, such as backwoods and bullfrog, or gave old English words entirely new meanings, such as lumber ( which in British English means approximately junk ) and corn ( which in British means any grain, especially wheat ). Some of the new terms were needed, because there were new and un-English things to talk about. Others can be explained only on the general theory that languages are always changing, and American English is no exception. Aside from the new vocabulary, differences in pronunciation, in grammatical construction, and especially in intonation developed. If the colonization had taken place a few centuries earlier, American might have become as different from English as French is from Italian. But the settlement occurred after the invention of printing, and continued through a period when the idea of educating everybody was making rapid progress. For a long time most of the books read in America came from England, and a surprising number of Americans read those books, in or out of school. Moreover, most of the colonists seem to have felt strong ties with England. In this they were unlike their Anglo- Saxon ancestors, who apparently made a clean break with their continental homes. A good many Englishmen and some Americans used to condemn every difference that did develop, and as recently as a generation ago it was not unusual to hear all “Americanisms” condemned, even in America. It is now generally recognized in this country that we are not bound to the Queen’s English, but have a full right to work out our own habits. Even a good many of the English now concede this, though some of them object strongly to the fact that Americanisms are now having an influence on British usage. There are thousands of differences in detail between British and American English, and occasionally they crowd together enough to make some difficulty. If you read that a man, having trouble with his lorry, got out his spanner and lifted the bonnet to see what was the matter, you might not realize that the driver of the truck had taken out his wrench and lifted the hood. It is amusing to play with such differences, but the theory that the American language is now essentially different from English does not hold up. It is often very difficult to decide whether a book was written by an American or an English man. Even in speech it would be hard to prove that national differences are greater than some local differences in either country. On the whole, it now seems probable that the language habits of the two countries will grow more, rather than less, alike, although some differences will undoubtedly remain and others may develop. It also seems probable that there will be narrow-minded and snobbish people in both countries for some time to come. But generally speaking, anybody who learnsto speak and write the standard English of his own country, and to regard that of the other country as a legitimate variety with certain interesting differences, will have little trouble wherever he goes.