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History of the English Language

A short history of the origins and development of English

The history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. 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.

Germanic invaders entered Britain on the east and south coasts in the 5th century.

Part of Beowulf, a poem written in Old English.

Old English (450-1100 AD)


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. Nevertheless, about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots. The words be, strong and water, for example, derive from Old English. Old English was spoken until around 1100.

Middle English (1100-1500) In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. The new conquerors (called the Normans) brought with them a kind of French, which became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes. For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French. In the 14th century English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added. This language is called Middle English. It was the language of the great poet Chaucer (c1340-1400), but it would still be difficult for native English speakers to understand today.

An example of Middle English by Chaucer.

Modern English
Early Modern English (1500-1800)
Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world.

This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases entered the language. Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" lines, The invention of printing also meant that there was now a written in Early Modern English by Shakespeare. common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of

London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published. Late Modern English (1800-Present) The main difference between Early Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth's surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries

Varieties of English
From around 1600, the English colonization of North America resulted in the creation of a distinct American variety of English. Some English pronunciations and words "froze" when they reached America. In some ways, American English is more like the English of Shakespeare than modern British English is. Some expressions that the British call "Americanisms" are in fact original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost for a time in Britain. Spanish also had an influence on American English ,with words like canyon, ranch, stampede and vigilante being examples of Spanish words that entered English through the settlement of the American West. French words (through Louisiana) and West African words (through the slave trade) also influenced American English (and so, to an extent, British English). Today, American English is particularly influential, due to the USA's dominance of cinema, television, popular music, trade and technology (including the Internet). But there are many other varieties of English around the world, including for example Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Indian English and Caribbean English.

The Germanic Family of Languages

English is a member of the Germanic family of languages. Germanic is a branch of the Indo-European language family.

English - A Historical Summary

Languages in the same box as English (the Germanic Languages) are sister languages to English and are its closest relatives. Languages in other boxes are "cousin" languages - still related but not as closely. The further the box, the more distant the relationship. The Indo-European family is one of many language families. Languages belonging to other familes are not related to English. Examples of unrelated languages include Arabic, Basque, Hungarian, Mandarin, Malay, Quechua, Tamil, Turkish and Zulu.

English - A Family Tree

How English Language came to India.........


History of English language and literature in India starts with the advent of East India Company in India. It all started in the summers of 1608 when Emperor Jahangir, in the courts of Moguls, welcomed Captain William Hawkins, Commander of British Naval Expedition Hector. It was India's first tryst with an Englishman and English. Jahangir later allowed Britain to open a permanent port and factory on the special request of King James IV that was conveyed by his ambassador Sir Thomas Roe. English were here to stay. As East India Company spread its wing in southern peninsula, English language started to get newer pockets of influence. But it was still time for the first English book to capitalize. Late 17th century saw the coming of printing press in India but the publication were largely confined to either printing Bible or government decrees. Then came newspapers. It was in 1779 that the first English Newspaper named Hickey's Bengal Gazette was published in India. The breakthrough in Indian English literature came in 1793 A.D. when a person by the name of Sake Dean Mahomet published a book in London titled Travels of Dean

Mahomet. In its early stages, the Indian writings in English were heavily influenced by the Western art form of the novel. It was typical for the early Indian English language writers to use English unadulterated by Indian words to convey experiences that were primarily Indian. The core reason behind this step was the fact that most of the readers were either British or British educated Indians. In the early 20th century, when the British conquest of India was achieved, a new breed of writers started to emerge on the block. These writers were essentially British who were born or brought up or both in India. Their writing consisted of Indian themes and sentiments but the way of storytelling was primarily western. They had no reservation in using native words, though, to signify the context. This group consisted likes of Rudyard Kipling, Jim Corbett and George Orwell among others. Books such as Kim, The Jungle Book, 1984, Animal Farm and The man-eaters of Kumaon etc were liked and read all over the English-speaking world. In fact, some of the writings of that era are still considered to be the masterpieces of English Literature. In those periods, natives were represented by the

likes of Rabindra Nath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu. In fact, Geetanjali helped Tagore win Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1913. There was a lull for more than 3 decades when India was passing through the era of aspiration and reconstruction. Some sporadic works such as 'A Passage to India' by E M Foster, 'The Wonder that was India' by E L. Basham and ' Autobiography of an unknown Indian' by Nirad C Chaudhuri though set the stage on fire but were unsuccessful in catalyzing and explosion. It was in late seventies that a new breed of Convent, boarding school educated and elite class of novelists and writers started to come on block. The likes of Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitabh Ghosh and Dominique Lepierre set the literature world on fire. Rushdie' s ' Midnight Children' won Booker in 1981 and send the message loud and clear that Indians are here to stay. Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai repeated the feat when they won Man Booker in the year 1997 and 2006 respectively. In the mean time, a new crop of authors such as Pankaj Misra, Chetan Bhagat, Jhumpa Lahiri, William Dalrymple, Hari Kunzuru have arrived on the international scene and their writings are being appreciated

round the globe. India became independent from Britain in 1947, and the English language was supposed to be phased out by 1965. However, today English and Hindi are the official languages.