The English language and the change it went through from 5th-19th centuryThe English Language went through many changes from 450 AD to early 19th century. Discuss the most important historical...

The English language and the change it went through from 5th-19th century

The English Language went through many changes from 450 AD to early 19th century. Discuss the most important historical events- like different invasions-that significantly influenced the development of English throughout the period 5th-19th (Just before the Industrial Revolution). Illustrate any linguistic change with examples.

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jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

You're asking some very good questions, but the answers aren't always easy to give. I'll try my hand as answering your most recent question: "What were the striking differences between these three stages by showing important changes in vocabulary, grammar, spelling and pronunciation?"

Vocabulary:

Old English: the vocabulary is mostly West Germanic / there are some borrowings from other languages, including Latin (through the christianization of England) and Norse (through the Viking invasions and settlements) as well as some faint traces of Celtic (from the previous rulers of the British Isles) / you may want to explore the complex history of the English word "cross" (the religious symbol) / Old English still had the second person singular pronoun "thou" (they usually spelled it "thu")

Middle English: the vocabulary is very heavily influenced by French, which was brought to English as the new prestige language by the Normans / think of the distinction between "cow" (an 'original' Germanic word) and "beef" (a loanword from French after the Norman conquest), or think about the history of the word "government," also borrowed from French into English in this period / Middle English still had the second person singular pronoun "thou"

Early Modern English: the vocabulary is very heavily influenced by Greek and Roman (think of the Renaissance, the widespread use of the printing press to print English translations of Classical literature, etc.) and by languages from around the world (think of Columbus, etc., and the discovery of plants new to English speakers that lead to the introduction of new words into English, including "coffee" and "chocolate," "muskrat" and "skunk") / Early Modern English was the period in which the second person singular pronoun "thou" was largely lost

The Online Etymology Dictionary is a great source for this sort of inquiry. See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

The years that it gives in each word entry don't show when the word was first used but rather the date for the first recorded written use. You can assume that we don't have complete written records from the Middle Ages and that many new English words were spoken before they were written down.

The previous posters have already offered good material on grammar (e.g. the verb endings and verb forms), spelling, and pronunciation, so I'll end here, but please let me know if you need more information! 

 

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One momentous change that came to the English language was the Norman Invasion of 1066.  This historical event effected the interjection of French into the English language as the Norman conquerors slaughtered the Anglo-Saxon lords.  Thus, French became the official language as all the nobility of England were Normans.  From this date until the 1300s all literature, such as the King Arthur legends, was also written in French.  To this day over 50% of the words in English are derivatives of French.  During the Renaissance, the influence of the classical languages upon English was great.  Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes have had a great impact upon English words.

Another major change that has come to English over the centuries is the move from a separate infinitive form (except for to be) like the French and from the conjugated endings of Middle English to the simplified Modern English.  For instance, for regular verbs in Modern English, the present tense forms are identical except for the third person singular which adds an -s to the infinitive. 

Then, after the 16th century, many past participial forms moved to the past forms.  For instance, in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo's parents ask Benvolio, "Have you saw him [Romeo] today?"

Not only were the verbs changed in their spellings such as sayeth [or saith] to says, for instance, but nouns lost their cases as they used to have in Latin, instead using the modern patter of subject + verb+ rest of the sentence to indicate cases. In addition, other parts of speech were altered as well. In the Declaration of Independence, for example, written in 1776, there is a letter that looks much like an enlarged lower case f.  But, it stands for -ss-.  Overall, spellings have not changed drastically.  However, there is variance between English spellings and American.  For instance, words such as colour and honour have lost their more French spellings by the dropping of the u.  When Noah Webster published his dictionary in America, he reversed the -re of words such as centre and theatre, explaining that Americans pronounced them as /-er/, so they may as well be written as such.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

To me, one of the most important changes that happened was actually not a change.  It was the standardization of English that came about when English came to be printed on a regular basis.  This did at least two important things to the language.

First, it privileged the "Chancery Standard" form of English and made that form the "official" form.  This helped to kill off all sorts of regional variations.

Second, because it came during the "great vowel shift" it entrenched spellings that came to be non-phonetic.  In other words, the spellings of various words became standardized just as the vowel shift was changing those words' pronunciation.  This is one major reason why so many English words are not spelled the way they sound.

monalisa90's profile pic

monalisa90 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Thanks so much for your help Mwestwood! But one more question Old English, to Middle- English up to early Modern English. What were the striking differences between these three stages by showing important changes in vocabulary, grammar, spelling and pronunciation? =/

monalisa90's profile pic

monalisa90 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

THANK YOU SO MUCH! May you help me with linguistic change with exampples? =)

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