Historical Linguistics

Post 7 of 19

(English C)

Historical Linguistics

Sanskrit was very important for the early historical linguists, because of the nature of the records open to them and the exceptionally rich quantity of material Sanskrit provided. Furthermore, Sanskrit had been subjected to grammatical studies centuries before western European scholars had undertaken such investigations. In the fourth century B.C. an Indian grammarian analyzed Sanskrit thoroughly. His records became very important to the linguists because it was a grammatical analysis as compared to the fragmentary records of some of the previous languages they had studied. Also it was by far the earliest stage of development of any indo-European language available to them for examination.

Many of the French words that were brought into English, as a result of the Norman conquest, in a sense, cultural words. Words concerning politics, the church, foods, play words, literary words and learned words. It is easy based on this knowledge to draw the conclusion that England were “frenchified” into her very core, since the structure of a nation is made up by its culture. New French ideas and things were introduced to England, and these novelties were of course named after its French origin. (However, many “ordinary” words like, nice, second, very, age and bucket also made its way into the English language.) The areas of life in England that were most influenced were the higher layers of society. To master French was regarded highly cultivated.

OE vocabulary differs severely from ME. In fact the only word which is the same,, is the word “and”. Whereas words like “forgive” and “give” has undergone a gradual change throughout the centuries. OE: forgyf, Middle English: fo3eve, EME, forgeve, Modern English: forgive. By studying this example and many other ones in the lord’s prayer one reaches the conclusion that the most major changes in vocabulary took place somewhere in the gap between Middle English and EME.. For instance “trespasses” was “synna” in OE, and “synnes” in Middle English, but in EME it had changed into “Trespases”, which came from French. Many words were poured into the English language after the Norman victory in 1066. And that in turn led to more borrowings from other languages, like Latin for example.

OE was based on the Proto-Germanic system. However, there are fewer distinctive case endings than in Proto-Germanic, due to the weakening and loss of sounds in unstressed syllables in prehistoric OE. Some distinctive endings remained; all nouns have the ending –um for the dative plural and most have a- for the genitive plural. For example: “Gyltendum” has changed into “debtors”.
Moreover, OE was highly inflectional, whereas Modern English rely more on word order. The reduction of the inflectional system increased during the Middle English-period. The English and Scandinavian words were still recognizable, but had decidedly different sets of inflections. For instance the endings an, -on, -un, and –um all became –en. Example: “heofonum”, became “heuen” in Middle English. Changes in pronunciation and spelling has turned it into Modern English “heaven”.

Because of its inflectional system OE had a greater freedom of word-order than Middle English; and during the Middle English-period, as the inflectional system decayed, word order became increasingly important. One sentence in particular from the lord’s prayer clearly displays this change in word order: “Give us this day our daily bread”. In OE the word order was:
Whereas in Middle English it was “modernized” into:
In EME the transformation became complete; the word order was identical to Modern English. The English language had by then almost entirely transformed from an inflectional language to a language that relies heavily on word order and structure words.

As a conclusion we can see that the English language has undergone radical changes in Syntax, grammar, morphology and vocabulary. The invasion of the Normans, which brought about major changes in vocabulary, sound structure and grammar. Even though people had become to rely more on word order and prepositions than on inflectional endings before 1066, the invasion certainly helped to speed up the process. Then, sometime between 1400-1600 English underwent a couple of sound changes which brought on the nowadays quite chaotic spelling-system. One major change was the elimination of a vowel sound in certain unstressed positions at the end of words. This change gave a different aspect to the whole language. Another profound change was the vowel shift. These two changes marked the fundamental differences between Modern English and Middle English. The greatest changes in EME was were found in vocabulary. Thousands of new words poured into the English language. Though the changes in the recent two hundred years may not have been as profound as in the early days great changes still occur on a daily basis.

In communities where a pidgin is used as the lingua franca children may acquire it as their native language. When this occurs the language will re-acquire all the characteristics of a full, non-pidgin language. The vocabulary is expanded, the syntactic possibilities are broaden and the stylistic repertoire is increased. And also the new “improved” language will be used for all purposes in a full spectrum of social situations.. In other words the reduction that took place during pidginization will be repaired. This process where reduction is repaired by expansion is known as Creolization. The best known European-based languages that have undergone this process are French (Caribbean areas, Haiti), English (parts of America and Africa), Portuguese and Spanish.
Decreolization is a process which attacks the simplification and admixture which occur during pidginization. An example is when contact between the source language and a Creole language such as Jamaican Creole leads to the gradual introduction into the Creole of irregularities and redundancies from the source language, and the disappearance of elements derived from languages other than the source.
A language, which demonstrates a certain amount of simplification and admixture, relative to some source language, but which has never been Creole or a pidgin in the sense that its speakers has always spoken a variety which was not subject to reduction, is called a creoloid Examples are to be found in Afrikaans, which is in fact a Dutch-based creoloid.