The English language is a Germanic based language that resides in the Indo-European family of languages. English is spoken all over the world and there are about four hundred and seventy million people who speak it. English is also the official language of many nations. It is spoken on every major continent. This language can be considered the auxiliary language of the world; it is actually becoming a global language. English has also replaced French as the language of diplomacy.
The United Nations at this current time not only uses English as one of its official languages but also as one of two working languages. A working language is a language that is given a special legal status in an organization as a primary means of communication. It is the primary language in the daily correspondence in an organization where the members come from various different language backgrounds. In the present time English’s continued existence can be placed on the fifth century German conquerors of Britain. English can be divided into two periods Old English and Middle English.
Old English and Middle English came about because of the influences of the languages of the invaders who came and conquered and subsequently ruled. There is documentation in the form of manuscripts that has contributed evidence of the alterations in orthography and has given insinuations of the evolving pronunciation as the ruling power made a transition from Germanic Anglo Saxon to French Norman. For this reason there was a continuously changing connection from the phonemically labeled spelling of the Old English language to a language whose spelling did not mirror the pronunciation in the Middle English language.
Old English, which was also known as Anglo Saxon, was one of the first forms of the English language that was used for speech and for writing in parts of Europe that are now known as England and Southern Scotland. This was between the mid fifth century and the mid twelfth century. The Anglo Saxons were the people that had the greatest influence on the shaping of the Old English language. The Anglo Saxons came from warrior tribes in Northern Germany, some of these tribes being the Jutes, Angles, and the Saxons (Graddol, 1996, p. 41, 44-45).
These tribes although all hailing from North Germany had very distinct and varied linguistic backgrounds which resulted in the various dialects for the dissimilar parts of the country, but the most important impact that shaped Old English was the Germanic influence of vocabulary. Very similar to the many other West Germanic languages of that time period Old English was completely inflected with five grammatical cases. The grammatical cases were nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental, although the usage of instrumental was not that common.
The grammatical cases had dual plural forms that were used for referring to groups of two objects. Gender was also assigned to all nouns, this also included the description of inanimate objects such as seo sunne (the Sun) which was feminine, and se mona (the Moon) which was masculine. Old English wasn’t a single monolithic language, just as Middle English cannot be called monolithic. There was language variation in Old English. Old English cannot be considered a language that had a single sound system; there were many Old English sound systems.
Thus there came about four main dialectal forms of Old English, they were Mecian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon. Each dialect was affiliated with a different kingdom. Alfred the Great (AD 849-899) unified the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. After this unification there was a decline in the use of regional dialects, but the regional dialects did not become non-existent. King Alfred in an attempt to make a form of standardized English had all documents integrated or translated into Wessex, which was considered to be the leader in the political and cultural centre.
This was the reason West Saxon or Wessex became the dominant dialect. The dialects had many different variations, but in spite of this the manuscripts or documents the language did not show many changes in the spelling of the various or different words. The scribes came into agreement to base Old English on the Roman alphabet. The scribes altered the Roman alphabet to adapt the English sound system, for example ? (thorn for the sound) and D (eth for the heavier and thicker th sound).
The scribes produced books from a small area with “little dialect variation and effective institutional control. ” (Graddol, 1996 p. 72). Old English literature was very sparse, although there was more literature in Europe during this time than before AD 1000. Old English was one of the very first languages to be written down. Some of the most famous works in literature are works that were originally written in Old English, such as Beowulf, an epic poem and Caedmon’s Hymn, a Christian religious poem. Caedmon’s Hymn showcases the ideas that were adopted by King Alfred’s scribes.
Obviously the scribes didn’t have recording to preserve the correct sounds of their works so they made assumptions about the correlations between the spellings and the sounds. They believed that they spellings were equal or at least close to the pronunciation, because of this, unlike in Present Day English, the language did not have any unnecessary letters, specifically silent ones. The scribes also changed the spelling so that it could sound like the spoken word. The scribes used Latin because they had more historical documents to work with than in Old English.
Old English combined famous alphabets so that they could stand for phonemes in unknown sounds, such as the /s/ in the word sing and the /sp/ in spruced. (Graddol, 1996 p. 113). The Norman invasion of 1066 in the mid-to-late fifteenth century was marked by an important change in the history of linguistics, this change being known as Middle English. During this time, the Chancery Standard, which was a form of London basd English, became widespread because of the development of the printing press.
The printing press was centered in London, hence their dialect became the standard. The Normans came after the Germanic and the Scandinavian invaders. The Normans brought with them the French language. The language that was used in the government and the dominatnt members of society was French. The Norman invasion brought a setback in King Alfred’s attempt in the standardization of English. The advancements that were being made became disrupted by the introduction of the French. The disruption contributed to the inconsistencies in the spelling of English.
The inconsistencies were also caused by the local scribes who based their style on the local dialect and this varied from scribe to scribe. This is the reason why some spellings don’t reflect the sound of th words but take on the tone of the writer of the manuscript. The scribes, who were mostly educated in French and Latin, merged some of their language customs into the English language. For example the scribes changed ? for the “th” and they originated the “qu” for queen that was in earlier forms spelled cwene (Millward, 1996, p. 159).