DO You Know What You`re Writing?: Origins of The English Language in 800
Words For as long as I can remember (which, admittedly, isn`t that long) I have been interested in words and language.
As a writer it`s important to understand (at least in part) where the words come from.
English is a fascinating language, Its words are rich in both history and cultural content.
But how did these words, this language, come to be? What are these scrawlings writers write? In this article we`re going to take a look at a little history and a few entertaining resources too! I`ve kept it as short as I could, and though it did tempt me to become a 5000-word essay Isteadfastly resisted ;) 1.
Old English No, not those in the twilight of their lives. This is the name given to the dialects spoken in England up until about AD 1100. Where did it all begin? Well, I`m not going back all the way.
We`ll start, for our purposes, during the 5th-6th Century AD.
Three tribes speaking the Western Germanic language decided that they would come settle in England. These we know as the Jutes, Angles and Saxons. They pushed the native celts into Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and established settlements across England.
Their language divided into four dialects: Northumbrian (spoken in northern England), Mercian (the Midlands), Kentish (the south- east), and West Saxon (south and west). These dialects we collectively call Old English. You can see and hear some Old English by visiting the link below (I found some readings from the well-known Old English epic, Beowulf!).
http://www.engl.virginia.edu/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Prologue.html 2. Old Norse Around AD 850 the North Germanic tribes decided to start invading the land (mostly in the north) and thus Old Norse started to permeate the language.
It was King Alfred the Great who pushed the Danish invaders back but they still held the north of England and so that`s where the main Old Norse infusion occurred, but it spread and the two mixed - often leaving two words with the same meaning intact; which means, today, your thesaurus has a lot more entries than it otherwise would have had! ;) But many more synonyms were to be added... 3. Anglo-Norman Yes, that strange Norse-French hybrid that is used to describe all those heraldic terms. This language dominated England after the successful invasion made by William of Normandy in 1066. The Normans (the word comes from `Norse man`) were actually of Western Germanic stock but had settled in France. England became dominated by this French language and Old English (which also became known as Anglo-Saxon in Alfred`s time) went underground. Not only that but the Normans brought with them the Latin script which was used in ecclesiastical and legal matters. It was to be another 300 years before English became the language of the rulers again, Middle English (Chaucer), Modern English (Shakespeare) and Late Modern English (today!) followed. Summary English, influenced heavily by Old English, Old Norse, the Norman French and Latin has become a rich and multi-synonymed language. Personally I wouldn`t write or speak another! Well, actually I can`t do either anyway ;) I thought I`d end this article by providing you with some interesting linguistic facts as well as a couple of great links.
Interesting Linguistic Facts .
1. The last native Cornishspeaker died in 1777. The dead language of Cornish (though it is being revived) was spoken in the far southwestern extremity of England.
2. Although only a sixth of known Old English words form the origins of today`s English, a full half of today`s most- commonly-used
words are from Old English. Read that again ;).
3. The modern-day English counties of Sussex and Essex take their name origins from `South Saxonland` and `East Saxonland` respectively; Wessex (`West Saxonland`)no longer exists but was the homeland of King Alfred the Great.
4. The influence of the Norman French `good life` as rulers can be seen in the language. For instance, many animals (such as deer, pig, sheep, chicken) retain their Anglo- Saxon (Old English) names whilst the `meat for the table` employs the French (`venaison`, `porc`, `mouton`, `poulet`).
5.It was largely the blending of Anglo-saxon and French to bring about multiple synonyms that today gives English the largest vocabulary of all languages. Examples include sweat/perspiration, dead/deceased, want/desire, ad inf! (oh, ad. inf. is Latin ;) ).
6. It is thought that the mispronunciation of the Anglo-Saxon letter, `edh` (likely pronounced as th as in `the`) was responsible for the emergence of the word `Ye` as in `Ye Olde Worlde...` It should probably be `the` not `ye`. A Couple of Great Links You can read more details about by visiting:http://www.wordorigins.org/histeng.htm.
You can find some good resources (including Old English fonts) by checking out this web site:
http://www.wordorigins.org/source.htm For those who know HTML, you can use the three weird-looking characters from the Anglo-Saxon alphabet (eth, thorn and the ae/AE ligature) with these named entities: eth,thorn,aelig and AElig.
I hope you feel a little better now you know what you`re writing ;)
P.S. There`s a bit more in the online version of this article which cannot be conveyed in text:
http://www.writers-and-publishers.com/essays/d_andrews.html ------ Darren Andrews is a writer and writes about anything he jolly well likes. He lives in England and tries to help writers understand the Internet. You can take his free mini-course, "Write Your Way To Success & Profit" by visiting:
To advise that Vest (Les Bowyer) passed away this morning. Regards, Chris (Son).
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