15.9.10

Want to become a polyglot? Learn English!

You've been learning English for years with only marginal improvement and you are convinced that this article doesn't apply to you? Well, it does. You should't take it literally - it doesn't mean that you mysteriously pick up a handful of foreign languages in sole process of learning English. However, it is true for probably all languages to influence mutually with regard to vocabulary. English is no exception.
The time span of about 2000 years and the little space the author has at her disposal enforces unwanted simplification. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to the fascinating world of the history of the English language.
English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, sharing its member status with French, Latin, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Persian, to name just a few. English began to develop in c. A.D. 450 when Anglo-Saxon tribes coming from Germany invaded the Isles. Before their invasion the language spoken in England was a form of Celtic. Words of Celtic origin are traceable in modern English, they survived mainly as place-names and rivers: Kent, Thames, Avon, Dover, Wye.
The language of the Anglo-Saxons is known as Old-English. Even though it is 'English', one is unable to understand it unless properly trained. Old-English was fully inflected with five grammatical cases, it possessed dual plural forms for referring to groups of two objects, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. It also assigned gender to all nouns, even to inanimate objects: for example, se-o sunne (the Sun) was female, while se mo-na (the Moon) was male. Do you see now why poets refer sometimes to the Sun as 'she' and to the Moon as 'he'?
The ninth and tenth centuries are the time of the Viking invasions, also linguistically speaking. The nature of the inherited words varies from everyday expressions to administrative language which is linked with the Danish rule in England. What is interesting about Old English and the language of the Scandinavian invaders is that they were alike at that time. Nevertheless, linguists established that all the words beginning in sk- ( sky, skirt, etc.), place-names ending in -by (Grimsby, Derby, etc.) and even some legal terms (law, outlaw) are of Danish origin.
After the Battle of Hastings (1066) English was largely dominated by Norman French. Since the French ruled England they automatically introduced a mass of French words into the contemporary English language. The domains influenced by that continental language include ecclesiastical terms (religion, sermon, prayer, abbey) as well as legal (judge, bill, convict, imprison), food (dinner, supper, taste, salmon) and art (art, painting, beauty, music) ones.
Last but not least is the influence of Latin which had been present since the first invasion of the Romans. Latin was used by the educated individuals, e.g. monks, people at court. Three visible periods can be distinguished: the first occurred before the invasion of the Anglo-Saxon tribes, the second began when the they were converted to Christianity, and the third transfer of Latin-based words occurred after the Norman conquest in 1066 as some of the French words were derived from classical Latin.
Now that you have read the article you can understand how complicated and rich the history of English is. Words of various origins coexist in one language making learning English an rewarding experience. So, when the next time you are asked what languages you speak you can quote the above list, just to see an envious look in your friend's eyes.

Article by: Katarzyna Owczarek

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