The English Tongue: the evolution of language

The English Tongue: the evolution of language

In today’s world, many of us simply accept modern language as a given.  English is so widely spoken that it seems almost impossible to consider that it is actually a relatively new tongue.  All languages have been on an incredible journey, shaped by human migration, politics, colonialism, and war, and English is no exception.  With its roots in Germany and the Netherlands, English has evolved over many years, and still it continues to grow.

Originating from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders and various settler groups, English has been developed out of the West-Germanic language groups. With the kingdom of Britain being built from such a diversity of roots, Old English was initially a conglomeration of a number of dialects, until eventually Late West Saxon became the dominant voice.

During the Middle Ages the language was shaped into more of what we see today in modern English. In 1000 AD, the vocabulary and grammar of Old English was more akin to that of old Germanic languages like Old High German and Old Norse, but by 1400 AD, the language was largely recognisable to what we see today.  This alteration in the language came as result of two further waves of invasion, bringing Scandinavian and Norman dialects into the language;  the Scandinavian influence simplifying the language grammatically and the Normans developing Anglo-Norman where a large quantity of modern English vocabulary has its origins.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages the language developed further, assisted by the printing press.  Now more and more people could read and afford books, and the language became formerly standardised out of London.   The renaissance of classical learning also brought many new words and phrases along with it, as the English language borrowed words from French, Spanish, and German among others.  At the same time, the language went through what is known as the ‘Great Vowel Shift’, which drastically altered the pronunciation.

Using an online translation service, below are some simple words translated from Modern English to Old English.

language ágenspræc
world ærworuld
country æðel
Land ágenland
work æfengeweorc

As of 1999, Ethnologue reported that there are now over 1 Billion speakers of English, as either a first or second language.  Modern English has now itself got a number of dialects spoken throughout the world, predominantly within countries of the old British Empire.  Such variations of the modern language include;

American English, Australian English, British English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Hiberno-English, Indo-Pakistani English, Nigerian English, New Zealand English, Philippine English, Singaporean English, and South African English.

Although all fundamentally English, book translations do actually exist between the variations.  Most recently there was the news of The Bible, the most translated book in history, being written for the first time in Jamaican Patois, which is a blend of English and West African languages.

American English is the most common dialect of modern English with approximately two-thirds of all English speakers living in the U.S.  With the popularity of American culture around the world, spread through films, television, and music, it is also now becoming increasingly popular as an international language, being taught specifically in many language schools around the world.

With the impact of globalisation, the world is becoming more and more interlinked linguistically, with English as the most common connecting voice.  Although both Mandarin and Spanish have more Native speakers, when you consider those speaking English as a second language, it is far and away the most widely used language on the planet today.

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