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Доклад: development of English

If you looked at the French and Italian words hundred-cent and cento

respectively – you would easily guess that they are related, and they are. They

both developed from the Latin word centum. And if you looked at the

German word hundert you could recognize it as a close relative of the

English word. You would be right again, but you could not prove it quite so

easily, because we do not have any written records of the early form of

Germanic from which modern English and German developed. We have to prove the

relationship by other methods which are too complicated to go into here.

You would probably not guess that hundred and centum are also

related; but if you happened to think of these two words along with horn

and corno, house and casa, and various other pairs that

begin with h in English and c in Italian, you might suspect

that these resemblances were systematic, and that English is also related to

Italian, although not nearly as closely as French is. Your suspicions would be

justified. Experts can trace the relations among all four of these languages

and a good many others. We can say roughly that French and Italian are sister

languages, both born of Latin; that English and modern German are approximately

second cousins; and that English and Italian are something like third cousins

twice removed.

Nobody Knows for sure how languages began, or even whether it began just once

or at a number of different times and places. What we do know is that some

languages, as we have just seen, show evidence of a common origin, while

others do not. If our written records went back a few thousands years further

it is possible that we might find signs of resemblance between the languages

that we have just mentioned and Chinese or Arabic or Navajo. But if such

resemblances ever existed, they disappeared a long time ago, and it seems

most unlikely that we will ever find any evidence to prove them. We must

therefore study them as separate families, though they may have had a common

ancestor about which we now know nothing.


English belongs, in a rather complicated way, to the Indo-European family,

which includes most of the European languages and a few Asiatic ones. We do

not know where the original speakers of the parent Indo-European language

lived. Guesses about their homeland range all the way from northwestern

Europe to central Asia. According to all the early records they were a tall,

blond, and warlike people, with a good deal of energy and intelligence. In

their native land they had developed neither writing nor cities, so there is

not much evidence about how they lived when they were at home. But when they

left home and went out in search of new lands – which they did in various

waves from about 2500 B.C. to about 1000 B.C. – the Indo-Europeans seem to

have been generally successful in conquering the countries they came to.

When a wave of them settled in a territory already crowed, they mixed with

the original population. In time they lost their distinctive appearance by

intermarring with the earlier inhabitants, and sometimes they also gave up

most of the features of their language. When a wave went to a more thinly

settled territory, they naturally preserved their physical characteristics

comparatively unchanged for a much longer time; and they were likely to

preserve the distinctive features of their language also, though the two

things did not always go together.

The Slavic and Celtic languages, as well as Indian, Persian, and some others,

are of Indo-European origin, but the three branches with which English is

most concerned are the Greek, Latin, and Germanic, particularly the last. All

languages are changing to some extent all the time; and before the invention

of writing they seem to have changed faster. Since the various waves left at

different times, they were speaking noticeable different varieties of Indo-

European at the times of their departures; and the further changes that took

place after they left made their languages more and more unlike. As they

split up and settled (more or less) in different regions, the difference

became so great that the Greeks, for instance, could not possibly understand

the Germans; and a little later some of the Germans could not understand the


Old Germanic split into North, East, and West Germanic. West Germanic split

into High and low German. And low German split into further dialects,

including those of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. There were Differences in

pronunciation, and even in word ending, between these last three; but most of

the root words were enough alike to be recognizable, and the three tribes

seem to have had no great Difficulty in understanding each other. About 450

A.D. members of all three tribes moved into what is now called England ( from

Ange-land ), and began to take it over. It is at this time that we usually

say the English language, as such, began.

It is worth noticing that even at the very beginning of English as a separate

language there was no one simple standard. The Jutes undoubtedly thought that

the Angles “talked funny”, and vice versa. Efforts have been made for

centuries to develop a set of standard practices, and there is much to be

said in their favor; but they have never been quite successful, and they

never will be. There is just no way to make millions of people talk exactly


These early English settles do not seem to have made much of an effort to

understand the language of the Britons who lived in England ( then called

Britain ) before they came. The Britons also spoke an Indo-European language,

but it belonged to the Celtic rather than the Germanic branch, and was by now

completely unrecognizable to the newcomers. The English added only a handful

of Celtic words to their language – not nearly as many as the Americans later

picked up from the Indians.

We can only guess about how the language would have developed if the

descendants of these three tribes had been left to themselves. The fact is

that two great invasions and a missionary movement changed the language

enormously. The total result of these and other influences was that the

English vocabulary became the largest and most complex in the world, and the

grammar changed its emphasis from inflections ( changes in the forms of words

) to word order.

Here are some English place names which came from the Anglo-Saxon language;

· Southampton, Brighton, Preston, Northampton ( “ton” meant “a

place surrounded by a hedge” );

· Salisbury, Canterbury, Edinburgh ( “burgh”, “bury” meant “to hide” );

· Nottingham, Birmingham, Cheltenham ( “ham” meant “home” );

· Sheffield, Chesterfield, Mansfield ( “field” meant “open country” ).


Some three hundred years after the West Germanic tribes had settled in

England, there was another wave of invasions, this time by Scandinavians. In

the history books these people are usually referred to as “Danes”, but there

were Swedes and Norwegians among them, and their speech was probably no more

uniform than that of the first wave. The dialects they spoke belonged to the

northern rather than the Western division of Germanic. They differed rather

more from the dialects of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes than these differed

from each other – roughly, about as much as Spanish differs from Italian. In

spite of Different habits of pronunciation, most of the root words were

enough alike to be recognizable. The difficulty caused by Differences in

Inflection was partly solved by dropping some of the inflections altogether

and being broad-minded about the others. Spelling was not much of a problem,

because most people could not read nor write, and those who could, spelled as

they pleased. There were no dictionaries to prove them wrong.

Although these Danes moved in on the English, and for a time dominated them

politically, their conquest was nothing like as thorough as that of the English

over the Britons. After the early fighting the two peoples settled down

together without much attention to their separate origins, and the languages

mingled. On the whole, English rather than Danish characteristics won out; But

many of the words were so much alike that it is impossible to say whether we

owe our present forms to English or Danish origins, and occasionally the Danish

forms drove out the English ones. Sometimes both forms remained, usually with a

somewhat different meaning. Thus we have shirt and skirt, both

of which originally meant a long, smock-like garment, although the English form

has come to mean the upper part, and the Danish form the lower. Old English

rear and Danish raise are another pair – sometimes interchangeable,

sometimes not.

Here you can see Scandinavian words which came into the English language:

happy, low, ugly, ill, loose;

to take, to die, to call;

sister, husband, sky, fellow, law, window, leg, wing, harbour.


In 1066 the Normans conquered England. They, like the Danes, had originally

come from Scandinavia. But they had settled in northern France, and for some

undiscoverable reason had given up their own language and learned to speak a

dialect of French. For several centuries Normans, and other Frenchmen that

they invited in later, held most of the important positions in England, and

it seemed quite possible that French would become the standard language of

the country. But the bulk of population were still English, and they were

stubborner than their rulers. Most of them never learned French, and

eventually – though only after several centuries – all the nobles and

officials were using English.

It was not, however the English of the days before the conquest. A good many

French words had gotten into the language; and most of the inflections that

had survived the Danish pressure had dropped out, with a standard word-order

making up for their loss. We need not go into the argument about whether the

new word-order had to develop because the ending dropped out, or the ending

disappeared because the new word-order made them unnecessary. The two changes

took place together, and by the time of Chaucer ( died 1400 ) the language

had become enough like modern English to be recognizable. The pronunciation

was quite different and the spelling was still catch-as-catch-can; but a

modern student can get at least a general idea of Chaucer’s meaning without

special training, while he can no more read Old English than he can German or

Latin, unless he has made a special study of it. Compare the two following


Hwaet! We gardena in geardagum What that Aprille with his shoures soote

Theodcyningas thrym gefrunon The droghte of March hath perced to

the root

In the first two lines From Beowulf ( about 700 A.D. ), only we

and in are readily recognizable; while in the first two from Chaucer’s

Canterbury Tales, only soote ( sweet ) offers much of a problem.

From Chaucer’s time to our own the language has developed with no outside

pressure comparable to that of the Danish and Norman invasions. Still more

endings have Disappeared, and there have been other changes; but the greatest

development has been in the vocabulary. A considerable number of Chaucer’s

words have dropped out of use, and a much greater number of new words have

been added. Some of these new words have been made by compounding or

otherwise modifying old ones, but most of them have been borrowed from other

languages, particularly Latin.


Even before they came to England our ancestors had picked up a few Latin words;

and they learned others from the Christian missionaries who began to convert

them in the sixth century. These early borrowings were taken directly into the

spoken language, and most of them have now changed so that their latin origins

are not easy to recognize. Street ( “via strata” ), wine,

bishop, priest and church ( the last three originally borrowed from

Greek by the Romans ) are examples. Another example is the word “castra

( “a military camp” ) which can be found in the names like Lancaster,

Winchester, Leicester, Chester, etc.

After the Norman Conquest borrowings from Latin were enormously increased.

French itself is directly descended from Latin, and we cannot always tell

whether an English word came directly from Latin or through French.

Suspicion, for instance, could have come into English by either route. But

we do Know that many words must have come straight from Latin, either because

they don’t occur in French or because their French forms are different.

Scholars often could not find an English word for an idea they wished to

express; and even if they could, they might think that a Latin word was more

exact or more impressive.

English has also borrowed words from many languages, particularly Greek, and

is continuing to do so at present; but ever since the late Middle English

period it has been a matter of helping ourselves, rather than yielding to



The changes that took place in the language throughout the Old and Middle

English periods were a natural development, unguided by any theory. Men

talked more or less as their neighbors did, and anybody who wrote tried to

indicate the sound of his speech on paper. There were still no dictionaries,

no grammars, and no printed books of any kind. As far as we know, very few

people thought about the language at all; and most of those who did think

about it seem to have considered it a crude and rather hopeless affair,

unworthy of serious study. There were exceptions, of course, but they did not

have much influence. Local differences were so great that a man trained in

northern England would have serious difficulty reading a manuscript written

in the southern part. However, the dialect of London had a certain prestige

throughout the country; and although this dialect itself was by no means

uniform, and changed with shifts in city population, it gradually came to be

accepted as the standard. By the latter half of the fifteenth century it was

quite generally used in writing throughout the country except in the extreme

north. The introduction of printing in 1476, with London as the publishing

center, greatly strengthened the influence of the London dialect. Strong

local differences in spoken English remain to this day, especially among the

less educated classes. But throughout the modern period written ( or at least

published ) English has been surprisingly uniform.



Until the eighteenth century the uniformity was the result of social pressure

rather than of educational theory. Early English grammars ( the first

appeared in 1586 ) had been written either to help foreigners learn English

or to prepare English students for study of Latin grammar. On the whole these

books neither had nor were intended to have any influence on the use of

English by native speakers. It was not until about 1750 that there was any

general attempt to teach Englishmen systematically how to use their own


It is too bad that this attempt was not postponed for a few more generations.

Since the really scientific study of various languages had not yet begun, the

eighteenth century grammarians had to base their work on a set of theories

that we now know are definitely wrong. For one thing, they thought that

grammar had an absolute existence, and must therefore be the same in all

languages. Since they believed that this grammar was well preserved in Latin

and badly frayed in English, they often tried to reform a natural English

expressions on a Latin model.

For another thing, they thought that the simplifying of inflections, which

had been going on for centuries, was decay instead of progress. They could

not do anything about the ones that had already completely disappeared, but

they did make a deliberate and fairy successful effort to preserve those that

were just disappearing. We would not have so many irregular verbs today if

they had just let nature take its course.

Perhaps the most dangerous of their ideas was that they could keep the

language from ever changing any more. They argued that Latin had remained

unchanged for centuries, and they saw no reasons why English should not do

the same. They failed to realize that the only reason classical Latin had

remained unchanged was that the men who had written it had been dead for a

long time. There were still scholars – there are a few even today – who could

imitate classical Latin. But as a natural language for the people, Latin had

developed, in different areas, into Italian, French, Spanish, and so forth.

All of these languages, as well as English, are still changing, and we have

every reason to believe that they will continue to change as long as they are


If these theories had merely been the bad guesses of a few scholars, they

would not have done much harm. But they became the guiding principles in most

scoolroom instruction just at the time when education was becoming general,

and when the study of the English language was beginning to be recognized as

an end in itself and not merely as a preliminary step to the study of Latin.

As a result, during the two hundred years in which English has been seriously

taught in our schools, it has been taught almost entirely on a set of

theories which can now be proved unsatisfactory, so that a great part of the

effort has been wasted.

Since most students find it hard enough to learn English grammar without

making comparisons with other languages, we need not go into a detailed

explanation of why the eighteenth-century theories were wrong. But the basic

structural difference is easily grasped. Latin is a synthetic language. That

is, it is highly inflected, and the relations between words are shown

primarily by their endings. Old English was also synthetic, but modern

English has become an analytical language.

Most of the endings have dropped off, and even those that remain are much

less important than they used to be, since the relations between words are

now shown largely by word-order and function words, such as connectives and

auxiliary verbs. It is now rather generally held that the shift from a

synthetic to an analytical structure is an improvement, but most eighteenth-

century grammarians considered it a calamity

and tried to stop it.

One effect of this misdirected effort has been to interfere with the natural

development of the language. By 1750 most of the Old English irregular verbs

either had dropped out of use or had become regular: help, holp

had become help ,helped; wash, wesh had become

wash, washed, etc. A number of others were in the process of making

the same change: blow, blew to blow, blowed; throw, threw to

throw, throwed; etc. We should probably still have some irregular verbs even

if eighteenth-century grammarians had not deliberately resisted this

development, but there would certainly not be so many. Most of us probably have

a feeling that such forms as blowed and throwed are

intrinsically wrong; but our acceptance of helped and washed as

correct shows that this is purely a matter of habit.

At the same time, many of those troublesome verbs like sing and take

, which have separate forms for the past participle, were simplifying to a

single past form. This change also was resisted, on the theory that the small

number of inflections was “the greatest defect in our language”. The fact that

only about forty of our verbs now have these separate forms proves conclusively

that we don’t need them, and most of them would probably have disappeared by

now if they had been allowed to depart in peace. But after two centuries of

insistence on the importance of these unfortunate survivals, we may never get

rid of them.



Of course the language continued to change in spite of all objections; and if

the grammarians had done no more than slow up the rate of change it could be

argued ( although not proved ) that their efforts had on the whole been

useful. But they did something much worse than this. By insisting on rules

which often had no foundation in the speech habits of the people, they

converted “grammar” into an artificial and generally distasteful subject.

When a Frenchman studies French grammar, he is learning how educated

Frenchmen actually talk and write; and in his later life he can practice what

he has learned in school with a comfortable assurance. But a good deal of

what an Englishman or an American learns under the name of grammar has

nothing to do with the use of our language; and a good deal more is in direct

conflict with the actual practices of most educated people.

The result is that many Americans go through life feeling inadequate, even

guilty, about their language habits. Even if they actually speak English very

well, they seldom have the comfort of realizing it. They have been taught to

believe in a mysterious “perfect English” which does not exist, and to regard

it as highly important; but they have never had the structure of the language

explained to them.


In the early part of the seventeenth century English settlers began to bring

their language to America, and another series of changes began to take place.

The settlers borrowed words from Indian languages for such strange trees as the

hickory and persimmon, such unfamiliar animals as raccoons and woodchucks.

Later they borrowed other words from settlers from other countries – for

instance, chowder and prairie from the French, scow and

sleigh from the Dutch. They made new combinations of English words, such as

backwoods and bullfrog, or gave old English words entirely new

meanings, such as lumber ( which in British English means

approximately junk ) and corn ( which in British means any

grain, especially wheat ). Some of the new terms were needed, because there

were new and un-English things to talk about. Others can be explained only on

the general theory that languages are always changing, and American English is

no exception.

Aside from the new vocabulary, differences in pronunciation, in grammatical

construction, and especially in intonation developed. If the colonization had

taken place a few centuries earlier, American might have become as different

from English as French is from Italian. But the settlement occurred after the

invention of printing, and continued through a period when the idea of

educating everybody was making rapid progress. For a long time most of the

books read in America came from England, and a surprising number of Americans

read those books, in or out of school. Moreover, most of the colonists seem

to have felt strong ties with England. In this they were unlike their Anglo-

Saxon ancestors, who apparently made a clean break with their continental


A good many Englishmen and some Americans used to condemn every difference

that did develop, and as recently as a generation ago it was not unusual to

hear all “Americanisms” condemned, even in America. It is now generally

recognized in this country that we are not bound to the Queen’s English, but

have a full right to work out our own habits. Even a good many of the English

now concede this, though some of them object strongly to the fact that

Americanisms are now having an influence on British usage.

There are thousands of differences in detail between British and American

English, and occasionally they crowd together enough to make some difficulty.

If you read that a man, having trouble with his lorry, got out his

spanner and lifted the bonnet to see what was the matter, you might

not realize that the driver of the truck had taken out his wrench

and lifted the hood. It is amusing to play with such differences, but

the theory that the American language is now essentially different from English

does not hold up. It is often very difficult to decide whether a book was

written by an American or an English man. Even in speech it would be hard to

prove that national differences are greater than some local differences in

either country. On the whole, it now seems probable that the language habits of

the two countries will grow more, rather than less, alike, although some

differences will undoubtedly remain and others may develop.

It also seems probable that there will be narrow-minded and snobbish people

in both countries for some time to come. But generally speaking, anybody who

learnsto speak and write the standard English of his own country, and to

regard that of the other country as a legitimate variety with certain

interesting differences, will have little trouble wherever he goes.