In answering both parts of this question I propose to discuss the nature of language change from an historical perspective (diachronically) and then from a contemporary point of view (synchronically). There are four areas which can be affected in any language and which will be examined in my essay: lexis, which is vocabulary – and I will include semantics here; phonology, which is the sound system and pronunciation; syntax, which is the grammar, sentence structure and word endings; lastly, orthography, that is spelling and the written letter.
It is important at the outset to say that English did not arrive in Britain as a single unified language but in the form of three or four Germanic dialects spoken by Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. The first point of contact on British shores would have been with Celtic speaking Britons. David Crystal says that only a handful of Celtic words came . into English: crag, combe – valley; tor-peak; Thames, avon (river), Dover (water) in south eastern Britain. Dick Leith talks about the importance of external and internal history in understanding language change.
Internal history and evidence refers to the nature of grammar and vocabulary and linguistics. External history and evidence refers to who spoke the language and non-linguistic historical information. The place names in Anglo-Saxon Britain are internal evidence but the dates and the invasions by different tribes is external. Leith reminds us that this point of history is more complex than initially realised. Anglo-Saxon dialects arrived already based on a Latin alphabet.
Crystal follows Bede’s account that the different dialects reflect the variety of tribes and Leith observes that no mention is made of Frisians or of the fact that Germanic mercenaries may have been left behind by the Romans. It is also argued that these dialects might have been in contact with each other after they had been in Britain, not before, “I believe that these dialects originated not on the continent but on the island of Britain. ” (DeCamp, 1958) P. 101 Ch. 3 The Origins of English Once established in Britain, the Angles and Saxons did not develop in linguistic isolation.
Although the Celts retreated there were other influences on the emerging language we refer to as Old English. Crystal talks of the Christian missionaries, from AD. 597, bringing their huge Latin vocabulary. Before being in Britain, these immigrant tribes had no doubt absorbed some Latinate vocabulary: wall – weall; street – straet. Crystal says that 450 such words came into the language of Old English in this way. The next major influence was a Danish one, from AD. 787 until the 11th Century. The Danelaw boundary was worked out with King Alfred which saw co-operative trading and then 25 years of Danish rule from AD. 991.
The result was settlements with Danish names. 1,500 place names in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire; over 600 end in -by, e. g. Derby, Grimsby. Many personal names end in -son. Some of the commonest words in English are Danish in origin e. g. both, same, get, give and take. Personal pronouns have Scandinavian forms – they, them, their; the form of the verb – to be is “are”. The most significant point of contact was with the Norman French in 1066. As the Norman’s were the dominant power, the lexis tended to be reflected in areas of administration, E. g. duc, cuntess, curt, werre, pais – duke, countess, court, war, peace.
This assimilation of Norman French took place over several centuries until Old English developed into what is termed Middle English. Vocabulary continues to expand because of other factors which I will address later. The final historical contact with other languages occurred when Britain began to take its language abroad from the 16th century onward and particularly from the 18th century, in colonising the Americas, Canada, Africa, India and the Antipodes. The main influence has been in enriching the English vocabulary: prairie, thug, bungalow, walkabout – the list is endless.
With regard to phonological change, Old English dialects and accents developed idiosyncratically because of geographical distance. the north Saxons were in constant contact with the Danes, either fighting, trading or being ruled. The North Eastern accent still pronounces “house” with a double “oo” sound. The main change in pronunciation came well after 1066, from the 15th century onwards: the Great Vowel Shift. This occurred for internal reasons to be discussed later. The contact with Norman French led to a different way of pronouncing words which is obviously linked to sound but is mainly concerned with syntax and grammar.
From A. D. 840 to 1066, Old English is considered to have stabilised and standardised but after 1066 this was undone. Would some of the changes have occurred anyway? Old English had a case system which meant that the words in a sentence had to agree with each other as regards word endings -inflections. These inflections were gradually lost over a period of centuries and syntax had to rely on word order rather than endings. One could see this in terms of contact with the invader or as linguistic evolution: a language trying to organise and simplify itself.
Leith argues that these endings might have been lost due to contact with Scandinavian languages. Discussing a linguistic historian, Kastovsky, Leith quotes his view of this change, “… the breakdown of inflections owes as much to processes of contact between speakers of different languages as it does to pressures of a purely internal kind. ” (CH. 3 . Origins of English P. 120) As far as orthography is concerned, one has to say that in the early stages of Old English there existed the futhorc, a runic alphabet based loosely on the Latin or Greek alphabet.
By the 8th century the first books in English used the Latin model of writing. Interestingly, this can be see as the result of contact with other languages through internal means, the Church. In a similar vein, the Carolingian script was adopted by a decree of Charlemagne, a foreign King, in A. D. 789, as a policy to reassert the earlier cultural values and forms of Roman writing. These are the major changes which occurred as a result of contact with other languages. I am still in a diachronic mode of thinking and wish to turn now to other factors which provoked change.
Staying on the subject of orthography it can be seen that the internal development of the Church losing its monopoly over the making of manuscripts had profound effects. Toward the end of the 12th century the secular scriveners had formed guilds and began to meet the needs of the new merchant classes. We can see two effects here: one on orthography – the development of the cursive business hand; on lexis – where this type of writing required for philosophy, science, mathematics and astronomy, provoked an increased vocabulary.
Punctuation changed and developed as a result of the increase in the people involved in the business of producing documents. Economic growth provided – as it always does- a powerful effector for change and development. Dick Leith regards internal caused as significant to the change of Old English to Middle English, saying that, over centuries, the stress in speech has tended to fall on the first syllable of words. As a result, the inflected syllable at the end of the words are more weakly stressed.
“Some linguists argue that the Old English inflectional system was inefficient and was, therefore, as the linguist Roger Lass has argued, ‘ripe for re-modelling’. Speakers themselves start to regularise the paradigms… deleting endings. ” .. CH. 3 Origins of English P. 118. As said before, the greatest phonological change occurred between 1400 and 1700: the Great Vowel Shift. The pronunciation of vowels shifted to produce sounds that we would more or less recognise today. It meant that the vowel quality was raised on the tongue.
One of the most persuasive explanations is a sociological one that focuses on speakers’ sense of their own language prestige. At a time of urbanisation of London and the rise of the modern class system, people from rural East Anglia and the Midlands moving toward London would not have wanted to sound like country bumpkins. Chambers and Trudghill are quoted in CH. 7 Accents of English, as referring to this change as lexical diffusion. Undoubtedly, the greatest internal factor for change was the invention of the printing press. As Harris and Taylor observe, Caxton had to “… introduce and popularise a new technology which is destined to revolutionise the availability of information in civilised society.
The political and educational consequences of this new technology will be profound. ” (Caxton on Dialects P. 1-69) Caxton recognised the problem of English having no standard dialect and he had to make an arbitrary choice and he chose the dialect where his press was based, which happened to be a great commercial centre of Britain: London . and the dialect of the south east Midlands. This beginning of the standardisation of English had many knock-on effects in all areas of language.
It also coincided with other cultural and political forces and factors. The intellectual movement of the Renaissance saw a . desire for learning and the Classics to i?? be available in the Vernacular rather than in Latin. the Reformation, the breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, was also important. Henry VIII was head of the English Church in the 1530’s and requested an English translation of the bible. This is seen as a crucial factor in the standardisation process. The Reformation also led to a climate of interest in the pursuit of knowledge and education into areas which were hitherto dominated and described by Latin.
Scholars began to write treatises on language, and to construct grammars of English and dictionaries. ‘ Leith and Graddol emphasise i?? the notion of “modernity” and the desire for social and national identity. Scholars wanted the English language to have the prestige that the great classical language once had. Not only were grammar texts created which tried to base English on the Latinate structures but many Latin words were absorbed into the English language in the naming of the sciences and the arts. ‘ Graddol talks of,
“Literary English seeking synonyms in order to provide alternative forms of expression(eloquence), science required a precise and standardised language. ” CH. 4 Modernity and English as a national language P. 176. He outlines four methods whereby English terminology met the needs of a new scientific community: borrowing a Latin term in its entirety; translating a Latin word element for element (calque); a new English word invented, and extend an existing word to acquire a specialised technical meaning. Although original science was still written in Latin for an international audience, popular science was written in English.
Between the period of 1500-1700, over 30,000 new words were added to the English vocabulary. Individuals can be consequential factors too; Shakespeare, for example, according to Bill Bryson in Mother Tongue,-used 17,677 words in his writings with one tenth never having been recorded before. Certainly, his expressions are part of contemporary life so that you can say that, “It’s Greek to me” if my essay is unintelligible and be sure that you are quoting the Bard. The need for a prestigious identity led to a wish to fix the language at some pure state: endless prescriptive books on grammar and pronunciation and vocabulary abounded.
The industrial revolution provided another technological stimulus and the lexis expanded again to accommodate inventions and change. A new bourgeoisie grew who sought for an identity and saw grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary as a source of help. Public schools for their offspring promoted a highly focused form of pronunciation, Received Pronunciation (RP). These were the schools of the middle and upper classes. In 1879, state schools became compulsory and a long debate ensued as to whether or not Standard English ought to be taught. Fortunately, there were many groups who saw the value and richness in diversity and regional dialects.
Identity once more proves important. The Mancunian workers, for example, in the 1850’s, were proud of their manufacturing traditions and had their own newspapers. I am conscious that this is an almost inexhaustible subject area and vast tomes could be written on other examples and factors which have caused English to change. In conclusion to this part of my essay I wish to emphasise the importance of internal cultural, political and economic issues. I wish to shift the focus of attention from a diachronic view of change to a synchronic view, understanding change across a point of time.
At any point in time that English was developing in England, it was also in contact with other languages in various parts of the world. In Chapter 5, English – colonial to post-colonial, Dick Leith examines this colonial experience. Each moment of contact brought English into a unique context politically, socially and linguistically. The process of colonisation led to English speakers – of different varieties themselves – into contact with a new environment and a foreign people.
Dialect levelling occurred between English speakers (the erosion of differences) and a substrate (features from the first language in speaking the new one. ) occurred when the English language was imposed onto the colonised community. This happened, for example, in Ireland and can be seen in its grammar, syntactically: “It’s looking for more land a lot of them are. ” In Scotland the process was similar but saw the growth of ‘Inglis’, then ‘Scottis’ and finally the Scots we know today. This co-existed with Gaelic spoken in the Highlands. Leith looks at the colonial experience in America, the West Indies, Australia and Africa.
There is also the British experience on the Indian continent to consider. Most Standard English speaking residents of the United Kingdom would be aware of the vocabulary which comes from all these places, but here we are looking at what happened to the English language which has remained in these locations and developed in particular ways. In the West Indies and in Africa there took place the creation of pidgin to Creole; from a makeshift trade language through contact with speakers of different languages to the language of a community, with English as its lexifier language.
Suzanne Romaine describes this process and its reverse, de-creolization, where an independent Creole comes under ape, period of renewed influence from the lexifier language. In the extract from the Australian Dictionary, the introduction talks about the Australian experience and, I think, defines the experience for fall English speaking. settlers throughout the world, “In the simplest analysis Australian English, the English used by Australians differs from ;that used elsewhere in the ways and to the extent that circumstances of life in this country and the history of its people have been distinctive.
” (Ch. 5 P. 213) If we come up to date and withdraw from the international scene, we can consider the internal factors in Britain which are still influencing and causing language to change. We can see that these are pretty much the same factors that I have mentioned before. Technological innovations – particularly in media and computers – has seen a massive expansion in vocabulary, new words, acronyms and word extension: e. g. internet, WISIWYG and mouse. Social and political events continue to provide neologisms and phrases: ‘yomping’ from the Falklands war.
The desire for a pure, language surface with regularity in newspapers, radio programmes and in Parliament. Indeed. the last . fifteen years have witnessed an education debate resulting in a much more prescriptive English curriculum. Urbanisation and the expansion of the media has produced a homogenous accent over the south of England: Estuary English, which is simultaneously being bombarded by mid-Atlantic English from the USA. The glut of Australian TV soaps is considered influential in producing . the sound of the high rising tone in English accents.
The Feminist movement has been instrumental over the past ‘thirty years in persuading change from male orientated expressions to neutral ones: chairman – chairperson; Miss/Mrs – Ms. In conclusion, I believe that the most powerful cause of change is contact with other languages but I hope I have shown that we must be aware of internal factors too.. Britain is a maze of diverse dialects and accents in constant exposure with one another and at the mercy of political, social and economic pressures.
English, history, diversity and change’ Graddol et al Describing Language Swann et al Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson