A Quick History Of The English Language

Perhaps the most, ‘taken for granted’ language in the world is the English language. Recognised as the international language, used as a first tongue in over a dozen countries, while commercial pilots the world over communicate with each other in English.

Yet Modern English has only been around since the 14th century, beginning life with grammar and words borrowed from the early Norse/Scandinavian, old Germanic, and Norman languages, with Latin and Greek thrown in for good measure. During its evolution it has also been influenced by Turkish, Arabic, Tagalog(Filipino), Spanish, and host of other languages.

But English can prove confusing and non-sensical to a new English student. It would appear to them that words are often mis-spelt, mispronounced and sentences often strung together in the wrong order. As an example, in English we say. ‘I drink water’, the French, (and other European countries) say, ‘I water drink’. Take the, ‘ough‘ dilemma. Here are some words that use this combination of letters. Rough(uff), cough(off), bough(ow), through(oo), although(oh), thought(or), thorough(ah). Imagine, for a moment, how someone who has never spoken English before, trying to tackle this lot. Based on English language rules, the word Fish could also be spelt, ghoti. The letters, gh, could supply the f sound as in rough, o is I as in women, and the sh can come from ti, as in nation. Confused Yet? Wait, there’s more.

Do you mean tire or tire? Tire can mean to be weary, and is also the rubber wheel on a car. Did you get your change after your purchase or is it time for a change? Does the gross weight of something mean that the weight is yucky? Do you mean, too, two, or to? Ever tried to wind a clock in a gust of wind? Even singular/plural words do not follow any particular pattern. The plural of mouse is mice, but the plural of house can never be hice. One goose, three geese. Plural of ox is oxen, while more than one baby are called babies.

Creating a language from several other conflicting languages proved an insurmountable challenge to ancient Anglo-phibes. Despite the growing obesity of the English dictionary, we have yet to to string it all together in a grammatically satisfying form. The English language is filled with an incongruous collection of words, harvested from a variety of conflicting languages, and thrown together in a mismatched mixture. This gave justification to centuries of scholars who drifted in and out of history, using the ingredients to come up with palatable recipes for the rest of us. But being a language in constant evolution, the rules keep changing.

Born in 1343, Geoffrey Chaucer was hailed as the father of English literature. For centuries, his works have been obligatory material for English literature students the world over. Compare the text and spelling from his day with that of today. Here is an excerpt from Chaucer’s, The Knight’s Tale (The Canterbury Tales). The first is written in the script and style of Chaucer’s time, the second is a parallel in modern English. One can easily see the many differences in spelling, pronunciation, and writing style.

Heere bigynneth the Knyghtes Tale (Here Begins The Knights Tale)

1) A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,

That fro the tyme that he first bigan

To riden out, he loved chivalrie,

Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.

Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,

And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,

As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,

And evere honoured for his worthynesse.

At alisaundre he was whan it was wonne.

Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne

Aboven alle nacions in pruce;

In lettow hadde he reysed and in ruce,

No cristen man so ofte of his degree.

2) A Knight a worthy man there was, that since the time when first he rode out, loved chivalry, truth and honor, courtesy and liberality. Full valiant he was in battle for his lord, and eke had ridden, no man farther, in Christendom and heathenesse; and ever was honoured for his valor. He was at Alexandria when it was won. Full many a time in Prussia he had sat first at board above all the nations. In Lithuania he had warred and in Russia, no Christian of his degree so oft.

Despite her flaws, her questionable history, and rocky progress, the English language remains one of the world’s favourite languages. Spoken by nearly four hundred million people, it is the third most spoken language next to Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Her colorful history has only added more spice and flavor to the mix, blending to create a uniqueness that sets English on a pedestal all of her own.