History of the English Language
The English language is one of those languages with a strong history of origin and development (Coulmas, & Watts, 2006). The language started with the arrival of Germanic tribes in the land of Britain around 5th century AD. The invaders mainly the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, displaced the natives who later settled in what is today Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles who originated from “Englaland” spoke the language “Englisc” which is the origin of today’s English (Coulmas, & Watts, 2006). There has been several attempts to standardize the language throughout its developmental stages including the current modern language. However, not all attempts have been successful, and the intriguing question is whether such standards should exist in the first place.
The standardization of the English language can be categorized into three stages, which relate to its development that is the abortive, a lull and the final stage whose impact is in the current language. Standardization only make sense in a society or community that has some organization and structure with the rule of law. The first attempts to harmonize the language in the 7th and 8th centuries when Alfred king of Wessex defeated the Danes and signed treaties with them (Coulmas, & Watts, 2006). In his rule, the king restored earlier tradition of letters, which had deteriorated in the era of war, the restoration revived learning and writing in English rather than Latin. In the times before the war, the inversion of Romans brought in their Latin language, which to a large extent was well established than the native English language. This means King Alfred’s efforts to restore the language were pivotal into the development and growth of English as a language (Coulmas, & Watts, 2006). The wide spread of Latin language, risked the extinction of English, which is why king Alfred encouraged the use of this language in writing manuscripts specifically using the Wessex dialect. This dialect became the first standard of the English language when it ruled the hands of scribes and professors of those times.
The lull stage of development and standardization refers to a time when the actual development stopped suddenly as a result of the Norman Conquest. This is the time when languages utilized for formal settings shifted from English to French and Latin. The drift was a result of perception that the English language belonged to the menials. The outcome was a reduction in its usage especially in writing and speaking. This perception reflects a struggle by the “foreign” languages to establish territories and perhaps survive in the most dynamic setting than history knows (Crowley, 2003). At this point, the term Standard English became an irrelevant notion since the language did not even feature in the minds of the people.
After the lull stage, the new beginning and perhaps a fresh start began, which has taken us to the current level of the language. In this era, it was not only the language, but other sectors such as economy, politics, and social systems underwent a veritable sea change (Crowley, 2003). For example, the economy shifted from a static and self-sufficient feudal economy to a commerce and industrial competitiveness. This followed the fall of the French and Latin languages leaving a room for recollection of the English language (Crowley, 2003). There followed a change in psyche where personal notions become more relevant than individualized claims, which championed the thought for reason supported by evidence and claims. Variation of spelling, grammar and pronunciation, which according to this old scholastic mode of thought were accepted as a fact of life. During this period there was no questioning, or search for reasons and evidence behind the discrepancies, instead acceptance was by the notion of faith and fate.
In the new dawn, for the language discrepancies such as spelling and grammar began to be perceived as problems, which needed solid solutions. For instance, it was an unpleasant thing to be accused of speaking French or being French since the language remained an enemy to the people for a while. “Eyren” which referred to the original English version of an egg come from Norse, which is a French word (Hickey, 2004). The whole idea behind this hostility was to establish a common level upon which the language would be established. Different dialects of the language were in use during the early years of standardization, however; only a few became the basis of the modern Standard English. For example, the dialect spoken by the merchant class in London, East Midland dialect was adopted while that spoken by lower class Cockney was dropped. The Cockney dialect later formed the today’s street talk of London.
At this point, it is clearly evident that standardization of the language is not an easy thing, and somehow the efforts for bringing this standardization have little impact on the development of the language. A point to note here is that though development was taking place in the same country or region, involving people of the same cultural characteristic, different variants of the language emerged. History has it that the Standard English is a not a pure East Midland dialect it, however, has influences from other dialects (Hickey, 2004). The overall outcome was leveling of these dialects to a common variety that had unified features of the different dialects. This is because of group dynamics, which leads to different accents and dialects. It in a similar manner the language evolved differently in American, despite a common origin that is England.
The American English evolved from English colonization of the North America which led to the development of a distinct American variety. There are several examples of American expression, which have a root in the British colonies, for example, the trash for rubbish and fall for autumn. Other languages that had influence on American English and British English include Spanish with borrowed words like canyon and stampede (Harder, 1977). The notion of languages borrowing and building on words from other languages explain the difficulty in standardization of these languages this is because of the unpredictability changes. These foreign words also carry in them cultural backgrounds, which may bring new meaning and variation in the language and especially in foreign countries. French words as well as West African words have influenced the development of English in the United States and Britain through Louisiana and Slave trade.
Another example is the colonization of different African countries by western countries and especially in cases where a colonist’s country colonized more than one country. After learning the foreign languages, these African countries have evolved with different variants of the same language. For instance, the version of Zimbwabian English is totally different from that of Kenya. The difference is as a result of cultural difference between these two countries (Burridge, & Kortmann, 2008). The overall idea of standardization is, therefore, proving difficult with time and point gets where the fate of the language will be on the mercies of the users. Other languages, however, on the other hand, has maintained their standards with only slight variation both in written and spoken languages.
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