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Five Factors Or Historical Events Which Influenced The English Language

2081 words - 9 pages

Five Factors or Historical Events which Influenced the English Language

English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages as well as most of the European languages spoken today. Latin and the modern Romance languages, Greek, the Germanic languages, Indo-Iranian languages, Slavic, Baltic, and Celtic languages are a part of the Indo-European family. English is in the Germanic group of languages; West Germanic is the ancestor of modern Dutch, German, Flemish, Frisian and English. The Gaelic-speaking Celts were one of the earliest people to migrate westward and they were natives of the British Isles long before the English (McCrum 48). “The Celtic Britons had the misfortune to inhabit ...view middle of the document...

Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine and a party of fifty monks to Britain 597 AD. They landed in Kent, a small kingdom in which there already was a small Christian community, although they had thought that the people they were going to attempt to convert were savage. Augustine and his monks preached the word of God to King Aethelbert at his command, and although he said that he couldn’t accept their words and promises though they seemed fair, he allowed them preach and try to win people for their religion. Augustine was even given a house in Canterbury, the capital of Kent and his mission went on without any difficulty. England’s conversion to Christianity was a gradual but peaceful process. Churches and monasteries were erected with the establishment of Christianity (p.62).This resulted in a major impact of Christianity on the English language which is the spread of literacy, at least to a select few, and the Latin alphabet. This meant that Old English could now become a written as well as a spoken language.
“The importance of cultural revolution in the story of the English language is not merely that it strengthened and enriched Old English with new words, more than 400 of which survive to this day, but also that it gave English the capacity to express abstract thought.” Expressing the common experience of life was easy in Old English but it was harder to express more subtle ideas without resort to elaborate German portmanteaux (p.63). There were now Greek and Latin words like angel, disciple, litany, mass and relic to carry out complicated tasks. “The conversion of England changed the language in three ways: it gave us a large church vocabulary; it introduced words and ideas ultimately from as far away as India and China; and it stimulated the Anglo-Saxons to apply existing words to new concepts.”(p.63) Some church words which entered the vernacular are monk, shrine, biscop and preost (Latin origin), apostle, pope (Greek), Sabbath (Hebrew). Words from oriental origins are camel, myrrh, cedar and lion. God, heaven and hell are Old English words that acquired deeper meanings with the dawn of Christianity. Now, English enjoys a unique subtlety and flexibility of meaning.

The Scandinavian people between AD 750 and 1050 began migrating and plunder-raided then conquered and settled. The Danes or Norsemen conquered Normandy then finally England. The Danish settlers unlike the Celts had a major influence on the development of Old English. The Vikings as the Danes were calledraided the monasteries then they turned their forces against the kingdom of Wessex where Alfred was king. Alfred was forced to take refuge in the marshes of Somerset on the island of Athelney. It became possible that English would be wiped out and the country would speak Norse but Alfred formed a fresh army and defeated the Danes who withdrew to the North while Alfred and the English speaking Saxons ruled the South. Alfred the Great restored his kingdom and rebuilt the...

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