1. The old Germanic languages, their classification and principal features
The history of the Germanic group begins with the appearance of what is known as the Proto-Germanic language. As the Indo-Europeans extended over a large territory, the ancient Germans or Teutons moved further north than other tribes and settled on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in the region of the Elbe. PG is an entirely pre-historical language: it was never recorded in written form. The first mention of Germanic tribes was made by Pitheas, a Greek historian and geographer of the 4th
. C.B.C. in COMMENTARIES ON THE GALLIC WAR. In the 1st
c. A.D. Pliny the Elder, a prominent Roman scientist and writer, in NATURAL HISRORY made a classified list of Germanic tribes grouping them under six headings. Tacitus – the Roman historian – compiled a detailed description of the life and customs of the ancient Teutons. According to this division PG split into three branches: East Germanic (Vindili in Pliny’s classification), North Germanic (Hillevonies) and West Germanic (which embraces Ingveones, Istevones and Herminones),
. The East Germanic subgroup was formed by the tribes who returned from Scandinavia at the beginning of our era. The most numerous and powerful of them were Goths. Their western branch, the Visigote
, invaded Roman territory. Linguistically the Western Goths were soon absorbed by the native population, the Romanised Celts. The Eastern Goths, Ostrogote
, consolidated into a powerful tribal alliance in the lower basin of the Dniester. They set up a kingdom in Northern Italy. The Gothic language, now dead, has been preserved in written records of the 4th
century. The Goths were the first of the Teutons to become Christian. In the 4th
c. Ulfilas, a West Gothic bishop, made a translation of the Gospels from Greek into Gothic using a modified form of the Greek alphabet. It is written on red parchment with silver and golden letters and is known as the SILVER CODEX. It is one of the earliest texts in thelanguages of the Germanic group.
. The North Germanic tribes lived on the southern coast of the Scandinavian peninsula and in Northern Denmark. They didn’t take part in the migrations and were relatively isolated. The speech of the North Germanic tribes showed little dialectal variation until the 9th
c. and called Old Norse or Old Scandinavian. It has come down to us in runic inscriptions. RI were carved on objects made of hard material in an original Germanic alphabet known as the runic alphabet or the runes. The principal linguistic differentiation in Scandinavia corresponded to the political division into Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The earliest written records in Old Danish, Old Norwegian and Old Swedish date from the 13th
c. Later Danish and Swedish developed into national literary languages. Norwegian was the last to develop into an independent national language.
Also this group include the Icelandic and Faroese languages, whose origin goes back to the Viking Age. In the Faroe Islands the West Norwegian dialects brought by the Scandinavians developed into a separate language called Faroese. For many centuries all writing was done in Danish, it was until 18th
c. Faroese is spoken nowadays by about 30.000 people. Icelandic developed as a separate language in spite of the political dependence of Iceland upon Denmark and the dominance of Danish in official spheres. Icelandic has retained a more archaic vocabulary and grammatical system, Written records date from the 12th
c. The most important records are: the ELDER EDDA- a collection of heroic songs of the 12th
c., the YOUNGER EDDA (a text-book for poets) and Old Icelandic Sagas.
. The would-be West Germanic tribes dwelt in the Lowlands between the Oder and the Elbe bordering on the Slavonian tribes in the East and the Celtic tribes in the South. The West Germans include several tribes: the Franconians (or Franks), occupied the lower basin of the Rhine. They divided into Low, Middle and High Franconians. The Angles anf the Frisians, the Jutes and the Saxons inhabited the coastal area of the modern Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany and the southern part of Denmark. A group of tribes known as High Germans (the Alemanians, the Swabians, the Bavarians, the Thuringians and others) lived in the mountainous southern regions of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the Early Middle Ages the Franks consolidated into a powerful tribal alliance. Towards the 8th c. their kingdom grew into one of the largest states in Western Europe. In the 9th
c. it broke up into parts. Its western part eventually became the basis of France. The eastern part, the east Franconian Empire, comprised several kingdoms: Swabia or Alemania, Bavaria, East Franconian and Saxony, Lorraine and Friesland. The Franconian dialects were spoken in the extreme north of the Empire; in the later Middle Ages they develop into Dutch – the language of the Low Countries (the Netherlands) and Flemish – the language of Flanders. The earliest texts in Low Franconian date from the 10th
c. The modern language of the Netherlands, formerly called Dutch, and its variant in Belgium, known as the Flemish dialect, are now treated as a single language, Netherlandish (20 mln people). The High German
group of tribes did not go far in their migration. The High German dialects consolidated into a common language known as Old High German. The first written records in OHG date from the 8th
c. Towards the 12th
c. High German had intermixed with neighboring tongues, especially Middle and High Franconian, and eventually developed into the literary German language. (100 mln people) Yiddish grew from the High German dialects which were adopted by numerous Jewish communities in the 11th
c. These dialects blended with elements of Hebrew and Slavonic. At the later stage of the great migration period – in the 5th
c. – a group of West Germanic tribes started out on their invasion of the British Isles. They were The Angles, part of the Saxon and Frisian, and, probably, the Jutes. Their dialects in the British Isles developed into the English language.
2. The chronological division of the History of English. General characteristics of the OE language
The historical development of a language is a continuous uninterrupted process without sudden breaks or rapid transformation. The commonly accepted, traditional periodisation divides English history into three periods: Old English, Middle English, and New English, with boundaries attached to definite dates and historical events affecting the language. OE begins with the Germanic settlement of Britain (5th
c.) or with beginning of writing (7th
c.) and ends on the Norman Conquest (1066), ME begins with the Norman Conquest and ends on the introduction of printing (1475), which is the start of the Modern or New English; the New period lasts to the present day. The History of the English language can be subdivided into seven periods.
– pre-written or pre-historical period, which may be termed Early Old English, lasts from the West Germanic invasion of Britain till the beginning of writing, that is from the 5th
to the close of the 7th
c. It is the stage of tribal dialects of the West Germanic invaders (Angels, Saxon, Jutes and Frisians) The tribal dialects were used for oral communication, there were no written form of English. The second
historical period extends from the 8th
c. till the end of the 11th
. The English language of that time is referred to as Old English or Anglo-Saxon; it can also be called Written OE. The tribal dialects gradually changed into local or regional dialects. Towards the end of the period the differences between the dialects grew and their relative position altered. OE was a typical OG language, with a purely Germanic vocabulary, and few foreign borrowings; it displayed specific phonetic peculiarities. As far as grammar is concerned, OE was an inflected language with a well-developed system of morphological categories, especially in the noun and adjective. The third
period, known as Early Middle English, starts after 1066, the year of the Norman Conquest, and covers 12, 13, and half of the 14th
c. It was the stage of the greatest dialectical divergence caused by the feudal system and by foreign influences – Scandinavian and French. The dialectical division of present day English owes its origin to this period of history. Under Norman rule the official language in England was French. The local dialects were mainly used for oral communication and were but little employed in writing. Early ME was a time of great changes at all levels of the language, especially in grammar and lexis. English absorbed 2 layers of lexical borrowings: the Scandinavian element in the North-Eastern area and the French element in the speech of townspeople in the Soth-east. Phonetic and grammatical changes proceeded at a high rate, unrestricted by written tradition. The forth period
– from the later 14th
c. till the end of the 15th
– embraces the age of Chauser. We may call it Late or Classical Middle English. It was the time of the restoration of English to the position of the state and literary language and the time of literary flourishing. The main dialect used in writing and literature was the mixed dialect of London. The phonetic and grammatical structure had incorporated and perpetuated the fundamental changes of the preceding period. Most of the inflections in the nominal system – in nouns, adjectives, pronouns – had fallen together. The verb system was expanding, as numerous new analytical forms and verbal phrases on the way to becoming analytical forms were used alongside old simple forms. The fifth period – Early New English
– lasted from the introduction of printing to the age of Shakespeare, that is from 1475 to c. 1660. The first printed book in English was published by William Caxton in 1475. This period is a sort of transition between two outstanding epochs of literary efflorescence: the age of Chaucer and the age of Shakespeare. The growth of the vocabulary was a natural reflection of the progress of culture in the new, bourgeois society, and of the wider horizons of man’s activity. Extensive phonetic changes were transforming the vowel system, which resulted n the growing gap between the written and the spoken forms of the word. The inventory of grammatical forms and syntactical constructions was almost the same as in Mod E, but their use was different. The abundance of grammatical units occurring without any apparent restrictions, or regularities produces an impression of great «freedom of grammatical construction». The six period extends from the mid-17th c. to the close of the 18th c. In the history
of the language it is often called «the age of normalization and correctness». This age witnessed the establishment of «norms». The norms were fixed as rules and prescriptions of correct usage in the numerous dictionaries and grammar-books published at the time and were spread through education and writing. The neo-classical period discouraged variety and free choice in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. Word usage and grammatical construction were subjected to restriction and normalization. The morphological system, particularly the verb system, acquired a more strict symmetrical pattern. The formation of new verbal grammatical categories was completed. The English Language of the 19th
c. represents the seventh period
in the History of English – Late New English
or Modern English
. The classical language of literature was strictly distinguished from the local dialects and the dialects of lower social ranks. The dialects were used in oral communication and, as a rule, had no literary tradition. In the 19th
c. the English vocabulary has grown on an unprecedented scale reflecting the rapid progress of technology, science and culture and other multiple changes in all spheres of man’s activities. Linguistic changes in phonetics and grammar have been confined to alterations in the relative frequency and distribution of linguistic units^ some pronunciations and forms have become old-fashioned or even obsolete, while other forms have gained ground, and have been accepted as common usage.
General characteristics of the OE language.
The history of the English language begins with the invasion of the British Isles by Germanic tribes in the 5th
c. Prior to the Germanic invasion the British Isles must have been inhabited for at least fifty thousand years. The Celts came to Britain in three waves and immediately preceded the Teutons. Economically and socially the Celts were a tribal society made up of kins, kinship groups, clans and tribes; they practiced a primitive agriculture, and carried on trade with Celtic Gaul.
OE dialects. The role of the Wessex dialect
The Germanic tribes who settled in Britain in the 5th
c. spoke closely related tribal dialects belonging to the West Germanic subgroup. Their common origin and their separation from other related tongues as well as their joint evolution in Britain transformed them eventually into a single tongue, English. The OU dialects acquired certain common features which distinguished them from continental Germanic tongues. Also they displayed growing regional divergence. Tribal dialects were transformed into local or regional dialects. The following four principal OE dialects are commonly distinguished: Kentish
, a dialect spoken in the area known now as Kent and Surrey and in the Isle of Wight. It had developed from the tongue of the Jutes and Frisians. West Saxon
, the main dialect of the Saxon group, spoken in the rest of England south of the Thames and the Bristol Channel, except Wales and Cornwall, where Celtic tongues were preserved. Other Saxon dialects in England have not survived in written form and are not known to modern scholars. Mercian
, a dialect derived from the speech of southern Angles and spoken chiefly in the kingdom of Mercia, that is, in certain region, from the Thames to the Humber. Nothumbrian
, another Anglian dialect, spoken from the Humber north to the river Forth. The boundaries between the dialects were uncertain and probably movable. The dialects passed into one another imperceptibly and dialectal forms were freely borrowed from one dialect into another. Throughout this period the dialects enjoyed relative equality; none of them was the dominant form of speech, each being the main type used over a limited area. At the time of written OE the dialects had changed from tribal to regional; they possessed both an oral and a written form and were no longer equal; in the domain of writing the West Saxon dialect prevailed over its neighbours.
In the 9th
c. the political and cultural centre moved to Wessex. Culture and education made great progress there; it is no wonder that the West Saxon dialect has been preserved in a greater number of texts than all the other OE dialects put together. Towards the 11th
c. the written form of the West Saxon dialect developed into a bookish type of language, which, probably, served as the language of writing for all English-speaking people.
4. The Scandinavian Invasion and its effect on English
In the 8th
c. raiders from Scandinavia (the Danes) made their first plundering attacks on England. The struggle of the English against the Scandinavians lasted over 300 years, in the course of which period more than half of England was occupied by the invaders and reconquered again. The Scandinavians subdued Northumbria and East Anglia, ravaged the eastern part of Mercia, and advanced on Wessex. Like their predecessors, the West Germanic invaders, the Scandinavians came in large numbers and settled in the new areas. They founded many towns and villages in northern England; in many regions there sprang up a mixed population made up of the English and the Danes. Their linguistic amalgamation was easy, since their tongues belonged to the same linguistic group. The ultimate effect of the Scandinavian invasions on the English language became manifest at a later date, in the 12th
c., when the Scandinavian element was incorporated in the central English dialects; but the historical events that led to the linguistic influence date from the 9th
and 10th c. Under King Alfred of Wessex, by the peace treaty of 878 England was divided into two halves: the north-eastern half under Danish control called Danelaw
and the south-western half united under the leadership of Wessex. The reconguest of Danish territories was carried on successfully by Alfred’s successors but in the late 10th
c. the Danish raids were renewed again; they reached a new climax in the early 11th
c. headed by Sweyn and Canute. The attacks were followed by demands for regular payments of large sums of money. In 1017 Canute was acknowledged as king, and England became part of great northern empire, comprising Denmark and Norway. On Canute’s death his kingdom broke up and England regained political independence; by that time it was a single state divided into six earldoms.