The Evolution of Language, and why I Love Languages
from Ewan's Blog
It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?
You use it to communicate with others, to express your feelings and yourself in a way that art and other forms of expression can’t capture.
That is why language has always fascinated me. The sheer essence of culture lies in its language, shaped by the people who speak it.
Let’s use English, my native tongue and the world’s current lingua franca, as an example.
Before the 1066 Battle of Hastings, Old English was Anglo-Saxon and much closer to its German roots than Modern English. It was first written down between 870 and 930 CE, and thus, we still have records of the Pre-Norman English.
Throughout the following centuries, Old English morphed into the amalgamation that is Modern English. There was the 1350 – 1700 Great Vowel Shift, in which over the course of 350 years, the vowels of English shifted – ”bite”, for example, sounded like the modern ”bite” (/biːt/).
Other examples of the major differences between Old and Modern English
- ”Gōdne mergen” – “Good morning”
- ”Iċ þearf help” / ”Iċ þearf helpe” – “I need help” (Masculine / Feminine)
- “Hēo næs þǣr” – “She was not there”
Bare in mind that Old English has a much more flexible syntax than Modern English, which only has SVO. Also take into account that the above examples are only approximations of what Old English could have been like.
Once Old English transitioned to the Latin script from Futhorc, as seen in the above examples, it had some letters that Modern English does not. Some of these are:
- “þ”, currently only used in Icelandic, makes the “th” sound of “that”. Its name is “Thorn”, or “Þorn”.
- “ƿ”, completely dropped from use, makes the “w” sound of “win”. Its name is “Wynn”, or “Ƿynn”, though it has many names.
- “æ”, still used in many languages, makes the “a” sound of “cat” in Old English. Its name is “Ash”, or “Æsh”.
The transition from Old English to Modern English brought about significant changes in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. The Great Vowel Shift mentioned earlier was just one aspect of this evolution. As time passed, English absorbed influences from various sources, including the Norman Conquest, the Renaissance, and the expansion of the British Empire. Each wave of change introduced new words and expressions, enriching the language and expanding its capabilities for communication.
One of the fascinating aspects of languages is their ability to adapt and incorporate elements from other cultures. English, as a global language, has been particularly adept at this process. It has borrowed extensively from Latin, French, Greek, and many other languages, resulting in a diverse vocabulary that reflects the language's historical journey.
Moreover, the geographical spread of English across the world has given rise to various dialects and regional variations. From British English to American English, Australian English to Indian English, each version has its own distinct vocabulary, pronunciation, and idiomatic expressions. The diversity within the English language is a testament to its versatility and adaptability.
As a language enthusiast, I find joy in exploring the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of different languages. It opens up a world of understanding and appreciation for different cultures and perspectives. Language is not merely a means of communication; it is a gateway to a rich tapestry of human experiences and ideas.
Learning a new language can be a transformative experience. It allows you to connect with people from different backgrounds, immerse yourself in different traditions, and gain a deeper understanding of the world. The process of language learning also exercises your brain, enhances cognitive abilities, and fosters empathy and cultural sensitivity.
In conclusion, the evolution of language, as shown in the journey of English, is a testament to the ever-changing nature of human communication. From its humble origins as Old English to its current status as a global lingua franca, English has undergone remarkable transformations. The beauty of languages lies in their ability to adapt, evolve, and connect people across borders and cultures. So let us embrace the richness of languages, celebrate their diversity, and continue to explore the fascinating world they offer us.