Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The English Language, Early Beginnings


One of the most taxing languages to master, the English language with all its inconsistencies, came about with the help of a number of other languages, scholars, missionaries and centuries of conquests.

The Birth of Alphabetic Writing

Unlike it's early predecessors of the alphabet, Cuneiform (using wedge shapes), or hieroglyphics (using pictographic symbols), used lines to serve as spoken sounds.  Many scholars ascribe its origin to Proto-Sinatic, a Semitic form of writing born in Egypt between 1800 and 1900 BC.

From its early beginnings, the foundation for the first widely used alphabet was grown by the Phoenicians, and used about seven hundred years later.

Vowels were added around 750 BC by the Greeks.  Believed to be the first definitive alphabet, it was later taken by the Latins (who would become the Romans), who incorporated Etruscan characters.  These characters included F, S, G, J, V, U, W, Y and Z.  Looking at the Roman alphabet back then, it was starting to look more like the alphabet we use today in modern English.


The Start of Old English

The Anglo-Saxons in Britain around the fifth century AD, is where the history of English language really starts taking shape.  With close links to Scandinavia, and other North Sea Cultures, futhorc, or ancient Anglo-Saxon writing as its called, was a runic language.  First appearing in England with 26 characters, after its slow demise, around the 11th century AD, it had acquired around 33 characters.

Christian missionaries, in the seventh century AD, introduced the Latin alphabet, and the Old English alphabet was formed, with the exception of few excluded letters J, U and W.  This list included the ampersand, and five unique English letters, including ond, wynn, thorn, eth and ash.

The Dawn of Middle English

After the Normans invaded in 1066 AD, the English language was mostly used by the poor.  Clergy, scholars, and nobles spoke/wrote in Norman or latin.

After two centuries of Norman rule, English became more prominent.  By the 13th century old English letters thorn and eth were replaced by "th", wynn would become u -u or "w", and other english letters were scrapped.

Called Middle English, though difficult to understand, is more understandable to the modern English reader.

 The Emergence of Modern English

After the introduction of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in 1448, and later introduction to Great Britain in the mid 15th century by William Caxton, modern English was born.  The letters V and U were split into two letters, somewhere in the mid-16th century, with U becoming a vowel, and V the consonant.  The first English dictionary was published in 1604, by Robert Cawdrey, the Table Alphabeticall, as it was called also added the letter J to form the modern English alphabet we know and use today.


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