Recently I wrote an entry about pop culture destroying literature and in one comment it was mentioned the beautiful language the classics were written in. This got me thinking; why did the English language have to evolve?
I did some research on the topic, beginning with the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons’ language was already a blend of dialects from West Germanic tribes. Add some dialects from the Norse, Frisian and the Dutch and you start to see the English language form. Now skipping all the history lessons of basically everyone invading England and leaving their make on the English language, you begin to form what is now known as Old English.
This is where it begins to get tricky and hard to follow, so stick with me while I try to explain the old English to modern English transition. From what I can tell Old English pronounced P, b, t, d, m, n, l, and r as we do today but rarely use letters like k, q, v, x, and z, then you have non-modern letters like thorn (þ) and eth (ð).
The period between 1150 and 1475, there were three major dialects of Middle English; Northern (Northumberland), Midlands (Mercia) and Southern (Wessex). From what I can work out, Modern English was like a major merger between the three dialects.
This began the basics of what we call the Modern English language. One of the biggest reasons behind the evolution of language is pronunciation. Words were pronounced vastly different in a lot of cases to their modern pronunciation. Over the years it continued to evolve with influences from Latin, Greek, French, etc. Later on during conflicts with the French, the English dropped the letter u in words ending –our. Though the English picked this practice back up later, the Americans never did (this is why Americans can’t spell).
The 19th Century is where I would have liked the evolution of the English language to stop, but unfortunately it continues. Now the English language has come to a point of dropping letters for ‘IM English’. I hope this won’t be the next evolution in English, but it looks like it is moving that way.
I would love to know what others think of the Evolution of the English Language, as well as what I may have missed.
For more information about the history of the English language in America, a friend recommended a book called Made in America by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson’s book explores the history of the English language in the United States and the evolution of American culture.