Inflections In Old And Modern English English Language Essay

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Part 1

Inflections in Modern English aren't so common but do still occur. The -s which is added to the end of nouns to make them plural e.g. cat to cats or when the -s is added to a verb to make it the third person singular e.g. I eat, she eats. The -ed is added to a verb to change the present tense to past tense.

Language planning is the deliberate attempt to control the use, status, and structure of a language. It is sometimes carried out by the government but can also be carried out by ethnic, religious or occupational groups. Two contrasting categories of language planning are explained below.

Corpus planning is often related to standardisation of a language involving modifications in vocabulary, grammar and writing. In 1932, the Turkish Language Association set to replace loanwords of Arabic and Persian with Turkish equivalents. While most of the words introduced derived from Turkic roots many were Old Turkish words that had not been used for centuries.

In contrast, status planning involves making a particular language or variety an 'official language'. It is concerned with the social and political implications of choosing a language. This was the case in Papua New Guinea where Tok Pisin started off as a pidgin and is now an official language.

Part 2

The English language dates back to the 5th century AD. How do we know this? Linguistic history and non-linguistic history are used as evidence to how the history of the English language developed. Linguistic (internal) evidence is found in texts, documents, place names and personal names. Non-linguistic (external) evidence comes from archaeological sites or contemporary written histories.

Leith (2007, p.44) cites Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People as the most famous piece of external evidence. This work tells how three Germanic tribes invaded Britain: the Saxons, the Angles and the Jutes and each having their own dialect from the area they came from. Initially settling on the east coast they quickly took over much of the land pushing the natives into what is now known as Wales and Scotland.

Bede was writing 300 years after the invasion so it is assumed that his account was based on stories that had been passed down through the generations. His story is said to be simplified by scholars as some details were omitted such as the Germanic tribe known as the Frisians who invaded along with the others. This oversimplification has led Crystal (2004, cited by Leith, 2007, p.47) to believe that the traditional view is simplistic and that 'although some Britons fled to the Welsh mountains, the far north, the Cornish moors ... many - probably the majority - stayed in subjection, and by degrees adopted the new culture'.

Internal evidence is found in place names and personal names. Leith (2007, p.48) explains Celtic forms were frequently combined with Anglo-Saxon ones. The village of Brill in Buckinghamshire combines Celtic bre meaning 'hill' and the Old English hyl meaning 'hill'. Similarly, a place name with the ending 'ing' means the people of and 'ton' meaning village comes from the Anglo-Saxons. One theory for the mixing of place names is that the Anglo-Saxons could have got their Celtic words from Latin in the Roman presence in Europe explains Crystal, (2004, cited by Leith, 2007, p75), as the Celts used Latin words in their own language. This is evident in the Welsh eglwys 'church' from the Latin ecclesia.

Personal names are also used as internal evidence. The king of Wessex in 685, an Anglo-Saxon was Cædwalla. This is a Welsh name and brings us to ask ourselves why they gave themselves a name of the people they just evicted. Crystal (2004, cited by Leith, 2007, p.76) suggests that Anglo-Saxons would intermarry with Romano-Celts and names would therefore come from both the Celtic and Germanic languages. Another famous name is Cædmon, Englands first Christian poet. He too has a Welsh name. From this we can see that there was contact with the Celts but why there wasn't a greater input of loanwords into Old English still remains unanswered.

Internal evidence is most commonly found in written texts. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People was translated into Old English in the ninth century. Many words are unrecognisable in the story of Caedmon. Leith (2007, p.53) comments to change some letters round such as Þ and ° to th and æ to a, we can see Þæt becomes that and Þis becomes this. Changing hw to wh and ht to ght we can make sense of hwæt as what and næht as night. Other words have changed meaning as in the word tide. In Old English this meant time and it is possible to see that the modern meaning 'the time the sea comes in or goes out' derived from this. Other words from Old English are often retained in regional dialects such as the word neata which is similar to the word neat-house meaning cattle shed in East Anglia.

Leith (2007, p.54) explains that we can never prove how the Anglo-Saxons pronounced certain sounds but it is assumed that spellings had the sound values originally associated with spoken Latin as the letters were taken from the Latin alphabet. It is assumed that the letter h sound was similar to that of Modern English. It appears in front of other consonants as in hwæt and hrofe which does not happen today and of course at the end of words, as in purh, which is assumed to sound like the Scots loch or the German doch.

The final aspect of internal evidence I will look at is the grammar. Word order was much freer and highly inflected in Old English. Leith (2007, p.56) uses Caedmon's poem to show the verse was based on a combination of stressed syllables and repetition of initial sounds rather than rhyme. Modern English is much rigid and has a more fixed word order. The Old English inflectional system was inefficient and was therefore 'ripe for analogical re-modelling, argues Lass (1992, cited by Leith, 2007, p.62).

Throughout this piece of work I have identified both the internal and external evidence. Using examples of each it has been shown how the native Celts were introduced to the different dialects of the invaders. The Celtic language had been previously influenced by the Romans who had also influenced the Anglo-Saxons when they travelled through the continent. Today we can still see the evidence in our place names and personal names and of course although most Old English vocabulary is not used today many are still understood.