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Module 1

  1. 1. History of the English Language { 11} Module (1) HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS
  2. 2. History of the English Language { 12}The two types of linguistic studies: Synchronic and Diachronic LinguisticsFerdinand de Saussure made an important distinction between synchronic anddiachronic linguistics. In linguistics, a diachronic analysis regards a phenomenon interms of development through time. This may be distinguished from synchronicanalysis that views linguistic phenomena only at one point in time, usually the present.Diachronic analysis is the main concern of historical linguistics; most other branches oflinguistics are concerned with some form of synchronic analysis. Linguistic Analysis Diachronic Analysis Synchronic Analysis regards a phenomenon in terms views linguistic phenomena only at of development through time one point in time, usually the present historical linguistics most other branches of linguisticsThe Definition of Historical linguisticsHistorical linguistics (also called diachronic linguistics) is the study of languagechange.There are over 5,000 distinct human languages in the world. One very basic question ishow did they all get there? Historical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that focuseson the interconnections between different languages in the world and/or theirhistorical development. Historical linguists investigate how languages evolve andchange through time, how multiple "offspring" languages can arise from one past"parent" language, and how cultural contact between speakers of different languagescan influence language development and evolution. We all are aware that English haschanged over time. None of us would be able to understand Old English as it was spoken
  3. 3. History of the English Language { 13}many centuries ago. We also know of words such as "astronaut" that our greatgrandparents would not have known about.A basic assumption in historical linguistics is that languages are constantly changing.Rather than assuming that languages are static, non-changing "things," we need to thinkabout them as one of the most dynamic areas of culture.The main Concerns of Historical linguisticsHistorical linguistics is the study of not only the history of languages, as the nameimplies, but also the study of how languages change, and how languages are related toone another.The main job of historical linguists is to learn how languages are related. Generally,languages can be shown to be related by having a large number of words in commonthat were not borrowed (cognates). Languages often borrow words from each other,but these are usually not too difficult to tell apart from other words. When a relatedgroup of languages has been studied in enough detail, it is possible to know almostexactly how most words, sounds, and grammar rules have changed in the languages.Historical linguistics has five main concerns: 1. to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages 2. to reconstruct the pre-history of languages and determine their relatedness, grouping them into language families (comparative linguistics) 3. to develop general theories about how and why language changes 4. to describe the history of speech communities: a group of people who share a set of norms and expectations regarding the use of language 5. to study the history of words, i.e. etymology: their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.Three tools for the study of language:1. Articulatory phonetics: the representation of a language’s sounds using symbolsdeveloped for that purpose2. Sociolinguistics: the study of language in society, social attitudes toward languagevariation, use, and change
  4. 4. History of the English Language { 14}3. Comparative philology: the reconstruction of earlier forms of a language, or ofearlier languages, by comparing surviving forms in recorded languagesFour specific areas of language change:1. pronunciation2. grammar and morphology3. meaning (semantic change)4. attitudes toward language changeThe evidence for language changeA. Surviving written evidence is important, though not definitive. We must establish relationships between speech and writing; people spoke before they wrote; individuals speak before they learn to write; language is not writing. How reliable are texts? what is the relationship between, e.g., spelling and pronunciation? Learned forms and popular speech? Fixed traditions of grammatical usage and historical changes?B. Knowledge of speech sounds is critical. The historical study of language presents us with certain rules and conventions of sound change; nineteenth-century historical linguistics codified many of these as “laws” that established relationships of sound among different languages and language groups. We thus can work backwards from these laws and conventions to reconstruct the sound of earlier languages.C. We also consider writing about language: manuals of, for example, Latin schoolroom teaching; interlinear glosses; dictionaries, grammar books, diaries and journals, etc.—all can give us evidence for the spoken and written forms of a language over time.Language is a form of social and human behavior.A. Thus, no language is inherently better or more grammatical than any other; and no earlier form of a language is any simpler, or more complex, or more or less “grammatical” than any other form.
  5. 5. History of the English Language { 15}B. Languages have rules and conventions of successful communication; and yet, throughout history, people have judged language, language performance, and individual linguistic competence.Two axes of the historical study of language1. Should the teaching and study of language be prescriptive: i.e., should it be designed to prescribe standards of language use drawn from historical examples and, in the process, trace a lineage of development?2. Should the teaching and study of language be descriptive: i.e., should it be designed to describe language use and linguistic behavior in order to characterize different forms and habits?Four Myths of Language.A. The myth of universality: There is, as far as we can tell, no “universal” language, no form of utterance that can be understandable to every human being. While there have been attempts to recover historically an ultimate, “ur-language” for human beings, and while some psychologists and linguists have sought to understand the neurological structures involved in language learning, acquisition, and processing, we cannot at present posit a universal form of language.B. The myth of simplicity: No language is harder or simpler for its own speakers to learn as a first language. All children learn to speak at the same rate, and all children, regardless of nation, speak their own languages comparably well. As a corollary, no historical form of a language is simpler or more complicated than any other. English may have lost its old inflectional system, but it has gained new patterns of syntax and word order. No language decays or gets corrupted from an older form.C. The myth of teleology: Languages do not move in a particular direction with a goal. In retrospect, we may observe certain patterns of change, but there is no discernible predictive value to evidence from the current state of a language that can enable us to posit a goal or telos for language change. We might also call this the myth of evolution in language: Languages do not evolve from lower forms into higher ones.D. The myth of gradualism: Languages do not change evenly over time. Languages change at different rates and in different areas. For example, the language of
  6. 6. History of the English Language { 16} Shakespeare, 400 years old, is relatively comprehensible to us. But the language of Chaucer, 150 years older than the language of Shakespeare, was almost incomprehensible to Shakespeare’s contemporaries (here, changes in pronunciation were rapid and wide-ranging during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries). Languages change in different areas (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar) at different rates and at different times.History and Development of Historical linguisticsPeople have thought about the origin of languages for a long, long time. Like other earlylooks into nature and the universe, the early ideas about language where at best obvious(realizing that two very similar languages were related) or lucky guesses, at worst deadwrong, and almost always ethno-centric (only paying attention to nearby languages.This, of course, wasnt always their fault, since communication was so slow. However,for example, the Greeks simply considered most languages in Europe to be "Barbarian",even though there were certainly several distinct "Barbarian" languages).One of the earliest observations about language was by the Romans. They noticedthat Latin and Greek were similar. However, they incorrectly assumed that Latin camefrom Greek. The reality is that both came from Indo-European.There were lots of people looking at languages in the middle ages. However, most ofthem were trying to show Hebrew giving rise to all of the worlds languages, specificallyEuropean languages. This never really worked, since Hebrew is not directly related toIndo-European languages.When Europeans started travelling to India about 300 years ago, they noticed thatSanskrit, the ancient literary language of India, was similar to Greek, Latin, and otherlanguages of Europe. In the late 18th century, it was first correctly theorized thatSanskrit and the languages of Europe had all come from the same language, but that thatlanguage was no longer living. This was the beginning of Indo-European. Since then,many languages from all over the world have been studied, and we are starting to get agood idea of how all the worlds languages may be related.Modern historical linguistics dates from the late 18th century. It grew out of the earlierdiscipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents dating backto antiquity.
  7. 7. History of the English Language { 17}At first, historical linguistics was comparative linguistics. Scholars were concernedchiefly with establishing language families and reconstructing prehistoric proto-languages, using the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The focus wasinitially on the well-known Indo-European languages, many of which had long writtenhistories.Since then, there has been significant comparative linguistic work expanding outside ofEuropean languages as well. Most research is being carried out on the subsequentdevelopment of these languages, in particular, the development of the modern standardvarieties.Comparison of Traditional and Modern Historical Linguistics Area Traditional ModernFocus of Effort The focus of traditional Modern historical linguistics, historical linguistics lies in however, focuses on the progress keeping records of language of language change, trying to change in past times of a analyze the cause or motivation, language or language family. the spread and the modality of language change.Internal vs. Traditional historical linguistics Modern historical linguistics putsExternal concentrates on language and its focal point on external factors,Factors its changes regarding internal e.g., the social surroundings. factors.Centrality of For traditional historical In modern historical linguistics,Language Use linguistics the language the language use and the user are structure and the language centered, claiming that grammar system are very important. is shaped by discourse, and language is changed by the speakers.Primary Traditional historical linguistics In modern historical linguistics,Subjects of is mainly interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmaticsInterest phonology and morphology and are also taken into account.
  8. 8. History of the English Language { 18} not so much in syntax and semantics.Methods Traditional historical linguistics Modern historical linguistics is is based on qualitative both qualitative and quantitative. assessments.Subject Matter Traditional historical linguistics Modern historical linguistics is deals only with written also concerned with spoken language. language.The History of the English Language as a Cultural SubjectThe diversity of cultures that find expression in the English language is a reminder that thehistory of English is a story of cultures in contact during the past 1,500 years. It understatesmatters to say that political, economic, and social forces influence a language. These forcesshape the language in every aspect, most obviously in the number and spread of itsspeakers, and in what is called “the sociology of language,” but also in the meanings ofwords, in the accents of the spoken language, and even in the structures of the grammar.The history of a language is intimately bound up with the history of the peoples who speakit.The English language of today reflects many centuries of development. The political andsocial events that have in the course of English history so profoundly affected the Englishpeople in their national life have generally had a recognizable effect on their language. • The Roman Christianizing of Britain in 597 brought England into contact with Latin civilization and made significant additions to the vocabulary. • The Scandinavian invasions resulted in a considerable mixture of the two peoples and their languages. • The Norman Conquest made English for two centuries the language mainly of the lower classes while the nobles and those associated with them used French on almost all occasions. And when English once more regained supremacy as the
  9. 9. History of the English Language { 19} language of all elements of the population, it was an English greatly changed in both form and vocabulary from what it had been in 1066. • In a similar way the Hundred Years’ War, the rise of an important middle class, the Renaissance, the development of England as a maritime power, the expansion of the British Empire, and the growth of commerce and industry, of science and literature, have, each in their way, contributed to the development of the language. • References in scholarly and popular works to “Indian English,” “Caribbean English,” “West African English,” and other regional varieties point to the fact that the political and cultural history of the English language is not simply the history of the British Isles and of North America but a truly international history of quite divergent societies, which have caused the language to change and become enriched as it responds to their own special needs.Moreover, English, like all other languages, is subject to that constant growth and decaythat characterize all forms of life. It is a convenient figure of speech to speak of languages asliving and as dead. Although we rarely think of language as something that possesses lifeapart from the people who speak it, as we can think of plants or of animals, we can observein speech something like the process of change that characterizes the life of living things.When a language ceases to change, we call it a dead language. Classical Latin is a deadlanguage because it has not changed for nearly 2,000 years. The change that is constantlygoing on in a living language can be most easily seen in the vocabulary. Old words die out,new words are added, and existing words change their meaning. Much of the vocabulary ofOld English has been lost, and the development of new words to meet new conditions is oneof the most familiar phenomena of our language.Change of meaning can be illustrated from any page of Shakespeare. Nice in Shakespeare’sday meant foolish; rheumatism signified a cold in the head. Less familiar but no less real isthe change of pronunciation. A slow but steady alteration, especially in the vowel sounds,has characterized English throughout its history. Old English stān has become our stone;cū has become cow. Most of these changes are so regular as to be capable of classificationunder what are called “sound laws.” Changes likewise occur in the grammatical forms of alanguage. These may be the result of gradual phonetic modification, or they may result from
  10. 10. History of the English Language { 20}the desire for uniformity commonly felt where similarity of function or use is involved. Theperson who says I knowed is only trying to form the past tense of this verb after the patternof the past tense of so many verbs in English. This process is known as the operationof analogy, and it may affect the sound and meaning as well as the form of words. Thus itwill be part of our task to trace the influences that are constantly at work, tending to alter alanguage from age to age as spoken and written, and that have brought about such anextensive alteration in English as to make the English language of 1000 quite unintelligible toEnglish speakers of 2000.