The History of English

OEGothicDescription; Position; PronunciationExamplesaaShort back vowel; Mainly in open syllables, when the following one contains a back vowel; English cupmacian (to

The History of English



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earing. So, you see, it consisted of two parts: and and swear. The word and at that time meant against; swear meant to give a solemn oath. In the youth of the English language andswaru was “ a solemn oath made against an accusation”. A man had to pronounce a solemn in reply to an accusation, to prove that it is wrong. In the course of historical development the word lost its solemnity and it means now a reply, to reply. Any little child answer you back today.”

Professor History remarks, “ I see that some of you write with a ballpoint pen, others with a pencil, and there are some who write with a fountain pen. So, you cant do without ink, after all. A simple three-letter word ink comes from a nine-letter ancestor that meant a branding iron. And now a few steps away from the skill of writing towards the skill of healing wounds. When we have a wound we cauterize it, we burn it with heat or with a chemical in order to close it and prevent it from becoming infected. The ancient Greeks used to cauterize a wound as we do, and the grandparent word of cauterize is kauterion, a branding iron. The Greek not only sealed wounds with heat, but they used much the same process in art for sealing fast the colours of their painting. It was customary then to use wax colours fixed with heat or, as they expressed it, encauston, burned in. In Latin this word changed to encaustum, and it became the name for a kind of purple ink that the emperors used when they signed their official documents. In Old French encaustum became enque. English adopted the word as enke or inke, that is how today we have our ink, coloured liquid used for writing or printing.”

“The start of spoken language is buried in mystery and in a tangle of theories,” Professor History begins his lecture. “The history of written language also disappears in the jungles, in the deserts and far fields of unrecorded time. But at least the words that have to do with writing tell us much about the early beginning of the art and the objects that were used to record the written symbols.

The word write was spelled writan in Old English. It first meant to scratch, and it is exactly what the primitives did on their birch-bark or shingles with sharp stones and others pointed instruments. In the more sophisticated lands that surrounded the Mediterranean the papyrus plant was used instead of the bark of the trees; as you already know, that gave us the word paper.

Pen with which we write now, in its Latin form penna, meant a feather and in some ancient collections you can still see quill pens. And pencil that we hold inherits its name from the Latin penicillum, meaning a little tail, and this refers to the time when writing was done with a tiny brush that looked indeed like a little tail.

The term letter designating a written symbol, a letter of the alphabet is thought to be relative to the Latin word linere, to smear, to leave a dirty mark on some surface. Isnt it a good description of some of the early writing?

But what is written should be read. In read we have an odd little word, from the Old English raedan, which meant first to guess, to discern. And again it is just what you had to do to interpret what was scratched on wooden shingles. Anything that had to be interpreted was called a raedels. Later on people began to think that the word raedels was a plural because of the “s” on the end. A new singular, raedel was formed and here is the ancestor of our word riddle. Finally the word read took on its modern meaning: if you can read, you have the ability to look at and understand what is written.

Of course the basis of all writing is language. But it is first of all, a spoken activity, and hence this noun is derived from a word referring to the organ of speech primarily involved. In this case it is the French word language, which goes back to the Latin lingua, tongue. The English, though, retained their native word to name that soft movable part inside your mouth whish you see for tasting and licking and for speaking”, a tongue. Sometimes you may hear the word tongue used in the meaning of language, but it is an old-fashioned and literary use.

If you want to read what is written in a foreign language, you need a dictionary. The term dictionary comes from the Latin word dictio, from dico, say or speak. A dictionary is really a record of what people say, of the pronunciation, spellings, and meanings that they give to words.”

In Old English there was a different word with which the Englishmen called bread, it was half. But then as a result of the Vikings invasion and Scandinavian influence on the English language a new word of the same meaning entered the English vocabulary from Scandinavian: cake. Since the English had already their own word (half), they started to use the word cake for a special type of bread. First it referred to a small loaf of bread of flat and round shape. From the 15th century it began to mean sweet food, as it does now.

To the Scandinavians, living in Britain, called their bread by the word brauth. The English had a similar word bread meaning a lump, a piece of bread. Under the influence of the Scandinavian language the word bread widened its meaning and began to mean bread in general, while the word loaf (from Old English half) narrowed its meaning, now it is a large lump of bread which we slice before eating.

The Great Englishman Caxton, who introduced printing in Britain in 1476, wrote in a preface to one of the books about a funny episode with egg. The thing is that in Old English the word egg had a different form which spelled as ey in Middle English; its plural form was eyren. And again the Scandinavians brought with them to Britain their word egg. It first spread in the northern English dialects, the southerners did not know it and used their native word.

Caxton tells the readers that once English merchants from the northern regions were sailing down the Thames, bound for the Netherlands. There was no wind and they landed at a small southern village. The merchants decided to buy some food. They came to a house and one of them asked a woman if she could sell them eggs. The woman answered that she did not understand him because she did not know French. The merchant became very angry and said that he did not speak French either. Then another merchant helped. He said they wanted eyren, the woman understood him and brought them eggs.

For rather a long period of time two words existed in Britain: a native English word eyren was used in the South, and the Scandinavian borrow eggs in the North. The Scandinavian word has won after, as you can see.



D). The Norman French.



I made another excursion into the past. The Time Масhinе has саrried me into the 11th century, into the year of 1066. An аwful picture ореns before my eyes: а great battle at Hastings, the English king Наrold is killed, the English are defeated, the Norman invaders have won а victory. Тhe Normans саmе frоm across the British Сhannеl, from the part of France called Normandy. Тhеу conquered the English under the head of their leader, Duke William, who later got the name of William the Conqueror. Тhе Normans brought into Britain not оn1у their king, but their French language as well. So it еxplаins why there are so many French words in the English vocabulary.

The successful Norman invasion of England in 1066 brought Britain into the mainstream of western European culture. Previously most links had been with Scandinavia. Only in Scotland did this link survive; the western isles (until the thirteenth century) and the northern islands (until the fifteenth century) remaining under the control of Scandinavian kings. Throughout this period the English kings also ruled over areas of land on the continent were often at war with the French kings in disputes over ownership.

Unlike the Germanic invasions, the Norman invasion was small-scale. There was no such thing as a Norman area of settlement. Instead, the Norman soldiers who had been a part of the invading army were given the ownership of land and of the people living on it. A strict feudal system was imposed. Great nobles, or barons, were responsible directly to the king; lesser lords, each owing a village, were directly responsible to a baron. Under them were the peasants, tied by a strict system of mutual duties and obligations to the local lord, and forbidden to travel without his permission. The peasants were the English-speaking Saxons. The lords and the barons were the French-speaking Normans. This was the beginning of the English class system.

The existence of two words for the larger farm animals in modern English is a result of the class divisions established by the Norman conquest. There are the words for the living animals (e.g. cow, pig, sheep), which have their origins in Anglo-Saxon, and the words for the meat from the animals (e.g. beef, pork, mutton.), which have their origins in the French language that the Normans brought to England. Only the Normans normally ate meat; the poor Anglo-Saxon peasants did not!

The strong system of government which the Normans introduced meant that the Anglo-Norman kingdom was easily the most powerful political force in British Isles. Not surprisingly therefore, the authority of the English mona

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