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The narrative below describes the origins of the English language.

We hope you will find it useful.

For Australia and New Zealand there are some additional notes at the foot of the text.

English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. This family consists of about 100 related tongues, all descended from the prehistoric language of a pastoral, bronze-working, horse-breeding people, the Aryans, who inhabited the steppes of central Asia about 4500 B.C. Scholars refer to their language at this stage as Indo-European.

Over the next 3000 years or so, the community of Indo-European speakers dispersed, to Iran and India (where their idiom developed into the sister languages, Old Persian and Sanskrit) and elsewhere in many other directions, mainly westward. The farther afield they ranged, and particularly given the long time span, the farther their ways of speaking the ancestral tongue diverged. The old name, Aryan, survived in both Persia and India and is the source of the present-day name of Iran.

A few hundred years after the primeval Aryan community started to break up, there were already several Indo-European languages where there once had only been one. Derivative dialects grew even farther apart, so that by the dawn of history a dozen branches of the Indo-European language family were in use in most of western Eurasia from the Himalayas to the Atlantic.

The most important of these branches are: Indo-Iranian, which comprises Persian (in Iran), Sanskrit, together with derivatives Hindi, Urdu and Bengali (in the Indian subcontinent), and several other languages including Romany, the language of the Gypsies, the Slavic branch, which includes Russian and Polish; the Hellenic branch, Greek; the Italic branch, which includes Latin and the derivative Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian, the Celtic branch, from which are descended Gaelic, Welsh and Breton; and finally the Germanic branch, including English, Dutch, German, Yiddish and the Scandinavian languages.

To illustrate the family relationship of these languages, here are words for mother and brother in languages belonging to the above-mentioned branches and also in the common ancestor tongue, Indo-European:
English
German
Gaelic
Latin
Greek
Old Church Slavic
Sanskrit
Indo-European
mother
mutter
máthair
matēr
mētēr
mati
mātr
māter-
brother
bruder
braithair
frater
phratēr
bratru
bhrātr
bhrāter-



Because words like the mother words have common ancestry, it is customary to refer to them as cognates. Thus English mother is cognate with Latin mater, although it does not derive directly from it.

During the Roman occupation of Britain in the first four centuries of the Christian era, many Britons and Romans were bilingual, but as far as we know it never occurred to any of them that their respective languages, Celtic and Latin, were long-lost cousins. Still less could it have occurred to them that the speech of the Jutes, Saxons, Angles and Frisians (who were then encamped on the North Sea from Jutland down to the mouth of the Rhine) might also be kin. It was with the arrival in Great Britain of these Germanic tribes, however, after the collapse of the Roman authority in A.D. 410, that the history of the English language really began. Their descendants are now referred to as Anglo-Saxons and their language as Old English. They were eventually to give Britain a new name: England 'Land of the Angles'.

The Anglo-Saxon era lasted 500 years. During the second half of the period (from A.D. 800 onwards), successive waves of Viking invaders took over much of the British Isles, reaching their height of influence with the reign of Canute (994-1035), King of England, Denmark and Norway. Though the Viking invaders eventually integrated with their Anglo-Saxon cousins, these Norse-speaking newcomers left a mark on English vocabulary and many words in use today are derived from Old Norse. For instance, hit comes from Old Norse hitta, to come upon, to meet with, thrive and thrift come from Old Norse thrīfa, to grasp, grab.

The language of 10th century England is as far removed from us today as are the longships of the Vikings. In order to understand Old English we must study it like a foreign language. Here, for example, are the opening verses of the Lord's Prayer as recited by the English in the year 1000:

Fæder ūre,
thū the eart on heofonum,
sī thin nama gehalgod,
Tōbecume thīn rīce,<BR>Gewurthe thīn willa on eorthan,<BR>swā swā on heofunum . . . </FONT></td><td VALIGN="top" COLSPAN="2"><P><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000">Our Father<BR>which are in heaven,<BR>hallowed be thy name.<BR>Thy kingdom come,<BR>Thy will be done in earth,<BR>as it is in heaven . . . </FONT><BR><BR></P></td><td></td></tr><tr><td height="256"></td><td COLSPAN="6" VALIGN="top"><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000"><BR>T</FONT><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000">he Norman Conquest in 1066 heralded the end of the Old English period. French became the language of the Court and of state business, while ordinary people continued to speak English. At the same time, William the Conqueror promoted marriages between Normans and English—a farsighted policy that led in the long run not only to a national reconciliation but also to the formation of a new type of English in which the basic native tongue was richly blended with the imported French word-stock. The language is called <I>Middle English</I>, and it is readily recognisable as the immediate ancestor of Modern English.<BR><BR>Middle English emerged during the 12th and early 13th centuries and became a polished literary language during the 14th century, with the classic <I>Canterbury Tales</I> of Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400). The following refrain from Chaucer's 'Merciless Beauty' well illustrates the blend of French and English vocabularies characteristic of the new composite idiom:<BR><BR></FONT></td><td></td></tr><tr><td height="97"></td><td></td><td COLSPAN="5" VALIGN="top"><P><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000">Your yën two wol slee me sodenly,<BR></FONT><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000">I may the beauté of hem not sustene . . .<BR><BR>(Your two eyes will slay me suddenly,<BR>I can beauty of them not sustain ...)</FONT></P></td><td></td></tr><tr><td height="813"></td><td COLSPAN="6" VALIGN="top"><P><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000"><BR><BR><I>Sodenly</I>, <I>beauté</I> and <I>sustene</I> are French-derived; the other words are all native English. This proportion has remained more or less the same since the 13th century. In typical speech or writing, more than half of the words which relate to abstract concepts are borrowed—mainly from French or Latin. At the same time, if you count <I>all</I> words in a typical segment of speech or writing, the native English words very substantially outnumber the borrowed ones.<BR><BR><I>Middle English</I> had a variety of dialects. What emerged as the predominant dialect was that of the south-east of England and London. It achieved dominance, not because it was more agreeable or more pleasant to listen to than the others, but because it was the regional language of the capital. What began as a regional dialect then became a class dialect, the language of the powerful and of the educated clerics from the not-too-distant universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which provided not only churchmen but also what we now call the public or civil service.<BR><BR>By the reign of Henry VIII the language of London and the south-east had become the national standard. A contemporary style manual advises the writer: 'Ye shall therefore take the usual speech of the Court and that of London and the shires lying about London within 60 miles, and not much above.' The language of this exhortation is somewhat old-fashioned—but it is <I>Modern English</I> nonetheless. Prose of remarkable modernity was written by Thomas Moore and William Tyndale during the 16th century. The evolution from <I>Middle English</I> to <I>Modern English</I> culminated, through a succession of scriptural translations, in the great Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611. <BR><BR>There have been innumerable changes in the language since that time, but they have been essentially minor. To the earlier basic English vocabulary and the firmly establish sentence structure were grafted thousands of Greek and Latin borrowings brought in by the Humanists, who were responsible for the Renaissance. It was this rich and varied language that Shakespeare inherited. When he died in 1616 the language as we now know it had been essentially formed.<BR><BR>It has not ceased to develop, nor to expand beyond England. Already in Shakespeare's day English had moved to America. Later colonisation took it further afield. Today it is the mother tongue of millions people in Britain, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. It is a second language—sometimes the only usable common language—in many parts of Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent. It is in world-wide use in international science and technology and in diplomacy. It was even the first language uttered by man on the moon.<BR><BR><B>English in Australia and New Zealand</B><BR><BR>English-speaking peoples can understand each other all over the world. But the spread of the English language over widely-dispersed regions led to many areas developing an independent variety. Americans and British people understand each other. Yet there are many differences between their types of English. Australians and New Zealanders have exhibited similar independence, both in vocabulary and idiom.</FONT><BR><FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" SIZE="3" COLOR="#000000"><BR>The English of Australia and New Zealand is very predominantly the English of Britain. But the English that was brought into these two former colonies has been altered and expanded during the past 200 years. A new country demands a new vocabulary for new experiences, new landscapes, a new night sky, new flora and fauna, and new manners. Words have been created. Others have had to be adapted to form meanings different from those of their English originals. In both countries, lively colloquialisms are common at all points in the social spectrum. <BR></FONT></P></td><td></td></tr><tr><td height="293"></td><td></td><td></td><td></td><td WIDTH="145"></td><td WIDTH="107"></td><td></td><td></td></tr> </table><map name="Map"> <area shape="rect" coords="624,4,920,54" href="../request_quote.htm" alt="Request Quote from Translate Me" title="Request Quote from Translate Me"> </map><FONT COLOR="#000000"><BR><BR><BR><BR><BR></FONT> </body> </html>