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Brief History of the English language

Colaboración de: MSc. Rafael García Rodríguez.

English is primarily a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects and was brought to Britain by Germanic invaders or settlers from what is now called North West Germany and the Netherlands. English vocabulary came from the Anglo-Norman languages. English is considered a «borrowing» language. Middle English differed from Old English because of two invasions which occurred during the Middle Ages. The first invasion was by people who spoke North Germanic languages. They conquered and colonized parts of Britain during the 8th and 9th centuries AD. The second invasion was by the Normans of the 11th century, (1066) who spoke Old Norman and eventually developed an English form of this, called Anglo-Norman. European languages including German, Dutch, Latin and Ancient Greek influenced the English vocabulary during the Renaissance. (XV and XVI centuries in Europe) Old English initially was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain.
Old English
After the Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Germanic language displaced the indigenous Brythonic languages and Latin in most of the areas of Britain that later became England. The original Celtic languages remained in parts of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall (where Cornish was spoken into the 18th century), although large numbers of compound Celtic-Germanic place names survive, hinting at early language mixing. Latin also remained in these areas as the language of the Celtic Church and of higher education for the nobility. Latin was later to be reintroduced to England by missionaries from both the Celtic and Roman churches, and it would, in time, have a major impact on English. What is now called Old English emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonizing tribes. Even then, Old English continued to exhibit local variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. The most famous surviving work from the Old English period is the epic poem Beowulf, composed by an unknown poet. In the 10th and 11th centuries.
Middle English
For centuries following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Norman kings and high-ranking nobles in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles spoke Anglo-Norman, a variety of Old Norman, originating from a northern langue d’oïl dialect. Merchants and lower-ranked nobles were often bilingual in Anglo-Norman and English, while English continued to be the language of the common people. Middle English was influenced by both Anglo-Norman and, later, Anglo-French. Until the 14th century, Anglo-Norman and then French was the language of the courts and government, but for example the Pleading in English Act 1362 made English the only language in which court proceedings could be held, though the official record remained in Latin. Even after the decline of Norman French, standard French retained the status of a formal or prestige language—as in most of Europe during the period—and had a significant influence on the vernacular English, which is visible in Modern English today. .
Early Modern English
The English language underwent extensive sound changes during the 1400s, while its spelling conventions remained rather constant. Modern English is often dated from the Great Vowel Shift, which took place mainly during the 15th century. English was further transformed by the spread of a standardized London-based dialect in government and administration and by the standardizing effect of printing. Consequent to the push toward standardization, the language acquired self-conscious terms such as «accent» and «dialect». By the time of William Shakespeare (mid 16th – early 17th century), the language had become clearly recognizable as Modern English. In 1604, the first English dictionary was published, the Table Alphabetical.
Modern English (Phonological changes)
Over the last 2,000 years or so, English has undergone extensive changes in its vowel system but many fewer changes to its consonants. In the Old English period, a number of umlaut processes affected vowels in complex ways, and unstressed vowels were gradually eroded, eventually leading to a loss of grammatical case and grammatical gender in the Early Middle English period. The most important umlaut process was *i-mutation (c. 500 CE), which led to pervasive alternations of all sorts, many of which survive in the modern language: e.g. in noun paradigms (foot vs. feet, mouse vs. mice, brother vs. brethren); in verb paradigms (sold vs. sell); nominal derivatives from adjectives («strong» vs. «strength», broad vs. breadth, foul vs. filth) and from other nouns (fox vs. «vixen»); verbal derivatives («food» vs. «to feed»); and comparative adjectives («old» vs. «elder»). Consonants were more stable, although velar consonants were significantly modified by palatalization, which produced alternations such as speak vs. speech, drink vs. drench, wake vs. watch, bake vs. batch. The Middle English period saw further vowel changes.
Vowel changes
The following table shows the principal developments in the stressed vowels, from Old English through Modern English (where C indicates any consonant): The following chart shows the primary developments of English vowels in the last 600 years in more detail, since Late Middle English of Chaucer’s time. The Great Vowel Shift can be seen in the dramatic developments between c. 1400 and 1600 AD. Neither of the above tables cover the history of Middle English diphthongs, the changes before /r/, or various special cases and exceptions. For details, see phonological history of English as well as the articles on Old English phonology and Middle English phonology.
Grammatical changes
The English language once had an extensive declension system similar to Latin, modern German and Icelandic. Old English distinguished between the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases, and for strongly declined adjectives and some pronouns also a separate instrumental case (which otherwise and later completely coincided with the dative). In addition, the dual number was distinguished from the singular and plural. Declension was greatly simplified during the Middle English period, when the accusative and dative cases of the pronouns merged into a single oblique case that also replaced the genitive case after prepositions. Nouns in Modern English no longer decline for case, except for the genitive.
Evolution of English pronouns
Pronouns such as whom and him (contrasted with who and he)», are a conflation of the old accusative and dative cases, as well as of the genitive case after prepositions (while her also includes the genitive case). This conflated form is called the oblique case or the object (objective) case, because it is used for objects of verbs (direct, indirect, or oblique) as well as for objects of prepositions. The information formerly conveyed by distinct case forms is now mostly provided by prepositions and word order. In Old English as well as modern German and Icelandic as further examples, these cases had distinct forms. Although some grammarians continue to use the traditional terms «accusative» and «dative», these are functions rather than morphological cases in Modern English. That is, the form whom may play accusative or dative roles (as well as instrumental or prepositional roles), but it is a single morphological form, contrasting with nominative who and genitive whose. Many grammarians use the labels «subjective», «objective», and «possessive» for nominative, oblique, and genitive pronouns. Modern English nouns exhibit only one inflection of the reference form: the possessive case, which some linguists argue is not a case at all, but a clitic.

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