Ebbs and flows of English language
It is well known that in the mid of the fifth century three Germanic tribes invaded modern-day Britain. These tribes spoke similar languages that gradually morphed into Old English and this language was spoken until the 12th century.
It is interesting to note that Old English would be unrecognisable to modern English speakers but its usage constructed the platform for the evolution of the modern era English.
The impact of the Old English is rated to be enormous as almost early of the words spoken in modern English have their roots in it, including “water,” “strong,” and “be.” In another historical development in 1066, the Normans conquered England and brought an early version of French, which would be spoken in Britain by the upper classes but the lower and servant classes stuck with English and did not speak French that remained foreign to them.
This linguistic class division existed until the fourteenth century when English again became the primary language for everyone in Britain but now it was quite infused with French that was gladly adopted by people. The language after Norman Conquest is known as Middle English.
Beginning from the sixteenth century a phenomenon known as the Great Vowel Shift began. It was a distinct change in pronunciation that made the articulation of vowels shorter and shorter. This was the dawn of the Renaissance, a time of extraordinary advances in science, technology, art, exploration and philosophy, all of which combined with the Great Vowel Shift to nudge Middle English toward the era of Early Modern English. However, one singular advancement had the greatest impact of them all and that was the invention of the printing press.
Industrial printing not only gave rise to the mass production of the written word but it standardised the English language and it so happened that the first English dictionary was printed in 1604.
Next in the path of development took place around 1800 when many new words began entering the language. The reason for this was twofold. First, the Industrial Revolution created a need for new words to describe new machines, processes, and concepts.
Second, the British Empire covered nearly one-quarter of the world, which naturally led to foreign words being absorbed into the language.
The result that is seen now is the English prevalent now that is widely understood, spoken and written globally. One of the most important aspects of the language is the patterns that evolved over time and gave English the modern shape.
To begin with is Intonation describing how differences in the way words are spoken can change the meaning of the uttered word. With falling intonation, the voice falls on the last syllable of a phrase, which is usually the case with “wh”-word questions.
Rising intonation lifts the voice at the end of a sentence and this is common to yes-and-no questions, while fall-rise intonation drops the voice then raises it to indicate uncertainty.
Interrogative aspect pertains to asking and it is one of the four basic types of sentences as interrogative sentences, ask questions and end with question marks. Like all sentences, they must contain subjects and verbs, but in this case, the verb comes first. Interrogative sentences begin with who, whom, when,which, whose, what, where, why, and how.
Infinitive usually refers to freedom of form and it is the basic form of a verb that is not bound to a tense or subject—they almost always contain “to” and a verb. “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from “Hamlet” is one of the most famous uses of infinitive verbs in history.
Imperative can be a noun or an adjective indicating urgent necessity but grammatically speaking, it is one of four main verb moods.Verb tenses deal with time while verb moods indicate states and the imperative indicates a state of command.
“Turn the radio off and sit down” is an imperative sentence.
Inflection refers to the addition of letters to verbs, adjectives and nouns to reflect changes in their grammatical forms. The plural inflection of “box” is “boxes.” The irregular plural inflection of “mouse” is “mice.”
Onomatopoeia is also very interesting. Everyone who has ever read a comic book understands that words like “pow!” or “bam!” represent swift strikes or impacts.
These, along with “honk,” “sizzle,” “beep,” “moo,” and “baa” are all perfect examples of onomatopoeias: words that sound like the sounds they represent.
Aphorisms are terse and pithy statements of principle. “Age ain’t nothing but a number” is an aphorism, albeit a grammatically incorrect one, as is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Consonance describes the intentional repetition of similar sounds, particularly consonants, in close proximity—hip-hop music is full of consonance.
This article originally appeared in The Weekender and has been reproduced with permission