How did ‘old English’ develop into present english?


How did ‘old English’ develop into present english?

In: Culture

Language evolves over time. It doesn’t just become a new language out of nowhere. (Not usually, anyway) The rules of grammar and vocabulary changed. New words were used; older ones stopped being used. We found ways of expressing things that were better or just different. We misused words until they stuck. We dropped some letters. We changed some spellings. Before you know it, the language looks very different.

In 1066 A.D. William the conqueror and a group of Normans, descendants of Scandinavians living on the coast of France, crossed English channel and began a campaign of conquest that eventually ended in the complete subjugation of England. The language that these Normans brought was a version of French. They spoke this French while the native Anglo-Saxons spoke Anglo-Saxon, or old English. Eventually the Anglo-Saxon and Norman/French speakers begin to mix languages into a combined patois. This was when the most direct ancestor of modern English was born. This language, middle English, eventually had some changes that occurred due to cultural shifts. What it really boils down to is that one generation of English speakers felt that word should sound one way while the next generation thought they should sound a different way. This led to some vowels becoming other vowels. Shakespeare was alive during this time and so that’s why some of what he says sounds similar to modern English, well other things he says don’t sound like English at all!

Language evolves over time. Words gain new meanings. New words are added. Contractions and abbreviations change. Wars or colonies or technology (like the internet) can inject new words into the lexicon.
So it’s a gradual process over hundreds of years. Old English morphed into Middle English, which morphed into Modern English.

I’m sure you could think of a hundred words that have been invented in the last 10 years. OMG, selfie, bingewatch, humblebrag, NSFW, truther, bling, crunk are just some of the words that pop into my head that we have added in the past few years. There are plenty more.

So someday there will be a future version of English, hundreds of years from now that we might not be able to comprehend.

The Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 caused much of Anglo-Saxon culture to be replaced and heavily influenced by French culture, this obviously includes language. Over time English became more similar to French and other Latin based languages. However, much of the English language still retains it’s Germanic routes and so modern English is a sort of mix of old French and Old English.

Old English is the same as Anglo-Saxon, which was an old North Sea Germanic dialect imported into Britain when the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes conquered and largely displaced/killed the population of Celtic-Romans known as Britons.

From the 800s onwards it began a transition into Middle English, first with extensive contact (more conquering and displacement) by the near total Viking conquest of Britain, and then, later in 1066 by the Norman conquest of Britain, which brought in French influences. As time went by in this period, complicated word endings and different word forms for different contexts (e.g., thee/thou/you) were dropped which made it easier for people with different language backgrounds to communicate.

By the start of the Modern English period (late 1400s), most of these were dropped except for particular use cases. The plays and poems of Shakespeare are actually considered Modern English (although early modern english), and the “thou” and the like he uses would have actually been recognized as a bit archaic even for his time. But he uses them for particular artistic effect.

The last major change was the great vowel shift, which, over the course of centuries, changed the way every vowel was pronounced in English. English used to pronounce vowels very similarly to other European languages, but shifted to the modern pronunciation. So for instance, the “a” in “cat” would have sounded like the “a” in the Spanish word for cat, “gato”, which is how we now pronounce the letter “o” in “got”. As you can see, vowel pronunciations sort of shifted from one letter to another. When we pronounce vowels in the more common continental European way, it is often because the word was imported from another language after the great vowel shift occurred.

You already know the majority of Old English words. Let me say that again. If you were to read Old English, you would already know most of the words in there.

French influence came into England when Guillaume le Batard, William the Bastard, William the Conqueror, won at Hastings in 1066.

Slowly but surely the French language became one with the Old English you already know.

To use a topical example let us take the following sentence: “Make America Great Again”. Every word here (apart from “America” is an Anglo Saxon word).

We may rephrase this as “Re-Render America Fantastic” to align with our French ancestors.

Already you can see how the two work in tandem, which is to see how Old English became our language now.