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We talk about english. We often think of it as a single language. But what what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common each other or with the writings of chaucer and how are any of them related to the strange words in beowulf.
The answer is that like most languages english has evolved through generations of speakers. Undergoing major changes over time by undoing. These changes.
We can trace the language from the present day back to its ancient roots while modern english shares many similar words with latin derived romance. Languages like french and spanish most of those words were not originally part of it instead they started coming into the language with the norman invasion of england in 1066 when the french speaking normans conquered england and became its ruling class they brought their speech with them adding a massive amount of french and latin vocabulary to the english language previously spoken. There today we call that language old english.
This is the language of beowulf. It probably doesnt look very familiar. But it might be more recognizable.
If you know some german thats because old english belongs to the germanic language. Family first brought to the british isles in the 5th and 6th centuries by the angles. Saxons and jutes.
The germanic dialects. They spoke would become known as anglo saxon viking invaders in the 8th to 11th centuries. Added more borrowings from old norse into the mix it may be hard to see the roots of modern english underneath.
All the words borrowed from french latin old norse and other languages. But comparative linguistics can help us by focusing on grammatical structure patterns of sound changes and certain core vocabulary for example. After the 6th century german words.
Starting with p. Systematically shifted to a pf sound. While their old english.
Counterparts. Kept the p unchanged. In another split.
Words that have sk sounds in swedish. Developed an sh sound in english. There are still some english words with sk like skirt and skull.
But theyre direct borrowings from old norse that came after the sk to sh shift these examples show us that just as the various romance. Languages descended from latin english swedish german and many other languages descended from their own common ancestor known as. Proto germanic spoken around 500.
Bce. Because this historical language was never written down we can only reconstruct it by comparing its descendants. Which is possible thanks to the consistency of the changes.
We can even use the same process to go back one step further and trace the origins of proto germanic to a language called proto indo european spoken about 6000 years ago on the pontic steppe in modern day. Ukraine and russia. This is the reconstructed ancestor of the indo european family that includes nearly all languages historically spoken in europe as well as large parts of southern and western asia and though.
It requires a bit more work. We can find the same systematic. Similarities or correspondences between related words in different indo european branches.
Comparing. English. With latin we.
See that english has t where. Latin has d and f. Where latin has p.
At the start of words. Some of englishs more distant relatives include hindi persian and the celtic languages. It displaced.
In what is now britain proto indo european itself descended from an even more ancient language. But unfortunately. This is as far back as historical and archeological evidence will allow us to go.
Many mysteries remain just out of reach such as whether there might be a link between indo european and other major language. Families and the nature of the languages. Spoken in europe.
Prior to its arrival. But the amazing fact remains that nearly 3 billion people around the world. Many of whom cannot understand each other are nevertheless speaking the same words shaped by 6000 years of history.
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