Introduction to history of English language

on Monday, May 9, 2011
1) Introduction
2) Principles of language typology

Typology is based in several underlined principles:

1. origin – genetic classification (typology); it classifies languages according
to their origin and history evolution, that is according to generic relatedness of

Genetic classification separates languages related by a common ancestor of


Scientists differentiate between 9 language families

2. inner (internal) structure of the language (grammar). Typological classification
is based on the similarity of language grammar components between languages.

Word order:

Direct: SVO (English)
VOS (Arabic)
VSO (Celtic)

3. Geographical closeness (areal classification) and contacts between language
speaking communities

European language
Australian language
Baltan language
East-Asian language

4. Social importance of a language (sociological classification): suggested
by Abram de Swaon – global language system model busied on hierarchical
organization of peripheral, central, super-central languages, namely English.

Peripheral languages are used within a circumscribed territory for the purpose of
local community: E.g. Gaelic in Scotland.

Central languages are used within a geographical area for communication between
different groups, mostly for education and government: E.g. English in India is
used by native speakers for everyday public functions.

Super-central languages has a wider geographical spread and is used for cross-
national communication. E.g. Japanese is used for karate.

Hyper-central languages are used by non-native speakers across the globe for a
large range of properties. English is a hyper-central language.

3) The place of English language in the Indo-European language family.

English language represents a unit of the Indo-European language family. It
belongs to Germanic subdivision-west Germanic group. The main common
characteristics of Germanic languages:

1. strong dynamic stress (the most common feature) falling on the first root
2. ablaut is a spontaneous positionally independent alteration of vowels inhabited
by the Germanic languages from the common Indo-European period.
3. a tendency of phonetic assimilation of the root vowel to the vowel of the ending:
i.e. so called umlaut.
4. speaking about Germanic consonants we should speak of the correspondence
between Indo-European and Germanic languages, which was represented as a
system of interconnected facts by the German linguist Yacob Grimm in 1822, i.e.
the first consonant shift.

bh -> b -> p -> f
dh -> d -> t -> รพ
gh -> g -> k -> h

Verner’s law explains the changes in the Germanic voiceless fricatives f, p, h
resulting from the first consonant shift and the voiceless fricatives depending on
the position of the stress in the original Indo-European word.

The second consonant shift before the 8th century took place in some West-
Germanic dialects, namely the high German dialects.

Morphology and grammar

One of the main processes in the development of the Germanic words is the change
of a word structure. The common Indo-European word consisted of three elements:

1) its root expressing the lexical meaning
2) inflexion or ending showing its grammatical form, stem forming suffix, a
formal indicator of stem type

In Germanic languages suffix uses with the ending and is no longer visible. The
Germanic nouns had a well developed case system with four uses: Nominative,
Genetive, Dative and Accusative; two numbers: single and plural, gender:
feminine, masculine and neuter.

Germanic adjectives had two types of declension: strong and weak. Agreeing
with the noun in gender, case and number the adjective by its type of declension
expressed the idea of definiteness (weak declension) and indefiniteness (strong

The meaning, which was later expressed by the grammatical class of a word
known as the article.

The adjective also had degrees of comparison, which were mostly formed with the
help of suffixes –iz/-oz (comparative degree) and -est/ost (superlative degree), but
there are also cases of supplevision.

The Germanic verbs were divided into two principle groups: strong and weak
verbs, depending on the way they formed their past tense forms (ablaut, dental

Germanic verbs had a well developed paradigm, including category of person,
number, tense, mood and voice.

The category of voice employed synthetic means of form building.

The people of Germanic tribes were mostly illiterate but some Germanic nations
developed runic alphabet, each letter of which was called a rune.

We know that runes were used to record early stages of Gothic, Danish, Swedish,
English and other languages.

The earliest known runic alphabet had 24 letters and is known as futhark.


The German dialects share a common core of words, either as the result of
common original source or as the result of borrowing.

4) The periods of English language

The main criterion for defining language periods is the stability of phonological
and morphological systems.

The periods of the English language are determined in correspondence with certain
extra-linguistic factors, i.e. events of vital historic or social importance which
influence the society as well as language development.

Three periods of English language

General classification:

1. Old English or Anglo-Saxon period (5-11 century). Started in 449, when the
tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jews migrated to the British Isles. By the 7th
century they established their separate kingdoms.

Angles --> Nortumbria
Saxons --> Wessex
Jews --> Kent

Characteristic features of old English: the principle of written records dated back to the 8th century.

1. In the 7th century the Christian faith brought Latin alphabet.
2. This period was characterized by numerous and significant phonological
3. Old English was a synthetic language: this period could be called the period
of full inflexions.
4. Almost all of the vocabulary was composed of native words, there were very
few borrowings.

Principles of Language Typology
- genetic classification: English - West Germanic - Germanic - Indo-European;
- typological classification: Modern English - analytic, Old English - synthetic;
- areal classification: English - European Language;
- sociological classification: English - Hypercentral language.

Common Characteristics of German Languages:
Phonetics: Stress, Ablaut, Umlaut, the First Consonant Shift, Verner's Law, the Second Consonant Shift
Morphology: noun, adjective, verb diversified categories and endings Alphabet: runic alphabet
Vocabulary: common core of words.