History of English Language

A History of the English Language Past Changes Precipitate Worldwide Popularity Essay The history of the English language is of significance because English is spoken more frequently than any other language except Chinese, according to the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (410). A Germanic language, English is spoken by an estimated 1,500,000,000 people, and that number is ever increasing, according to An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Language and Languages (121). English is the chief language of world publishing, science and technology, conferencing, and computer storage as well as the language of international air traffic control (121). English is also used for purposes of international communications, and international politics, business communications, and academic communities (122).

The history of English can be traced to the colonization of people from a family of languages which spread throughout Europe and southern Asia in the fourth millennium BC, (185). It is thought that a seminomadic population living in the steppe region to the north of the Black Sea moved west to Europe and east to Iran and India, spreading their culture and languages (186). According to The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, the European languages and Sanskrit, the oldest language of the Indian sub-continent, were tied to a common source. When a systematic resemblance was discovered in both roots and verbs and in grammar forms, by comparing similar features of the European languages and Sanskrit, a common source language was reconstructed named Proto-Indo-European (298). The Proto-Indo-European language was more complex than English today. According to The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, It is possible to reconstruct three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and up to eight cases (nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, locative, instrumental). Adjectives agreed in case, number, and gender with the noun.

The verb system was also rich in inflections, used for aspect, mood, tense, voice, person, and number. Different grammatical forms of a word were often related by the feature of ablaut, or vowel graduation: the root vowel would change systematically to express such differences as singular and plural or past and present tense, as is still the case in English foot/feet or take/took (Crystal 299). The Proto-Indo-European language is thought to have been spoken before 3,000 BC, and to have split up into different languages during the following millennium (298). The languages families include Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Indo-Iranian, Tocharian, Armenian, Anatolian, Albanian, Greek, Balto-Slavic, and Slavic languages. Yiddish, German, Afrikaans, Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, and English make up the West Germanic subgroup of the Germanic Branch (Crystal 186). Scholars renamed the language group the Indo-European family after 3,000 BC (298).

Theorists suggest that the horse was a major element of the Proto-Indo-European and the Indo-European family of languages. They conjecture that the culture was spread by warriors who conquered from horse-drawn chariots. Others discount this theory, according the Dictionary of Languages (273). The Indo-European languages have been marked by a succession of changes affecting different languages. One change of note includes the centum/satem split. K followed by a front vowel became s or sh in Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit sata), Iranian (Persian sad), Slavonic (Russian sto), Baltic (Lithuanian simtas), Albanian (qind, pronounced chind) and Armenian. It remained k in Celtic (Welsh cant), Italic, Tocharian (kant), Greek (hetaton) and Germanic (with a subsequent move to h, English hundred).

A sound shift in consonants occurred that differentiated the Proto-Germanic languages from other Indo-European languages. It included several consonants that were changed from the first example to the second example in the following consonants: p>f, t>0, k>x, b>p, d>t, g>k, bh>b, dh>d, and gh>h. The sound shift was named Grimms Law, after the man who described it, according to Contemporary Linguistics (332). The Proto-Indo-European, the Indo-European, and specifically the Germanic language, of which English is a derivative, influenced the early history of the English Language. The early history of the English language began in Britain and with several groups of people. At first people migrated to the placed now called England.

Several invading groups joined the original settlers of England, bringing with them their language and culture. English became a mixture of languages that adapted to the circumstances and the needs of the people. England eventually commanded an empire, thus, spreading the language around the world. When the empire, diminished the Americas continued to spread the English language because of their political power and wealth. The history of the English language is fascinating and follows as events and language changes are pointed out. The Celts were the first Indo-European people to spread across Europe, according The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (304).