Origin And Development Of English Essay

The History And Development Of English

English is currently one of the most prolific languages in the world, with recent figures from the British Council showing approximately two billion people speaking it in at least seventy-five countries (British Council, 2014). Often referred to as a borrowing language, English has loaned and continues to loan words from nearly every language it encounters, with a majority of the words coming from Latin, French, and Greek (Durkin, “Borrowed Words” 2014). This lingual promiscuity has led to the English language’s somewhat brutal nickname, “the bastard tongue” (Nordquist, n.d.). In this essay we’ll be discussing the history of English, following its origins in Germanic languages, influence from Latin and other European languages, and the standardization that occurred in Early Modern English.
The origins of English have been traced back with relative certainty to the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., when an assortment of three mainland European tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, invaded Britain. While brothers Hengest and Horsa were originally invited to Briton by the king Wurtgern for the purpose of defeating the Picts, a tribe from North Eastern Scotland, they later decided to fight against the Britons for their rich land, deeming the original inhabitants worthless and weak. The brothers then called for assistance in the form of the three major powers of Germany at the time, the Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes; this migration of Germanic peoples to Britain is what most scholars agree was the first step in the genesis of the English language (Ingram, 2008; Durkin, “History,” 2014; English Club, 2014; Merriam-Webster, 2014).
While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s veracity is dubious because it was written hundreds of years after the events it describes occurred, it is highly likely that some version of these events did happen either by invasion or possibly less violent contact, like trade. It’s interesting to note that very little of the Celtic language influenced English and that only a handful of known Celtic words are present in English today, such as “coomb,” a type of valley, and “brock,” another word for badger (Durkin, “History,” 2014). The lack of any prominent traces of the Celtic language in English today suggests that the Germanic peoples held a palpable dominance on the continent after their introduction. The Oxford Dictionary’s History of English relates that “some scholars have suggested that the Celtic tongue might have had an underlying influence on the grammatical development of English,” but that this idea is “highly speculative” (Durkin, “History,” 2014). This hypothetical connection is shrouded in uncertainty because of the lack of writings we have from the Celtic peoples; they lacked a written language before and during these events, and studying the exact correlations between the languages has proved to be extremely difficult, if not impossible (“Ancient Celts”).
The next wave of people to physically invade Britain...

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Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of “divination,” Seneca on anger or clemency, and Plutarch on the passing of oracles—presage to a certain degree the form and tone of the essay, but not until the late 16th century was the flexible and deliberately nonchalant and versatile form of the essay perfected by the French writer Michel de Montaigne. Choosing the name essai to emphasize that his compositions were attempts or endeavours, a groping toward the expression of his personal thoughts and experiences, Montaigne used the essay as a means of self-discovery. His Essais, published in their final form in 1588, are still considered among the finest of their kind. Later writers who most nearly recall the charm of Montaigne include, in England, Robert Burton, though his whimsicality is more erudite, Sir Thomas Browne, and Laurence Sterne, and in France, with more self-consciousness and pose, André Gide and Jean Cocteau.

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