Билеты по истории английского языка (The history of the English language)

1.  Periods in the history of English.

     The history of English covers roughly 1200 years.  

     The commonly  accepted, traditional periodisation divides English history into three periods:

     The Old English period (OE) begins about 700 a. d. (it’s the time to which the earliest writings in English belong), and lasts till about 12th century.                                                                                

     The Middle English period (ME) lasts from about the beginning of the 12th century till 15th century.

     The Modern English period (MnE) begins at about 15th century and lasts to the present day.

     Within the Modern English period it’s customary to distinguish between Early Modern English - 1500 - 1660, and Late Modern English - 1660 - …

2.  Synchronic and Diachronic Aspects.

     Before embarking on a study of the historical development of the English language we will briefly consider the two aspects of such study, now commonly called the synchronic and the diachronic.

     We would get a descriptive grammar of the language of the period. Thus, a study of the language of Chaucer and his contemporaries would yield a system of Middle English grammar. A study of the language of King Alfred’s works and translations, of Old English poems, and other texts of the period would be synchronic as a study of 20th- century language.

     A different kind of study is that which seeks to establish the changes which occurred in this or that sphere of the language; this would yield a diachronic result.      

     Let us illustrate this statement by one example.

     The study of the system of substantives in the 9th c. leads to the conclusion that in Old English the substantives had four cases: the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. In a similar way, the study of the system of substantives in the 14th c. leads to the conclusion that in Middle English the substantive had two cases: the common and the genitive. Both these conclusions are strictly synchronic. But when we compare the results obtained by the study of the 9th and of the 14th c., and draw the conclusion that during the intervening centuries the number of cases of substantives was reduced from four to two, this is a diachronic statement. Such reasoning of course applies to many other phenomena.

3.  Origin of the English Language. Languages in England before English.

     The English Language originated from Anglo- Frisian dialects, which made part of the West Germanic language group. The Germanic tribes which conquered Britain in the 5th c. belonged, as ancient historians say, to three tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. These tribes occupied the following territories on the continent: the Angles lived north of the Schlei river; the Saxons lived in modern Holstein; the Jutes lived in Northern Sleswick, which is now part of Denmark. About the 4th century A. D. (Anno Domini) these tribes spread westwards.

     The earliest mention of the British Isles is in the 4th c. B. C. (Before Christ). At this time Britain was inhabited by Celtic tribes (Britons and Gaels), who spoke various Celtic languages.

     Celtic languages are divided into two main groups: the Gallo- Breton and the Gaelic. The Gallo- Breton group comprises (1) Gallic, which was spoken in Gaul (modern France), and (2) British, represented by Welsh (or Cymry) in Wales, Cornish in Cornwall (became extinct in the 18th c.), and Breton in Brittany. The Gaelic group comprises (1) Irish, (2) Scots, so- called Erse, (3) Manx, on the isle of Man, between Scotland and Ireland.

4.  Writings in OE. OE poetry. “Beowulf”. Наиболее яркие произведения OE.


     Among the earliest insertions in Latin texts are pieces of OE poetry. Bede’s HISTORIA  ECCLESIASTICA  GENTIS  ANGLORUM (written in Latin in the 8th c.) contains an English fragment of five lines known as “Bede’s Death Song” and a religious poem of nine lines, “Cadmon’s Hymn”.

     All in all we have about 30, 000 lines of OE verse from many poets of some three centuries. The names of the poets are unknown except Cadmon and Cynewulf, two early Northumbrian authors.

     The greatest poem of the time was BEOWULF, an epic of the 7th or 8th c. It was originally composed in the Mercian or Northumbrian dialect, but has come down to us in a 10th c. It is based on old legends about the tribal life of the ancient Teutons. The author is unknown.

     In the 10th c. some new war poems were composed and inserted in the prose historical chronicles: THE  BATTLE  OF  BRUNANBURH,  THE  BATTLE  OF  MALDON.

     Another group of poems are OE elegiac (lyrical) poems: WIDSITH (“The Traveller’s Song”), THE  WANDERER, THE  SEAFARER, and others.

     Religious poems paraphrase, more or less closely, the books of the Bible - GENESIS, EXODUS. ELENE, ANDREAS, CHRIST, FATE  OF  THE  APOSTLES  tell the life- stories of apostles and saint or deal with various subjects associated with the Gospels.

     OE prose is a most valuable source of information for the history of the language. The earliest samples of continuous prose are the first pages of the  ANGLO - SAXON  CHRONICLES (by King Alfred, VII - IX c.): brief annals of the year’s happenings made at various monasteries.

     One of the most important contributions is the West Saxon version of Orosius’s World History. Alfred’s other translations were a book of instruction for parish priests  PASTORAL  CARE  (CURA  PASTORARIS) by Pope Gregory the Great; The famous philosophical treatise  ON  THE  CONSOLATION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  by Boethius, a Roman philosopher and seaman.

     By the 10th c. the West Saxon dialect had firmly established itself as the written form of English. The two important 10th c. writers are AElfric and Wulfstan.

     AElfric was the most outstanding writer of the later OE period. He produced the  LIVES  OF  THE  SAINTS,  the  COLLOQUIUM  and a  LATIN  GRAMMAR.

     Wulfstan, the second prominent late West Saxon author, was Archbishop of York in the early 11th c. He is famous for his collections of passionate sermons known as the  HOMILIES.

5.  The Roman conquest.

     In 55 B. C. the Romans under Julius Caesar first landed in Britain. This first appearance of the Romans had no further consequences (последствие): after a brief stay the Romans went back to Gaul. In the year 54 Caesar landed in Britain for a second time, he routed (разгромил) the Britons and advanced (продвинулся) as far as the Thames. But this stay was also a short one.

     Permanent conquest (постоянные завоевания) of Britain began in 43 A. D., under the emperor Claudius. The Romans subdued (подчинили) the Britons, and colonized the country, establishing a great number of military camps, which eventually (в конце концов) developed into English cities. About 80 A. D., under the emperor Domitian, the Romans reached the river Glotta (the Clyde) and the river Bodotria (the Forth). Thus, they occupied a territory including the modern cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

     In this period Britain became a Roman province. This colonization had a profound (глубоки) effect on the country. Roman civilization – paved (вымощенный) roads, powerful walls of military camps – completely transformed the aspect (вид) of the country. The Latin language superseded (сменять) the Celtic dialects in township and probably also spread over the country- side. In the 4th c., when Christianity was introduced in the Roman Empire, it also spread among the Britons.

     The Romans ruled Britain for almost four hundred years, up to the early 5th c. In 410 Roman legions were recalled from Britain to defend Italy from the advancing Goths; so the Britons had to rely on their own forces in the coming struggle with Germanic tribes.

6.  The Anglo- Saxon conquest.

     It was about mid- 5th c. that Britain was conquered by Germanic tribes. An old saying names the year 449 as the year of the conquest, and Hengest and Horsa as the two leaders of the invaders (захватчик).

     The Britons fought against the conquerors for about a century and a half – till about the year 600. It is also this epoch that the legendary figure of the British king Arthur belongs.

     The conquerors settled in Britain in the following way. The Angles occupied most of the territory north of the Thames; the Saxons, the territory south of the Thames and some stretches north of it; the Jutes settled in Kent and in the Isle of Wight.

     Since the settlement of the Anglo- Saxons in Britain the ties of their language with the continent were broken, and in its further development it went its own ways. It is at this time, the 5th c., that the history of the English language begins.

     Its original territory was England except Cornwall, Wales, and Strathclyde. These western regions the Britons succeeded in holding, and they were conquered much later: Cornwall in the 9th, Strathclyde in the 11th, and Wales in the 13th c.

     The Scottish Highlands, where neither Romans nor Teutons had penetrated (проникать), were inhabited by Picts and Scots. The Scots language, belonging to the Celtic group, has survived in the Highlands up to our own days.

     Ireland also remained Celtic: the first attempts at conquering it were made in the 12th c.

7.  Phonetic structure. Vowels and consonants.

     The system of OE vowels in the 9th and 10th c. consisted of seven short and long phonemes and of four short and long diphthongs.

     Short vowels: i, e, u, o, a,    , y.

     Long vowels: i, e, u, o, a,    , y.

     Short diphthongs: ea, eo, io, ie.

     Long diphthongs: ea, eo, io, ie.

     The OE consonant system consists of the following sounds: labial – p, b, m, f, v; dental – t, d,   ,   , n, s, r, l, velar – c,   , h. The letter x is used instead of the group cs.

9.  The Norman Conquest.

     The Norman conquest of England began in 1066. It proved to be a turning- point in English history and had a considerable influence on the English language. The Normans were by origin (по происхождению) a Scandinavian tribe. In the 9th c. they began inroads (набег) on the northern coast of France and occupied the territory on both shores of the Seine estuary. Under a treaty (соглашение) concluded in 912 with the Norman chief Rollo, the French king Charles the Simple ceded (уступать) to the Normans this stretch of the coast, which since then came to be called Normandy. During the century and a half between the Normans’ settlement in France and their invasion (вторжение) of England they had undergone a powerful influence of French culture. Mixing with the local population, they adopted (принимать) the French language and in the mid- eleventh century, in spite of their Scandinavian origin, they were bearers (носители) of French feudal culture and of the French language.

     In 1066 king Edward the Confessor died. William, Duke of Normandy, landed in England, and routed the English troops under King Harold near Hasting on October 14, 1066. The Normans became masters of England. The ruling class of Anglo- Saxon nobility (дворянство) vanished almost completely. The nobility was replaced by Norman barons, who spoke French, namely, its Norman dialect. Thus, as a result of the conquest England came to be ruled by a foreign ruling class.

     William confiscated the estates of the Anglo- Saxon nobility and distributed them among the Norman barons. Frenchmen arrived in England in great numbers. Among them were merchants, soldiers, teachers, seeking for a new field of activity. During the reign of William the Conqueror (1066 – 1087) about 200 000 Frenchmen settled in England. This influx (наплыв) lasted about two centuries.

     During several centuries the ruling language in England was French. It was the language of the court (двор), the government, the courts of law (суд), and the church; the English language was reduced to a lower social sphere: the main mass of peasantry (крестьянство) and townspeople. French was the language of the ruling class.

10.  The rise of London dialect and the formation of the National Language.

     In the course of the 15th century the London literary language gradually spread all over the country, superseding local dialects. Spoken English in various parts of Britain gradually approaches the literary norm, and differences between the norm and popular speech tend to become obliterated.

     London documents of the former half of the 15th century are poems by Thomas Occleve (Hoccleve), official London papers, and also official documents from other towns. The literary language is also found in letters written by kings, queens, ministers, and other officials.

     The formation of a national language was greatly forsed by two events of the late 15th century.

     The most significant event of the period was the War of Roses (1455 - 1485), which marked the decay of feudalism and the birth of a new social order - an absolute monarchy.

     Another great event was the introduction of printing. Printing was invented in Mayence (Germany) by Johann Gutenberg in 1438. From Mayence printing spread to Strasburg, then to Italy and to the Netherlands. The englishman William Caxton (1422 - 1491) published the First English printed book, The Recuyeil of the Histories of Troy. Then he founded the first English printing office in London in 1476, and in 1477 appeared the first book to be printed in England, namely, The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers. The spread of printed books was bound to foster the normalization of spelling and also of grammatical forms.

     Printed books was a first- rate factor in fixing spellings and grammar.

     Social changes of the 16th century created the conditions for a great cultural progress and the growth of a national literature. The 16th century was a time of great literary achievement. The early poetical works of Wyatt and Surrey were followed by the The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599), and the 80s and 90s witness the rise of a great number of dramatists. The greatest of these was William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). His contemporaries were Christopher Marlowe (1564 - 1593), Benjamin (Ben) Jonson (1573 - 1637), Philip Massinger (1583 - 1640), Frances Beaumont (1584 - 1616), John Fletcher (1579 - 1625), and many others. This epoch, which historians usually call Elizabethan after queen Elizabeth I, who reigned 1558 - 1603, belongs to the period of Early Modern English.

11.  The verbs in OE.

     The conjugation (спряжение) of verbs shows the means of form- building used in the OE verb system. Most forms were distinguished with the help of inflectional endings or grammatical suffixes; one form- Partic. II – was sometimes marked by a prefix; many verbs made use of vowel interchanges in the root; some verbs used consonant interchanges and a few had suppletive forms. The OE verb is remarkable for its complicated morphological classification which determined the application (применение) of form- building means in various groups of verbs. The majority of OE verbs fell into 2 great divisions: the strong and the weak verbs. Besides these two main groups there were a few verbs which could not be put together as “minor” groups.

     The main difference between the strong and the weak verbs lay in the means of forming the principal parts, of the “stems” of the verb. There were also a few other differences in the conjugation.

     All the forms of the verbs, finite (личный) as well as non- finite, were derived (произошли) from a set of “stems” or principal parts of the verb: the Present tense stem was used in all the Present tense forms, Indicative, Imperative and Substantive, and also in the Present Participle and the Infinitive; it is usually shown as the form of the Infinitive; all the forms of the Past tense were derived from the Past tense stems; the Past Participle had a separate stem.

     The strong verbs formed their stems by means of vowel gradation and by adding certain suffixes; in some verbs gradation was accompanied by consonant interchanges. The strong verbs had four stems, as they distinguished two stems in the Past Tense – one for the 1st and 3rd p. sg. Ind. Mood, the other- for the other Past tense forms, Ind. and Subj.

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