A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE / WHY ENGLISH IS SO WEIRD
Some things just don't go smoothly: buying a house, going to the emergency ward, running for President. I suspect language development is another one of these. If you are a linguistic historian, please don't read this as I have no idea of its accuracy - it was told to me and it seems to conform to the historical facts.
- •Back before you were born, English did not exist.
- •The island we now call Britain was inhabited by a number of tribes who spoke Elvish and other strange languages
- •About 2,000 years ago (still before you were born) Romans crossed over to Britain and occupied it. They had a powerful army so they could get away with this type of behaviour.And they spoke Latin, so the natives tended to run away when they approached.
- •But all things must pass, and so too did the Roman Empire. Things started going downhill in Rome, and the Empire shrank. Angles and Saxons invaded Britain, and the Romans took the next flight out.The Angles and Saxons were from the area we now call Germany. They spoke Germanic languages.
- •Things plodded along in Britain, with the inhabitants speaking their tribal languages or their Germanic ones. Until 1066.This is when a small army of Normans, led by William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel and invaded.
- •They were successful, although they weren't powerful enough to subjugate the entire island.They tended to stay in their castles except to venture out and collect rent.
- •The Normans, being from Normandy, spoke French.As you know, French is a Romance language, a successor to Latin.
- •So we had the French conquerors living the good life in their castles, and the Germanic speaking inhabitants living in huts, raising livestock.There must have been some mixing going on, because we ended up with a language which is neither French nor German.
- •How did each group contribute to the finished product? Let's look at livestock and its end product, meat.Our English words, cow, pig, sheep, chicken, are Germanic in origin. Our English words, beef, filet, pork, mutton, lamb, are French in origin.
- •Maybe this is because the Germanic-speaking peasants raised the livestock, but it was the French-speaking nobles who ate the meat.Or maybe not. I don't happen to be a big fan of economic or class-based interpretations of history. But there does seem to be some logic to this.
- •Fast forward a millennium or so (by now you have probably been born), and we have this illogical, nuanced based language that has lots of rules and even more exceptions to them.Some of these rules can be found in modern German, and others in modern French. German and French weren't designed to be the sources of a new, third language. But I suspect that most languages are similarly strange.