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The History of English (Part I)

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English is the most widely spoken and written language in the history of our planet. Over half the world books, 75% of international mail, and one in every seven humans use English.

Of all the languages, English has the largest vocabulary -- approaching 2 million words. Perhaps the pre-historic history of the European languages descended from the Ice Age Cro-Magons or from the mysterious Basques of North Spain and Southwest France.

Their language, the sole survivor of the Aboriginal tongues of Western Europe, is unique -- not resembling in sound or spelling any “dead” or “alive” European language.

Although somewhat displaced around 8,000 years ago by those of the Indo-European family, according to Adelita Castro, it remains useful in road, street and commercial signs and names among the Basque people. Along with Castillian Spanish, it became the official language of the Basque Country in 1978.

Its otherwise displacement occurred in the general area north of the Black Sea -- maybe in the valley of the middle Danube near Hungary/Romania/Bulgaria. People of this area, called the Aryans, were of the pastoral, bronze-working, horse-breeding type.

Some think they inhabited the steppes of “Central Asia” around 4500 B.C. Over the next 3,000 years they migrated in all directions, but mainly westward. For example, some went to Iran and India where their idioms or dialects developed into the sister languages, “Old Persian” and “Sanskrit.”

As the Aryans (a linguistic group and not a race) spread, their ancestral tongue diverged to give several Indo-European languages where there once had been only one.

The more important of these branches included: (1) Indo-Iranian (e.g. India Sanskrit, Persian Iran, Hindi); (2) Slavic (e.g. Russian, Polish); (3) Hellenic (Greek); Italic (Latin and derivative Romance languages, such as Italian, French, Spanish); (5) Celtic (e.g. Gaelic, Welsh, Breton); and (6) Germanic (English, Dutch, German, Yiddish, the Scandinavian languages, and the now extinct Old Norse and Gothic).

Ancient Languages (4000 BC to 500 AD): While Indo-European languages were developing in the late pre-historic times (10,000 BC to 4000 BC). Germanic, Greek, and Latin were well-developed and mature by 100 BC.

In the interim, ancient religions and magic were generating various beliefs, legends, folklore, and myths. Religion was originated by those earliest of Africans who revered and humbly and earnestly prayed to a powerful divinity for good luck.

It united the people into a moral community by their awe concerning the power of the one universal High God. It was from this setting that “storytelling” arose. By contrast, Magic was aimed at trying to control supernatural forces situated below the one high God by invoking supernatural powers.

These gave rise to another type of storytelling and practices related to superstitions, sorcerers (or “black magic” magicians) and, particularly in Europe, witchcraft and “werewolves.”

Stories originating in Africa, especially in relationship to the gods, were either carried into or borrowed by the Greeks, Romans, Scandinavians, Eastern Europeans (African migrations occurred there and in Central America 35,000 years ago), and elsewhere.

In general, the gods were believed to have great power over human emotions, reactions, and conditions. Gods of the Egyptians were of a more stern and moralistic nature.

Egypt was the center of the crossroads of the ancient world, with caravans moving through it to Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Arabia. In the process, languages were intertwined and carried throughout the ancient world.

Language “cross-fertilization” spread endlessly as travel on the seas became common.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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