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The History of English (Part III)

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Perhaps the English tongue began in 430 A.D. with the migration of the Anglo-Saxons into Britain. However, languages giving rise to English can all be traced to the parent Indo-European.

Its linguistic descendants include Sanskrit (ancestor of the majority of tongues currently spoken in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), Greek, Latin (and its descendants like French, Spanish, Italian), the Celtic and Germanic tongues, Baltic and Slavonic languages, the Iranian tongues of Western Asia, and various minor languages -- both current and extinct -- including Armenian, Albanian, and ancient Hittite.

Indo-European is the name given for geographic reasons to a large and well-defined family of languages, not to a race of people. Latin itself borrowed from others -- the Celts, (or Gauls of France), the Greeks, and the Etruscans who arrived in Italy around 1200 B.C. from Asia Minor (the “little Asia” peninsula facing the Aegean Sea, now called Turkey).

All Of These Connections Stemming Back To The Indo-European Language Are Important Because They Indicate The Dispersion of European Values.

From Latin evolved formal literary “classical Latin” as well as “vulgar” (popular) Latin spoken by the common people. Classical Latin, originally spoken during the first millennium B.C. in Rome, has continued to be used as an official language by the Roman Catholic Church.

Vulgar Latin was the everyday speech from the 3rd century A.D. throughout the Roman Empire. Thus, it spread over Europe and branched into the modern Romance Languages -- French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

As with the subdivisions of English and French (Old French, A.D. 1000-1400; Middle French 1500-1700), Latin had the stages of Late Latin (A.D. 300-700); Middle (Medieval) Latin (700-1500); and New Latin (1500-present). Because classical Greek and Latin are no longer used in social intercourse, they are termed “Dead Languages.”

Yet, Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Sanskrit are still intensely studied because of their literary or historical importance to the English language. For some misinformed reason, many have considered standard English to be a “pure” language.

Thus, those who speak it with “good grammar” and with approved pronunciation are said to demonstrate the polite language characteristic of “high class” society. However, English was born as a pidgin of Latin and the local British language and is no better than Ebonics.

Then, as invaders increasingly married local girls or fathered children by them, each person became more and more fluent in the other’s tongue. To the children of these unions, the “salad pidgin” English itself, which resulted from that spoken by their cross-breeding parents, became a mother tongue, now called a Creole language.

In the first few generations after the Roman’s conquest, the prestige speech was simply Latin. Overtime, foreign infiltration brought increasing numbers of new words and odd pronunciations. After that, subsequent language development went in opposite directions. On the one hand, the more isolated a colony the more its dialect remained Latin.

On the other hand, the more a colony intermingled with fellow English neighbors the more its dialect took on English characteristics. Overall, English was the dominant vernacular (popular language) and Latin the language of learning among scholars.

English eventually became part of the Lingua Franca (Frankish tongue) -- a term probably first used as the name of an extinct hybrid tongue, Sabir. Originally it described a mixture of Italian and other languages employed by traders in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.

The Portuguese adopted this lingua franca and used it as the “seed” pidgin language instilled in the minds of African slaves. When the English rose to dominant power in the 18th century, they switched the slave trade language to English pidgin.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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