Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

PART III.

THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

INTRODUCTION.

1. Tongue, Speech, Language.—We speak of the "English tongue" or of the "French language"; and we say of two nations that they "do not understand each other's speech." The existence of these three words-speech, tongue, language -proves to us that a language is something spoken,-that it is a number of sounds; and that the writing or printing of it upon paper is a quite secondary matter. Language, rightly considered, then, is an organised set of sounds. These sounds convey a meaning from the mind of the speaker to the mind of the hearer, and thus serve to connect man with

man.

2. Written Language.-It took many hundreds of yearsperhaps thousands-before human beings were able to invent a mode of writing upon paper-that is, of representing sounds by signs. These signs are called letters; and the whole set of them goes by the name of the Alphabet-from the two first letters of the Greek alphabet, which are called alpha, beta. There are languages that have never been put upon paper at all, such as many of the African languages, many in the South Sea Islands, and other parts of the globe. But in all cases, every language that we know anything about-English, Latin, French, German-existed for hundreds of years before any one thought of writing it down on paper.

3. A Language Grows.-A language is an organism or organic existence. Now every organism lives; and, if it lives, it grows; and, if it grows, it also dies. Our language grows; it is growing still; and it has been growing for many

N

hundreds of years. As it grows it loses something, and it gains something else; it alters its appearance; changes take place in this part of it and in that part,-until at length its appearance in age is something almost entirely different from what it was in its early youth. If we had the photograph of a man of forty, and the photograph of the same person when he was a child of one, we should find, on comparing them, that it was almost impossible to point to the smallest trace of likeness in the features of the two photographs. And yet the two pictures represent the same person. And so it is with the English language. The oldest English, which is usually called AngloSaxon, is as different from our modern English as if they were two distinct languages; and yet they are not two languages, but really and fundamentally one and the same. Modern English differs from the oldest English as a giant oak does from a small oak sapling, or a broad stalwart man of forty does from a feeble infant of a few months old.

4. The English Language.-The English language is the speech spoken by the Anglo-Saxon race in England, in most parts of Scotland, in the larger part of Ireland, in the United States, in Canada, in Australia and New Zealand, in South Africa, and in many other parts of the world. In the middle of the fifth century it was spoken by a few thousand men who had lately landed in England from the Continent: it is now spoken by more than one hundred millions of people. In the course of the next sixty years, it will probably be the speech of two hundred millions.

5. English on the Continent.—In the middle of the fifth century it was spoken in the north-west corner of Europebetween the mouths of the Rhine, the Weser, and the Elbe; and in Schleswig there is a small district which is called Angeln to this day. But it was not then called English; it was more probably called Teutish, or Teutsch, or Deutsch-all words connected with a generic word which covers many families and languages-Teutonic. It was a rough guttural speech of one or two thousand words; and it was brought over to this country by the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons in the year 449. These

men left their home on the Continent to find here farms to till and houses to live in; and they drove the inhabitants of the island-the Britons-ever farther and farther west, until they at length left them in peace in the more mountainous parts of the island-in the southern and western corners, in Cornwall and in Wales.

6. The British Language.—What language did the Teutonic conquerors, who wrested the lands from the poor Britons, find spoken in this island when they first set foot on it? Not a Teutonic speech at all. They found a language not one word of which they could understand. The island itself was then called Britain; and the tongue spoken in it belonged to the Keltic group of languages. Languages belonging to the Keltic group are still spoken in Wales, in Brittany (in France), in the Highlands of Scotland, in the west of Ireland, and in the Isle of Man. A few words-very few—from the speech of the Britons, have come into our own English language; and what these are we shall see by-and-by.

7. The Family to which English belongs.-Our English tongue belongs to the Aryan or Indo-European Family of languages. That is to say, the main part or substance of it can be traced back to the race which inhabited the high table-lands that lie to the back of the western end of the great range of the Himalaya, or "Abode of Snow." This Aryan race grew and increased, and spread to the south and west; and from it have sprung languages which are now spoken in India, in Persia, in Greece and Italy, in France and Germany, in Scandinavia, and in Russia. From this Aryan family we are sprung; out of the oldest Aryan speech our own language has grown.

8. The Group to which English belongs. -The IndoEuropean family of languages consists of several groups. One of these is called the Teutonic Group, because it is spoken by the Teuts (or the Teutonic race), who are found in Germany, in England and Scotland, in Holland, in parts of Belgium, in Denmark, in Norway and Sweden, in Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The Teutonic group consists of three branchesHigh German, Low German, and Scandinavian. High

« VorigeDoorgaan »