Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

German is the name given to the kind of German spoken in Upper Germany-that is, in the table-land which lies south of the river Main, and which rises gradually till it runs into the Alps. New High German is the German of books-the literary language-the German that is taught and learned in schools. Low German is the name given to the German dialects spoken in the lowlands-in the German part of the Great Plain of Europe, and round the mouths of those German rivers that flow into the Baltic and the North Sea. Scandinavian is the name given to the languages spoken in Denmark and in the great Scandinavian Peninsula. Of these three languages, Danish and Norwegian are practically the same —their literary or book-language is one; while Swedish is very different. Icelandic is the oldest and purest form of Scandinavian. The following is a table of the

GROUP OF TEUTONIC LANGUAGES.

LOW GERMAN.

TEUTONIC.

HIGH GERMAN.

SCANDINAVIAN.

Dutch. Flemish. Frisian. English. Old. Middle. New. Icelandic. Dansk Ferroic. Svensk (or Norsk). (Swedish).

It will be observed, on looking at the above table, that High German is subdivided according to time, but that the other groups are subdivided according to space.

9. English a Low-German Speech.-Our English tongue is the lowest of all Low-German dialects. Low German is the German spoken in the lowlands of Germany. As we descend the rivers, we come to the lowest level of all-the level of the sea. Our English speech, once a mere dialect, came down to that, crossed the German Ocean, and settled in Britain, to which it gave in time the name of Angla-land or England. The Low German spoken in the Netherlands is called Dutch; the Low German spoken in Friesland-a prosperous province of Holland -is called Frisian; and the Low German spoken in Great Britain is called English. These three languages are extremely like one another; but the Continental language that is likest

the English is the Dutch or Hollandish dialect called Frisian. We even possess a couplet, every word of which is both English and Frisian. It runs thus

Good butter and good cheese
Is good English and good Fries.

10. Dutch and Welsh—a Contrast.—When the Teuton conquerors came to this country, they called the Britons foreigners, just as the Greeks called all other peoples besides themselves barbarians. By this they did not at first mean that they were uncivilised, but only that they were not Greeks. Now, the Teutonic or Saxon or English name for foreigners was Wealhas, a word afterwards contracted into Welsh. To this day the modern Teuts or Teutons (or Germans, as we call them) call all Frenchmen and Italians Welshmen; and, when a German peasant crosses the border into France, he says: "I am going into Welshland."

11. The Spread of English over Britain.-The Jutes, who came from Juteland or Jylland-now called Jutland-settled in Kent and in the Isle of Wight. The Saxons settled in the south and western parts of England, and gave their names to those kingdoms—: -now counties-whose names came to end in sex. There was the kingdom of the East Saxons, or Essex; the kingdom of the West Saxons, or Wessex; the kingdom of the Middle Saxons, or Middlesex; and the kingdom of the South Saxons, or Sussex. The Angles settled chiefly on the east coast. The kingdom of East Anglia was divided into the regions of the North Folk and the South Folk, words which are still perpetuated in the names Norfolk and Suffolk. These three sets of Teutons all spoke different dialects of the same Teutonic speech; and these dialects, with their differences, peculiarities, and odd habits, took root in English soil, and lived an independent life, apart from each other, uninfluenced by each other, for several hundreds of years. But, in the slow course of time, they joined together to make up our beautiful English language-a language which, however, still bears in itself the traces of dialectic forms, and is in no respect of one kind or of one fibre all through.

CHAPTER I.

THE PERIODS OF ENGLISH.

1. Dead and Living Languages.-A language is said to be dead when it is no longer spoken. Such a language we know only in books. Thus, Latin is a dead language, because no nation anywhere now speaks it. A dead language can undergo no change; it remains, and must remain, as we find it written in books. But a living language is always changing, just like a tree or the human body. The human body has its periods or stages. There is the period of infancy, the period of boyhood, the period of manhood, and the period of old age. In the same way, a language has its periods.

2. No Sudden Changes-a Caution.-We divide the English language into periods, and then mark, with some approach to accuracy, certain distinct changes in the habits of our language, in the inflexions of its words, in the kind of words it preferred, or in the way it liked to put its words together. But we must be carefully on our guard against fancying that, at any given time or in any given year, the English people threw aside one set of habits as regards language, and adopted another set. It is not so, nor can it be so. The changes in language are as gentle, gradual, and imperceptible as the changes in the growth of a tree or in the skin of the human body. We renew our skin slowly and gradually; but we are never conscious of the process, nor can we say at any given time that we have got a completely new skin.

3. The Periods of English.-Bearing this caution in mind, we can go on to look at the chief periods in our English language. These are five in number; and they are as follows :—

I. Ancient English or Anglo-Saxon,

II. Early English,

III. Middle English,.

IV. Tudor English,

V. Modern English,

449-1100

1100-1250

1250-1485

1485-1603

1603-1900

These periods merge very slowly, or are shaded off, so to speak, into each other in the most gradual way. If we take the English of 1250 and compare it with that of 900, we shall find a great difference; but if we compare it with the English of 1100 the difference is not so marked. The difference between the English of the nineteenth and the English of the fourteenth century is very great, but the difference between the English of the fourteenth and that of the thirteenth century is very small.

4. Ancient English or Anglo-Saxon, 450-1100.-This form of English differed from modern English in having a much larger number of inflexions. The noun had five cases, and there were several declensions, just as in Latin; adjectives were declined, and had three genders; some pronouns had a dual as well as a plural number; and the verb had a much larger number of inflexions than it has now. The vocabulary of the language contained very few foreign elements. The poetry of the language employed head-rhyme or alliteration, and not end-rhyme, as we do now. The works of the poet Caedmon and the great prosewriter King Alfred belong to this Anglo-Saxon period.

5. Early English, 1100-1250.-The coming of the Normans in 1066 made many changes in the land, many changes in the Church and in the State, and it also introduced many changes into the language. The inflexions of our speech began to drop off, because they were used less and less; and though we never adopted new inflexions from French or from any other language, new French words began to creep in. In some parts of the country English had ceased to be written in books; the language existed as a spoken language only; and hence accuracy in the use of words and the inflexions of words could not be

ensured. Two notable books-written, not printed, for there was no printing in this island till the year 1474-belong to this period. These are the Ormulum, by Orm or Ormin, and the Brut, by a monk called Layamon or Laweman. The latter tells the story of Brutus, who was believed to have been the son of Æneas of Troy; to have escaped after the downfall of that city; to have sailed through the Mediterranean, ever farther and farther to the west; to have landed in Britain, settled here, and given the country its name.

6. Middle English, 1250-1485.-Most of the inflexions of nouns and adjectives have in this period-between the middle of the thirteenth and the end of the fifteenth century-completely disappeared. The inflexions of verbs are also greatly reduced in number. The strong1 mode of inflexion has ceased to be employed for verbs that are new-comers, and the weak mode has been adopted in its place. During the earlier part of this period, even country-people tried to speak French, and in this and other modes many French words found their way into English. A writer of the thirteenth century, John de Trevisa, says that country-people "fondeth [that is, try] with great bysynes for to speke Freynsch for to be more y-told of." The country-people did not succeed very well, as the ordinary proverb shows: "Jack would be a gentleman if he could speak French." Boys at school were expected to turn their Latin into French, and in the courts of law French only was allowed to be spoken. But in 1362 Edward III. gave his assent to an Act of Parliament allowing English to be used instead of Norman-French. "The yer of oure Lord," says John de Trevisa, " a thousond thre hondred foure score and fyve of the secunde Kyng Richard after the conquest, in al the gramer scoles of Engelond children leveth Freynsch, and construeth and turneth an Englysch.' "" To the first half of this period belong a Metrical Chronicle, attributed to Robert of Gloucester; Langtoft's Metrical Chronicle, translated by Robert de Brunne; the Agenbite of Inwit, by Dan Michel of Northgate in Kent; and a few others. But to the second 1 See p. 43.

« VorigeDoorgaan »