ТОП 10:

Main Periods in the History of the English Language

Lecture 1


The History of the English Language appeared as a serious science in the 19th century. Every science has its object, subject and aims.

The objectof The History of the English Language is the English Language itself, its phonetic, grammatical and lexical aspects.

The subjectof The History of the English Language is:

· main changes in the phonetic structure and spelling of the language at different stages of the development of the language;

· the evolution of the grammatical system;

· the growth and development of the vocabulary.

All these changes are considered against the background of the main historical events that took place in the country.

The aimof The History of the English Language is to study the changes mentioned above.


The History of the English Language has been reconstructed on the basis of written records of different periods. The earliest written texts in English are dated in the 7th century. The earliest records in other Germanic languages go back to the 3rd or 4th centuries A.D.


Language is constantly changing, at different speed and at different linguistic levels (phonetics, grammar, lexicon). The linguistic history explains many features of present-day language (see § 3-5, p. 10-12 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева).


A language can be studied synchronically:

· a certain period in the history of the development of a language is taken (fixed time boundaries) – horizontal study;

· each level of a language is studied (phonetics, grammar, lexicon);

· different functional varieties of a language are studied (different dialects of this period).

or diachronically:

· all periods in the history of the development of a language are taken – vertical study;

· only one level of a language is studied (phonetics or grammar or lexicon);

· only one functional variety of a language is studied (e.g. Standard English).

These two types of studying a language are closely interconnected and create a full picture of the development of a language.


The History of the English Language is interconnected with other linguistic and non-linguistic disciplines:

1.General Linguistics – provides us with general linguistic laws and rules valid for and language.

2.History – historical events that take place in a country influence to a great extent the language of this country.

3.Theoretical Phonetics – provides us with main phonetic notions and helps to explain phonetic phenomena.

4.Theoretical Grammar – provides us with main grammatical notions and helps to explain grammatical phenomena.

5.Lexicology - provides us with main lexicological notions and helps to explain lexical phenomena.

6.Cultural Studies – helps to understand better the connection between the culture and the language of the country and their mutual influence.

7.Literature – gives us examples of the languages of this or that historical period and these works of literature serve as the material for the language research.


Main Periods in the History of the English Language

The historical events that took place on the British Isles have influenced the linguistic situation in the country greatly. The table below shows the interconnection between the history and the language situation:

Dates Events Population Languages
Old English Period
7th c. B.C. Celtic Invasion Celts Celtic Dialects
7th c. B.C. – 410 A.D. Roman Invasion Celts, Romans Celtic Dialects, Latin
mid.5th c. – late 6th c. Anglo-Saxon Invasion Celts, Anglo-Saxons Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects!
Introduction of Christianity Celts, Anglo-Saxons Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects, Latin
after 8th c. Scandinavian Invasion Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians (Danes) Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects, Latin, Scandinavian Dialects
Middle English Period
Norman Conquest Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians, Normans Celtic Dialects, Middle English Dialects, Latin, French
late 14th c. English – official language of the country the English Middle English Dialects, London Dialect(standard)
New English Period
Introduction of Printing (William Caxton) The English English(New English)
16th – 17th c. Expansion of the British Empire The English English – national languagespreading overseas
Modern English Period
20th c. English – a global language


Thus, the main periods in the language evolution are (rough dates are given):

1. Old English Period– prewritten (450-700)

– written (700-1100)

During this period 1 million people spoke Old English Dialects (see short survey of this period in § 74-77, p. 50-51 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies)).

2. Middle English Period – 1100-1500

During this period 4 million people spoke Middle English Dialects (see short survey of this period in § 78-81, p. 51-52 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies)).

3. New English Period– 1500-1800

(see short survey of this period in § 82-85, p. 52-53 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies)).

4. Modern English Period - ? (1945)-present time

Nowadays 300 million people speak English as a mother tongue (see short survey of this period in § 86-87, p. 53-54 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies)).


The Place of the English Language in the Modern World

(see the text “English as a World Language” in “Horizons” by Е.П. Михалева)



1. § 3-5, p. 10-12 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

2. § 74-87, p. 50-54 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

3. “English as a World Language” in “Horizons” by Е.П. Михалева.

4. Ex. 1, p. 48 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

Lecture 2

First Mention of the Germanic Tribes

As far as the English Language belongs to the Germanic group of languages, this group makes a part of the History of the English Language and we are going to consider the whole group before starting to speak about English itself.

The first scholars to mention the Germanic tribes in their works were:

1. Pitheas (4th c. B.C.) – a Greek historian and geographer, the work “An Account of a Sea Voyage to the Baltic Sea”.

2. Julius Caesar (1st c. B.C.) – a roman Emperor, the work “Commentaries on the Gallic War”.

3. Pliny the Elder (1st c. A.D.) – a Roman scientist and writer, the work “Natural History” (contained the classification of the Germanic tribes).

4. Tacitus (1st c. A.D.) – a Roman historian, the work “Life and Customs of the Ancient Germans”.

Proto-Germanic Language

The Proto-Germanic Language (PG) is supposed to have split form the Indo-European Language (IE) some time between 15th and 10th c. B.C.The Ancient Germans (the Teutons) moved further north and settled on the southern coast of the Baltic Seaand in the region of the Elbe.

The Proto-Germanic Language has never been recorded in written form. In the 19th c. it was reconstructed by means of comparative linguistics.

With time the dialectal differences among the Germanic tribes grew because of the migration and geographical expansion. The reasons for this migration and expansion were:

· overpopulation in the areas of the original settlement;

· poor agricultural techniques;

· scanty natural resources in the areas of the original settlement;

The earliest migration of the Germanic tribes from the region of the Elbe was to the Scandinavian Peninsula.As a result, 2 branches of the Proto-Germanic Language appeared:

· southern branch (those who remained in the region of the Elbe);

· northern branch (those who moved northwards, to the Scandinavian Peninsula).

Later some of the tribes returned to the mainland and settled east of the other Germanic tribes. As a result, the Proto-Germanic Language split into 3 branches:

· East Germanic Languages (those who returned and settled in the east);

· North Germanic Languages(those who moved northwards, to the Scandinavian Peninsula, and stayed there);

· West Germanic Languages(those who never left the mainland).

Old Germanic Languages:

East Germanic Languages

The East Germanic tribes were known as the Goths. They were one of the most numerous and powerful Germanic tribes who returned form Scandinavia around 200 A.D. and settled in the east of Europe. The Goths were subdivided into two major branches:

· Visigotæ(lived on the territory of present-day France) – linguistically were absorbed by the Romanised Celts and spoke their Celtic Dialects;

· Ostrogotæ(lived on the territory of present-day northern Italy) – they spoke the Gothic Language (now dead).

Other East Germanic tribes (Burgundians, Vandals, Langobards) also had their respective languages.


1. It had the oldest written records4th – 6th c. A.D.(compare, Old English – 7th c., Old High Germanic – 8th c.).

2. The Goths were the first Germans to become Christians. In the 4th c. A.D Ulfilas, a Gothic bishop, translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic using a modified form of the Greek Alphabet. “Ulfilas’ Gospels”is a work of 200 pages copied in the 5th – 6th c. Now this copy is kept in Uppsala (Sweden) and is known as “The Silver Codex” because it is written an red background with silver and golden letters.

3. The Gothic, having the earliest written records among the Germanic Languages, is considered to be very close to the Proto-Germanic Language and thus throws some light on the history of this common Proto-Germanic Language.

North Germanic Languages

The North Germanic tribes settled on the southern coast of Scandinavia and in Northern Denmark (since the 4th c. A.D.). They lived relatively isolated and showed little dialectal variation at that time.

There existed one common languageOld Norse/Old Scandinavian. It had the following characteristics:

· It used the original Germanic Alphabet called the Runes/the Runic Alphabet. It appeared in the 3rd – 4th c. A.D. It has come down to us in runic inscriptions– separate words written/carved on objects made of wood, stone, metal (more about it in Lecture 7).

· It was spoken by all North Germanic tribes.

In the 9th – 10th c. A.D.the Scandinavians started their voyages to America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Leif Ericson, a Scandinavia raider, was the first to land on the American Continent). In addition to this overpopulation in the fjord areas caused the migration of the people to inner Scandinavia. This provoked the beginning of the linguistic differentiation. In Scandinavia the linguistic division corresponded to the political division: there were 3 kingdoms (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) that were constantly fighting for dominance and they had 3 respective languages (earliest records in these languages date back to the 13th c.):

· Old Danish –later it developed into Danish (now the national language of Denmark);

· Old Swedish - later it developed into Swedish (now the national language of Sweden and a part of Finland);

· Old Norwegian – was the last to develop, later transformed into Norwegian (now the national language of Norway).

In the 8th c. A.D.sea-rovers and merchants founded numerous colonies on the islands in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean (the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands) and reached even Iceland and Greenland. Thus two more North Germanic languages appeared:

· Faroese(In the Faroe Islands the writing was done in Danish for centuries. The first written records in Faroeseappeared only in the 18th c.);

· Icelandic (9th c. A.D.)


1. The isolation of Iceland caused the preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system.

2. The preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system makes this language very close to Old Norse and helps to reconstruct this ancient common Germanic language.

3. Icelandic has the largest body of written texts (12th – 13th c.), e.g.:

– “The Elder Edda” (12th c.) – a collection of heroic songs;

– “The Younger Edda” (13th c.) – a text-book forpoets;

– Old Icelandic Sagas.

West Germanic Languages

The West Germanic tribes lived between the Oder and the Elbe and they never left the mainland. They were:

· the Franconians(Low, Middle and High Franconians) – settled the lower basin of the Rhine and with time began to speak the language of the Romanised Celts, apart from Low Franconians who spoke Old Low Franconianthat later developed into à Dutch;

· the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes and the Frisians– settled the coastal territories of the Netherlands, Germany, the south of Denmark and the British Isles. The languages they spoke were:

Old English– later developed into à English (national language – 16th c.; first written records – 7th c.);

Old Saxon – later developed into a territorial dialect in Germany;

Old Frisian– later developed into à Frisian

· High Germans – settled the southern mountainous areas of Germany and spoke Old High Germanthat later developed into two distinctive languages:

à German:

– is known for great dialectal diversity;

– first written records – 8th – 9th c.;

12th c. – literary form of the language appears.

à Yiddish(see classification of the Germanic Languages, Lecture 1.)


1. Ex. 2, 6; p. 48, 49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies) (see also lectures on the history on the British Isles (The British Cultural Studies)).

Lecture 3

Phonetic Features

All the Germanic Languages of the past and present have common linguistic features that are not shared by other groups of languages in the Indo-European family (Slavonic group, Romance group, etc.). These features are characteristic of the Germanic group only. They appeared during the period of the Proto-Germanic Language, before it split into a certain number of the Germanic languages. First of all we are going to discuss the common Germanic phonetic features.


Word Stress/Accent

Indo-European (Non-Germanic) Proto-Germanic
1. free stress (movable, i.e. can appear in any part of a word (root, prefix, suffix)); 1. fixed stress (can’t move either in form- or word-building and is usually placed on root or prefix);
2. pitch stress (musical) 2. dynamic stress (force, breath stress)
E.g.: русский E.g.: German English
б`елый `Liebe `white
белизн`а `lieben `whiteness
белов`атый `lieberhaft `whitish
бел`ить ge`liebt `whitewash


The Proto-Germanic type of stress led to the formation of the following peculiarities of the Germanic languages as compared to non-Germanic Indo-European languages:

· phonetic – as a result of the fixed position of the stress the unstressed syllables were becoming weaker and weaker, they got less distinct and neutral sounds (such as “schwa”) appeared;

· morphological – as a result of the fact that the stress was fixed on the root and the syllables following the root were always unstressed and weak, many Germanic languages began to lose suffixes and grammatical endings and became ANALYTICAL LANGUAGES.


E.g.: Old English (OE) [`sunu]

Middle English (ME) [`sunə]

New English (NE) [`sun]

Modern English (ModE) [`sΛn] (the word “son”)




Vowels undergo different types of changes:

1. Qualitative change – affects the quality of a sound (e.g. [o à Λ]).

2. Quantitative change – affects the length of a sound (e.g. [i à i:]).

3. Dependent/positional change– a change that occurs in certain position or in certain phonetic conditions (e.g. bit_ – bite [bit à bait]).

4. Independent/spontaneous change – affects a certain sound in all positions irrespective of phonetic conditions and serves to distinguish a grammatical phenomenon (ablaut) (more about it in Lecture 4).

Main tendencies in Vowel Changes in the Germanic Languages:

1. Short vowels à become neutralized.

2. Long vowels à become short and more open.

à become diphthongized and more closed.


Proto-Germanic Vowel System:

Short Vowels i e a o u
Long Vowels i: e: a: o: u:

Some vowel correspondences between Germanic and on-Germanic Languages:

Sound Correspondence Non-Germanic Germanic
Latin Русский English German Swedish
[a: à o:] mater мать mother - moder
[o à a] nox ночь - Nacht natt
[e à i] ventus ветер wind Wind vind
[u à o] sunus сын son Sohn son


The comparison of the Germanic and non-Germanic languages within the Indo-European family reveals regular correspondences between German and non-German consonants.

First Consonant Shift (Grimm’s Law) –in the 19th Jacob Grimm, a German scholar, discovered the existence of regular correspondence between Indo-European (IE) and German consonants and subdivided them into 3 groups:


Consonant Correspondences Examples
Old Modern
IE PG Non-German (Latin) German (OE) Non-German (Italian, рус.) German (English, German)
[bh,dh,gh] à aspirated voiced stops [b, d, g] non-aspirated voiced stops bhrāta (Hind) brōþor брат brother, Bruder
rudhira(Hind) rēad - red
hostis giest гость guest, Gast
[b, d, g] à voiced stops [p, t, k] voiceless stops/plosives labare pōl болото pool, Pfuhl
decem tīen dieci, десять ten
genu cnēo ginocchio knee, Knie
[p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] voiceless fricatives pedis fōt piedi foot, F
tres þrēo tre, три three
cordis heort cuore heart, Herz


Verner’s Law –Carl Verner, a Danish scholar (19th c.), explained the consonant correspondences as a gradual historical process (a change takes place in the course of time):


Consonant Correspondences Latin OE ModE
1. [p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] à voiceless fricatives [v, ð/d, g] voiced fricatives septem seofen seven
pater fæđer father
socrus swaiho(Gothic) Schwager(Germ)
2. Rhotacism ausis (Lithuanian) Auso (Gothic) ear, Ohr (Germ)
[s] à [z] à [r]

P.S.: these processes usually happened on condition that the consonants were situated between vowels and if preceded by an unstressed vowel.

Modern Examples: seethe – sodden, death – dead, was – were.


Second Consonant Shift –happened in the 9th c. in Old High German and today we can observe it comparing English and German:


Consonant Correspondences English German
1. [t] à à [ts] two zwei
[s] water Wasser
2. [q] à [d] three drei
3. [d] à [t] daughter Tochter
4. [k] à [h] make machen


1. Ex. 3-5, p. 48-49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 4

Grammatical Features

The Proto-Germanic and the Old Germanic Languages were SYNTHETIC, i.e. the relationships between the parts of the sentience were shown by the forms of the words rather than by their position in the sentence or by auxiliary words.


The grammatical forms of the words were built by means of:

1. Suppletion (inherited from Indo-European) – the usage of 2 or more different roots as forms of one and the same word:

Part of Speech Indo-European Non-Germanic Languages Germanic Languages
Italian русский English German
Personal Pronouns io, mio, mi/me я, меня, мне I, my, mine, me ich, mich, mir
Adjectives buono, migliore, ottimo хороший, лучше, лучший good, better, best gut, besser, bester
Some Verbs essere, sono, e`, ero, saro`, etc. есть, был, будет be, is, are, am, was, were sein, bin, ist, sind, war, gewesen, etc.

2. Inflections(inherited from Indo-European) – though in the Germanic languages inflections were simpler and shorter than in other Indo-European languages.

Let’s take the system of declensionsas an example.In PG it was well-developed but in the Old Germanic languages, due to the stress that was fixed on the root and the weakening of the end of a word as a result, the declensions started to disappear. While the nouns and adjectives still preserved stem-suffixes, they had declensions but once the stem suffixes started to weaken and disappear, the declensions were lost as well and the endings were simplified and got fewer:


Word Structure
PG mak-oj-an root + stem-suffix(word-deriv.) + gram. ending(form-marker)
Old Germanic Languages mac-ian stem(root melted with stem-suffix) + gram. ending


3. Sound Interchange –the usage of interchange of vowels and consonants for the purpose of word- and form-building (e.g.: English: bear – birth, build – built, tooth – teeth; German: gebären – Geburt)

Ablaut/Vowel Gradation – an independent vowel interchange, unconnected with any phonetic conditions (phonetic environment/surrounding) used to differentiate between grammatical forms of one and the same word. The Germanic ablaut was consistently used in building the principle forms of strong verbs.

Jacob Grimm has subdivided all the verbs into two groups according to the way they build their principle forms:


  Strong Verbs (irregular) Weak Verbs (regular)
called so because they have preserved the richness of forms since the time of Proto-Germanic called so because they have lost their old Proto-Germanic forms and acquired new ones
form-building vowel interchange + gram. ending suffix –d/t (a Germanic invention!!!)
E.g. OE reisan – rais – risum – risans macian – macode - macod
  cepan – cepte - cept
ModE rise – rose - risen make – made – made
  keep – kept – kept

H/w:1. Ex. 7-8, on p. 49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 5

Old English Dialects


Kingdom Kent Wessex Mercia Northumbria
Dialect Kentish West Saxon Mercian Northumbrian
Spoken in Kent, Surrey, the Isle of Wight along the Thames and the Bristol Channel between the Thames and the Humber between the Humber and the Forth
Origin from the tongues of Jutes/ Frisians a Saxon dialect a dialect of north Angles a dialect of south Angles
Remarks   9th c. – Wessex was the centre of the English culture and politics. West Saxon – the bookish type of language (Alfred the Great – the patron of culture and learning)   8th c. – Northumbria was the centre of the English culture


The first historian who started to record the history of the Germanic tribes on the British Isles and is considered to be the first English historian is Bede the Venerable, an English monk, who wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”.


The most important dialect in the Old English period was the WEST SAXON DIALECT.


8. Christianity – 597 (6th c.)


There were 2 forces that worked together to spread Christianity in Britain:

· missioners from Rome (founded the religious centre in Canterbury);

· missioners from Ireland (the Celts were already christened).



· centralization of the country;

· development of the culture and learning (monasteries, schools, etc.); Latin was the language of the church and learning.


9.In the 8th – 9th c. Britain was raided and attacked by the Danes/Scandinavians/Vikings.The only king who was able to keep them at bay was Alfred the Great of Wessex. In 878the Treaty of Wedmore was signed and England was divided into Wessex(belonged to Alfred) and Danelaw (belonged to the Danes). But as soon as the Scandinavian dialects also belonged to the Germanic group, the Danes soon linguistically merged into the local Old English dialects leaving some Scandinavian elements in them.

Lecture 6

Old English Written Records


The first Old English written records are considered to be the runic inscriptions.To make these inscriptions people used the Runes/the Runic Alphabet – the first original Germanic Alphabet.

Runes/Runic Alphabet:

· appeared in the 3rd – 4th c. A.D.;

· it was also called Futhark (after the first 6 letters of this alphabet);

· the word “rune” meant “secret, mystery” and was used to denote magic inscriptions on objects made of wood, stone, metal;

· each symbol indicated a separate sound (one symbol = one sound);

· the symbols were angular due to the fact that they had to be carved on hard materials;

· the number of symbols: GB – 28-33; on the continent – 16-24).

See the copy of the alphabet (additional information)


Best known Runic Inscriptions:

1. Franks Casket – a box with 4 sides made of whale bone, each side contained a picture in the centre and runic inscriptions around the picture that told the story of the whale bone in alliterative verse.

2. Ruthwell Cross –was found near thevillage of Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, it is a 15 feet tall stone cross ornamented in all sides with runic inscriptions that are actually a passage from a religious poem “The Dream of the Rood”.

Old English Alphabet

The Old English Alphabet was borrowed from Latin, but there were also some letters that were borrowed from the Runic Alphabet:

· ? (“thorn”) = [q] and [ð]

· ? (“wynn”) = [w]

· ? (“mann”) = stood for OE word “man”

· ? (“dæζ”) = stood for OE word “day”

Some new letters were introduced:

· ζ = [g] and [j];

· ð/þ/Đ/đ = [q] and [ð];

· æ = a ligature of [a] and [e];

· œ = a ligature of [o] and [e].

Rules of Reading:

They resemble the modern rules, with several exceptions though:

1.f = [v] --- 1. between vowels;

s = [z] 2. between a vowel and a voiced consonant ( [r, m, n, l, d, etc.] ).

ð/þ = [ð]

2.ζ – [j] – between and after front vowels ( [e, i, æ] );

– [g] – initially and between back vowels ( [a, o, u] ).

3.cζ = [gg].

4.c = [k].

5.n = [ŋ] when fallowed by [k] or [g].

See also § 111-113 on p. 71-74 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).



Old English Manuscripts

Most of the Old English manuscripts were written in Latin characters. The Latin Alphabet was modified by the scribes to suit the English language (some letters were changed and some new letters were added (see examples above)). The Old English manuscripts that give us the examples of the language of that period are:

· personal documents containing names and place names;

· legal documents (charters);

· glosses to the Gospels and other religious texts (Latin-English vocabularies for those who did not know Latin good enough to understand the texts);

· textual insertions (pieces of poetry).

See § 110, p. 69-70 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (a table “Principal Old English Written Records” (copies)).


Old English Poetry

1.Among the earliest textual insertions in Old English are the peaces of Old English poetry. They are to be found in “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” written in Latin in the 8th c. by Bede the Venerable, an English monk. These two pieces are:

· 5 lines know as “Bede’s Death Song”;

· 9 lines of a religious poem “Cædmon’s Hymn”.

2.All in all we have about 30 000 lines of OE verse from many poets, but most of them are unknown or anonimuos. The two best known Old English poets are Cædmon and Cynewulf (Northumbrian authors).

3.The topics of Old English poetry:

· heroic epic(“Beowulf”, the oldest in the Germanic literature, 7th c., was written in Mercian or Northumbrian but has come down to us only in a 10th c. West Saxon copy. It is based on old legends about the tribal life of the ancient Teutons and features the adventures and fights of the legendary heroes);

· lyrical poems(“The Wanderer”, “The Seafarer”, etc. Most of the poems are ascribed to Cynewulf);

· religious poems(“Fate of the Apostles” (probably Cædmon), “Dream of the Rood”, etc.).

4.The peculiarities of Old English poetry:

· written in Old Germanic alliterative verse:

- the lines are not rhymed;

- the number of the syllables in a line is free;

- the number of stressed syllables in a line is fixes;

- the line is usually divided into 2 halves, each half starts with one and the same

sound; this sound may be repeated also in the middle of each half

(As an example see an abstract from “Beowulf” on p. 8 in “A Reader in the History of English” by Е.К. Щука.)

· a great number of synonyms (e.g. beorn, secζ, ζuma, wer were all the synonyms of “man”) and metaphorical phrases or compounds describing the qualities or functions of a thing (e.g. hronrād “whale-road” (for “sea”); bānhūs “bone-house” (for “a person’s body”); hēaþu-swāt “war-sweat” (for “blood”)).




1. § 108, p. 67-68 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (examination question) (copies).

2. § 110, p. 69-70 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (a table “Principal Old English Written Records”) (copies)

2. Read the lecture and § 111-113 on p. 71-74 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

3. Using your knowledge of the Old English Alphabet and the rules of reading read an abstract from “Beowulf” on p. 8 in “A Reader in the History of English” by Е.К. Щука and try to identify the features/peculiarities of Old English poetry in it (copies).

Lecture 7

Historical Background

1042-1066 – King Edward the Confessor:

· brought up in France;

· had lots of Norman advisors and favourites;

· spoke French and wanted his court to speak it;

· rumour had it that he appointed William, Duke of Normandy, his successor.


However, after the death of Edward in 1066 the government of the country was in the hands of the Anglo-Saxon feudal lords and they proposed their own king – Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex.

1066 – Harold Godwinson became king of England. William was not satisfied with this fact. He gathered a big army, there happened the Battle of Hastings, William won it, became king and was called since then William the Conqueror.


After the Norman Conquest of the British Isles the Normans occupied important positions in church, government and army. William strengthened feudal system and royal power (vassals were not allowed to have big armies so they could not oppose the king; with the Oath of Salisbury each vassal promised direct loyalty to king and military help in return for land; Domesday Book provided William with information about all people and lands he possessed, he proclaimed himself the owner of all the lands in the country). This led to the centralizationof the country:

· Wales – was the first to join England in the 13th – 16th c.;

· Scotland – remained independent until Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England died and as far as she was childless the throne passed to James the 4th of Scotland who became James the 1st of England and unified Scotland and England. Finally, in 1707 Great Britain appeared as a country consisting of England, Wales and Scotland;

· Ireland – the attempts to conquer Ireland were made in the 12th c. but they did not prove to be successful. In 1921, after a long fight, the UK managed to keep only a small part of Ireland – Northern Ireland.


Linguistic Situation

After the Norman Conquest:

· Frenchbecame the official language of administration (it was used in the king’s court, in the law courts, in the church (as well as Latin), in the army, by the nobles in the south of England). It was also used as a language of writing and teaching as well as Latin.

· Englishwas the language of common people in the Midlands and in the north of England. It still remained the language of the majority who were the representatives of the lower classes of society and never learned French, so the Norman barons had to learn English to be able to communicate with locals.

· Celtic Dialects were still used by the Celtic population in the remote areas of the country.


Actually, during the presence of the Normans the country experienced the period of bilingualism (French and English were both used in the country and started to intermix, i.e. a lot of the French words crept into the Middle English Dialects and it came to resemble present-day English a lot).


The Norman and the English drew together in the course of time and intermixed. French lost its popularity due to the fact that it was not the language of the majority and could not be used to communicate with local people. English regained its leading position with time and became accepted as the official language. The proofs are:

· The Parliamentary Proclamation of 1258 – Henry the 3rd addressed the councilors in Parliament in French, Latin and English.

· In the 14th – 15th c. legal documents (wills, municipal acts, petitions, etc.) started to be issued in English.

· 1364 – Parliament was opened with an address in English.

· 1399 – Henry the 4th accepted the throne and made a speech in English.

· Translations of the documents written in French into English.


Thus in the 14th c. English becomes the language of literature and administration.

Middle English Dialects

OE Dialects Kentish West Saxon Mercian Northumbrian
  ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
ME Dialects Kentish Dialect South-Western Dialects Midland Dialects Northern Dialects
Examples - East Saxon Dialect London Dialect Gloucester Dialect West Midland Dialect East Midland Dialect Yorkshire Dialect Lancashire Dialect

The most important dialect in the Middle English period was the LONDON DIALECT.


London Dialect

In the 12th -13th c.the London Dialect became the literary language and the standard,both in written and spoken form. The reasons why this happened:

· The capital of the country was transferred from Winchester, Wesses, to London a few years before the Norman Conquests.

· The East Saxon Dialect, that was the basis of the London Dialect got, became the most prominent in the Middle English period.

· Most writers and authors of the Middle English period used the London Dialect in their works.


Features of the London Dialect:

· The basis of the London Dialect was the East Saxon Dialect

· The East Saxon Dialect mixed with the East Midland Dialect and formed the London Dialect.

· Thus the London Dialect became more Anglican than Saxon in character à The London Dialect is an Anglican dialect.



1. § 349-354, p. 181-183 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (expansion of English overseas) (copioes).

Lecture 8

Middle English Alphabet

The Middle English Alphabet resembled the Old English Alphabet but some changes were introduced:

· th replaced ð/þ/Đ/đ;

· w replaced ?;

· æ, œ disappeared;

· digraphs(2 letters = one sound) appeared (came from French):

o th for [q] and [ð];

o tch/chfor [t∫];

o sch/ssh/shfor [∫];

o dgfor [dζ];

o whreplace hw but was pronounced still as [hw]!;

o ghfor [h];

o qufor [kw];

o ow/oufor [u:] and [ou];

o iefor [e:].

Rules of Reading:

They resemble the modern rules, with several exceptions though:

1.Double vowels stood for long sounds, e.g. oo = [o:]; ee = [e:].

2.g = [dζ]

c = [s] before front vowels ( [i, e] ).


g = [g]

c = [k] before back vowels ( [a, o, u] ).

3.y = [j] – at the beginning of the word;

=[i] – in the cases when i stood close together with r, n, m and could be confused with one of these letters or could be lost among them, it was replaced with y, sometimes also for decorative purpose.(e.g. nyne [‘ni:nə], very [‘veri]).

4.th = [ð]

s = [z] between vowels.

5.o = [o] – in most cases;

=[u] – in the words that have [Λ] sound in Modern English (e.g. some, love)

6.j = [dζ]



1. § 292-295, p. 156-157; § 302-308, p. 160-163 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

2. Using your knowledge of the Middle English spelling and the rules of reading (Lecture 8) read an abstract from the “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer (lines 1-14) on p. 33-34 in “A Reader in the History of English” by Е.К. Щука and try to identify the peculiarities of the Middle English spelling and rules of reading.

Lecture 9

Introduction of Printing

The first printer of English books was William Caxton (1422-1491). He was born in Kent. In 1441 he moved to Flanders (a region in Belgium) and later, in 1473, he opened up his own printing press in Bruges.

1475– the first English book was printed in Bruges by William Caxton. It was a translation of the story of Troy.

A few years later William Caxton brought his printing press to England and set it up in Winchester. Here he published the work of the famous authors of that time – Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate – and translated books from French.

Contribution of Printing:

· The works of the authors of that time were edited and brought into conformity with the London Dialect and as far as all the book were written in this dialect, it spread quickly and became the true standard of the English language;

· As far as printing allowed to multiply books in great number, they were sold and thus the literacy of the population grew;

· Before the introduction of printing different scribes could spell the same words differently; with the introduction of printing the spelling became fixed and it hasn’t changed since that time though the pronunciation has changed greatly (this fact explains the difficulties of the English spelling).


Age of Shakespeare

See lectures in the English Literature on Shakespeare and his works.

The sources of information about the language:

· private letters (as far as books became available, more people became literate and started to write letters, wills, diaries, etc.);

· books for pupils and didactic works (e.g. “An Orthographie” by John Hart; “Grammatica Lingæ Anglicanæ” by John Wallis, etc.);

· lists of difficult words and dictionaries (e.g. “English-English Dictionary” (dialectal words explained with the help of the bookish English) by Henry Cockeram, etc.).

Lecture 10

OE Vowels

Unstressed vowelswere weakened and dropped.

Stressed vowelsunderwent some changes:

· splitting – 1 phoneme split into several allophones which later become separate phonemes

e.g. à a

a à ã

à æ

· merging– separate phonemes become allophones of one phoneme and then disappear and are not distinguished any more as separate phonemes

e.g. a à

ã à a

æ à


Rise of Diphthongs

In PG there were no diphthongs. There was just a sequence of two separate vowels. Diphthongs appeared in OE: some (usually long diphthongs) – as a result of merging of two vowels:


Sounds Diphth. Gothic OE
a + u à ea: auso eare (ear)
e + u à eo: þeudans þēoden (king)
(i + u)à (io:) (dialectal variant) diups dīop (deep)


others (usually short diphthongs) – as a result of the influence of the succeeding and preceding consonants (breaking of [æ, e]):


Monoph. Diphth. Influence Gothic OE
æ à ea before l alls eall (all)
æ à ea before h ahtau eahta (eight)
e à eo before r herza heorte (heart)
æ à ea after sk’/k’ skadus sceadu (shade)
æ: à ea: after j jâr ζēar (year)


Palatal Mutation/i-Umlaut

Mutation –a change of one vowel to another one under the influence of a vowel in the following syllable.

Palatal mutation(or i-Umlaut) happened in the 6th -7th c.and was shared by all Old Germanic Languages, except Gothic (that’s why later it will be used for comparison).

Palatal mutationfronting and raising of vowels under the influence of [i] and [j] in the following syllable (to approach the articulation of these two sounds). As a result of palatal mutation:

· [i] and [j] disappeared in the following syllable sometimes leading to the doubling of a consonant in this syllable;

· new vowels appeared in OE ([ie, y]) as a result of merging and splitting:

before palatal mutation after palatal mutation Gothic OE
a à o à æ à e badi bedd (bed)
a: à æ: dails dælan (deal)
ŏ/ō à ĕ/ē mōtjan mētan (meet)
ŭ/ū à ŷ/ỹ(labialised) (new!) fulljan fyllan (fill)
ĕă/ēā à ĕŏ/ēō à ĭě/īē (new!) eald (early OE) ieldra (late OE)


Traces of i-Umlaut in Modern English:

1. irregular Plural of nouns (man – men; tooth – teeth);

2. irregular verbs and adjectives (told ←tell; sold ←sell; old – elder);

3. word-formation with sound interchange (long – length; blood – bleed).


OE Vowel System(symmetrical, i.e each short vowel had its long variant)


  Monophthongs + Diphthongs
Short ĭ ĕ ă ǽ ŏ ŭ ŷ ĕŏ ĕă ĭě
Long ī ē ā æ ō ū ēō ēā īē


The length of vowels was phonologically relevant (i.e. served to distinguish words):

e.g. (OE) is (is) – īs (ice); col (coal) –cōl (cool); god (god) – gōd (good), etc.


OE Consonants

OE consonants underwent the following changes:

1. Hardening (the process when a soft consonant becomes harder)– usually initially and after nasals ([m, n])

[ð] à [d] rauðr (Icelandic) rēad (OE) (red)
[v] à [b] - -
[γ] à [g] guma (Gothic) ζuma (OE) (man)


2. Voicing(the process when a voiceless consonant becomes voiced in certain positions) – intervocally and between a vowel and a voiced consonant or sonorant

[f, q, h, s] à [v, ð, g, z] e.g. wulfos (Gothic) – wulf[v]as (OE) (wolves)


3. Rhotacism(a process when [z] turns into [r])

e.g. maiza (Gothic) – ra (OE) (more)


4. Gemination(a process of doubling a consonant) – after a short vowel, usually happened as a result of palatal mutation (e.g. fullan (OE) (fill), settan (OE) (set), etc.).

5. Palatalisation of Consonants(a process when hard vowels become soft) – before a front vowel and sometimes also after a front vowel

[g, γ, k, h] à [g’, γ’, k’, h’]e.g. c[k’]ild (OE) (child); ecζ[gg’] (OE) (edge), etc.

6. Loss of Consonants:

· sonorants before fricatives (e.g. fimf (Gothic) – fīf (OE) (five));

· fricatives between vowels and some plosives (e.g. sæζde (early OE) – sæde (late OE) (said));

· loss of [j] – as a result of palatal mutation (see examples above);

· loss of [w] (e.g. case-forms of nouns: sæ (Nominative) – sæwe (Dative) (OE) (sea).


OE Consonant System

See table 9 on p. 90 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 11


English vowels proved to be more changeable than consonants. Long vowels proved to be more changeable than short ones.


Middle English

The changes that occurred to vowels in ME were as follows:

1. Quantitative:

Reduction –weakening and disappearance of unstressed vowels. As far as the stress was mainly on the root the vowels in prefixes and suffixes got weak and underwent reduction. In unstressed position only two vowels were left – [ə] and [i]. They had never been contrasted.

E.g. ME tale [‘ta:lə], body [‘bodi]

In NE sound [ə] (schwa) was dropped at the end of the words but the letter e was left in spelling to show the length of the preceding vowel.


Shortening –all long vowels became short before consonant clusters (NB!! except [ld, nd, mb] –before these clusters vowels remained long or if a vowel was short it became long)


Other Consonant Clusters
fīftiζ fifty (fifty)
fēdde fedde (fed)
wīsdom wisdom (wisdom)


Lengthening (12th – 13th c.) –short vowels became long:

· before clusters [ld, nd, mb];

· in 2-syllable words, only to [e, o, a]in open stressed syllable


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