Subject and aims of the History of English.

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Subject and aims of the History of English.

The English lesson of today reflects many centuries of development. Its origin and graduate evaluation are traced by the scientific discipline which is called the History of the English language.

A study of the phonetically, grammatical and lexical evaluation of the language enables a student to see the general trends in the development of English and their interdependence.

The History of the English language shows the ties of English with the languages of the Germanic groups, e.g. French and Latin.

The History of the language will show that linguistic alternations may be dependent on or caused by events in the history of the people (e.g. the influence of one language on another, the appearance of new words to name new objects). Thus the subject of the history of the English language is bound with that of the History of Britain.

A language can be studied in various aspects: its phonetics, grammar, word-stock, style and so on. In studying Modern English we consider all this aspects synchronically and regard the language as a fixed unchangeable system.

The synchronic approach may be contrasted to diachronic approach, in which no element of the language is treated as fixed or stable. When considered diachronically, every linguistic fact can be interpreted as a stage or a step in the never ending evolution of the language.

It appears, however, that the contrast between diachronic and synchronic study is not so marked in practice as it is in theory: in studying Modern English we often resort to history to explain current phenomena (a spelling, an unusual form etc.); in investigating the history of the language the diachronic and synchronic approaches are commonly combined – the development of the language can be presented as a series of synchronic cross – sections (the language of the age of Shakespeare. Chaucer, etc.).

One of the primary aims of the course is to provide the student with knowledge of history sufficient to account for the essential features and some specific peculiarities of Modern English.

A few illustrations can be given to show how features of Modern English can be explained in terms of their past development.

The application of the diachronic approach helps to explain the peculiarities of M.E. Lets consider some peculiarities of M.E. orthography.


O.E. side > said [said] 4 letters 3 sounds

O.E. riht > right [rait] 5 letters 3 sounds

These examples show that the connection between the letters and the sounds they designate is often arbitrary. The following general explanation may be given to account for these phenomena: at the time when Latin alphabet was introduced into Britain (7th century) its letters were used on a phonetic principle and their significance in English was the same as in Latin. After the introduction of printing (15th century) spelling became fixed, while the pronunciation of words continued to change. The spelling right, side and others accurately show the pronunciation of 14th or 15th centuries. The phonetic changes that have taken place since can be shown as follows: [rix’t] > [nait], [‘si:de] > [said] (where the symbol > means “becomes”, “develops into”).

The purpose of the history of English is a systematic study of the language development from the earliest times to the present day. Such study enables the student to acquire a more profound understanding of the language of today. Besides, History of English is an important subsidiary discipline literature. History of the English language is connected with other disciplines. It is based on the history of England, studying the development of the language in connection with the concrete conditions in which the English people lived in the several periods of their history. It is also connected with disciplines studying present-day English, theoretical phonetics, theoretical grammar and lexicology. It shows phonetic, grammatical and lexical phenomena as they developed, and states the origins of the present-day system.


The evolution of Language and scope of Language History.

The evolution or historical development of language is made up of diverse facts and processes. In the first placeit includes the in’ternal or structural development of the language system, its various sub- systems and component parts. The description of internal linguistic history is usually presented in accordance with the division of language into linguistic levels. The main, commonly accepted levels are: the phonetic and phonological levels, the morphological level, the syntactic level, and the lexical level. Aиcordingly, the history of the language can be subdivided into historical phonetics (phonology), historical morphology, historical syntax and historical lexicology.
The evolution of language includes also many facts which pertain to the functioning of language in the speech community. These functional aspects copstitute what is known as the “external” history of the lan guage and embrace a large number of diverse matters: the spread of the language in geographical and social space, the differentiation of language into functional varieties (geographical variants, dialects, standard and sub-standard forms, etc.), contacts with other, languges. In discussing these aspects of history we shall deal with the concept of language space, that is the geographical and social space occupied by the language, (known as its horizontal and vertical dmensions); and also with concept of linguistic situation, which embarces the functional diffentiation of language and the relationships between the functional vаrieties. Most of these features are connected with the history of the speech community, e.g. with the structure of society, the migration of tribes, economic and political events, the growth of culture and literature.


3 . Statics and Dynamicsin Language History

Although certain changes constantly bccur at one or another linguistic level historical development of language cannot be, regarded as permanent ins-tability. Many features of the language remain static in diachrony: these constant fetures do not alter through time or may be subject to very slight alteration.
In the first place there exit certain permanent, universal properties to be found in all languages at any period of time, such as e.g. the’division of sounds into vowels and consonants, the distinction between the main parts of speech and the parts of the sentence. In addition to these universal properties, English like other languages, has many stable characteristics which have pfoved almost immune to the impact of time. For instances some parts of the English vocabulary have been reserved through ages; to this stable part belong mo of the pronouns, many form- words and words indicating the basic concepts of life. Many ways of word-formation have remained historically stable. Some grammatical categories e.g. number in nouns, degrees of comparison in adjectives, have suffered little alteration while other categories, such as case or gender, have undergone profound changes. The proportion of stable and changeable features varies at different historical periods and at different linguistic levels but there is no dojibt that we can find statics and dynamics both in synchrony and in diachrony. Dynamics in diachrony, that is linguistic change, requires special consideration.



Lecture № 2

Linguistic Change

Concept of Linguistic Change.

Rate of Linguistic Change



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