Sir William Jones, a British Judge in India in 1786, observed that Sanskrit was more perfect than the Greek, and more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either • Yet bearing to both a stronger affinity both in roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar.
Family Trees • During the nineteenth century the historical study of languages was described as philology. It was the major preoccupation of linguists. • At this time a term came into use to describe a common ancestor. It incorporated the notion that this was the original form = proto of a language which was the source of modern languages in the Indian sub-continent (Indo), and in Europe (European).
Proto-Indo-European was established as the “great –grandmother”. Scholars traced the branches of her family tree , see p. 214 • There are about thirty such language families which have produced more than 4,000 languages in the world. Chinese has the most native speakers: close to 1 billion, English 350 million, Spanish 300 million, Hindi 200 million, Arabic and Russian about 150 million.
Family Relationships • A legitimate question to ask is: how can it be determined that these language groups are related? On the face of it, Italian and Hindi have nothing in common. One way to see the relationship more clearly is by looking at records of an older generation: • Sanskrit (pitar), Italian (pater), Greek (pater)=brother
Cognates • The example given above illustrates a phenomenon called cognates= similar forms with similar meaning. • On the basis of cognate sets, it would be proposed that such sets in modern English and modern German probably have common ancestor ( labeled Germanic branch of Indo-European.
Comparative Reconstruction • Making use of cognates leads to a procedure called comparative reconstruction. The aim of this procedure is to reconstruct what must have been the original or ‘proto’ form in the common ancestral language. • It is like trying to work out what the great grandmother must have been like on the basis of common features possessed by the set of granddaughters.
Two general principles have been followed in reconstructing the proto form: the majority and principle and the most natural development principle. • As to the first principle: if, in a cognate test, three forms begin with a /p/ sound and one form begins with a /p/ sound, then the best guess is that the majority have retained the original sound, and the majority have changed a little through time.
The most natural development principle: it is based on the fact that certain types of sound change are very common, whereas others are extremely unlikely as in: • 1. final vowels often disappear • 2. voiceless sounds become voiced between vowels • 3. Stops become fricatives under certain conditions • 4. Consonants become voiceless at the end of words.
See example on page 216 (base interpretation on sounds rather than on spelling) • There is the majority principle in evidence since two forms have /k/ sound, and only one has /sh/. • Moreover, /k/ sound is a stop consonant and the /sh/ sound is a fricative. According to the most natural development principle, changes tend to occur in the direction of stops becoming fricatives.
So the /k/ is more likely to have been the original • Example on page 217: group discussion
Language Change • The reconstruction of proto-forms is an attempt to determine what a language must have been like before written records began. • The historical development of English is usually divided into three major periods: Old English, Middle English and Modern English. • As for OE, the primary sources for what developed as the English language were the Germanic languages spoken by a group of tribes from northern Europe who invaded the British Isles in the fifth century AD.
Old English • In one early account, these tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes were described as God’s wrath toward Britain. It is from the names of the first two that we have the term Anglo-Saxons, to describe these people, and from the name of the first tribe , the Angles, that we get the word for their language, Englisc, and their new home Engla-land.
From this early variety of English, we have many of the most basic terms: mann (man), wif (wife), cild (child), hus (house), mete (food), etan (eat), drincan (drink), and feotan (fight). • They did not remain pagan for ever. From the sixth century, the Anglo-Saxon were converted into Christianity and a number of terms from the language of religion, Latin, came into English at that time: The origins of the modern words angel, bishop, candle, church, martyr, priest, school all date from this period.
From the 8th century through the 9th and 10th centuries, another group of northern Europeans came first to blunder, and eventually to settle in, parts of the coastal regions of Britain. They were the Vikings, and it is from their language, Old Norse, that the forms which gave the following words were derived: give, law, leg, skin, sky, take, and they.
Middle English • The event which marks the end of OE and the beginning of Middle English is the arrival of Norman French in England around 1066. These French-speaking invaders proceeded to take over the whole of England. The became the ruling class, so that the language of nobility, the government, the law and civilized behaviour in England for the next two hundred years was French: army, court, defense, faith, prison, tax, etc. Yet the language of peasants remained English
Sound and Lexical Changes • One of the most obvious differences between Modern English and the English spoken in earlier periods is in the quality of vowel sounds . See examples on page 220 • Perhaps two most interesting processes involved in lexical change are: broadening and narrowing of meaning. An example of broadening is the change from holy day as a religious feast to the very general break from work called a holiday. By contrast, narrowing is illustrated by mete, once used for any kind of food, became restricted to only specific types.