80752

The Periods in the History of English

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Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

The evolution of English in the 1,500 years of its existence in England has been an unbroken one. Within this development, however, it is possible to recognize three main periods. Like all divisions in history, the periods of the English language are matters of convenience and the dividing lines between them purely arbitrary.

Английский

2015-02-18

26.74 KB

5 чел.

1. The Periods in the History of English.

The evolution of English in the 1,500 years of its existence in England has been an unbroken one. Within this development, however, it is possible to recognize three main periods. Like all divisions in history, the periods of the English language are matters of convenience and the dividing lines between them purely arbitrary. But within each of the periods it is possible to recognize certain broad characteristics and certain special developments that take place. The period from 450 to 1150 is known as Old English. It is sometimes described as the period of full inflections, because during most of this period the endings of the noun, the adjective, and the verb are preserved more or less unimpaired. From 1150 to 1500 the language is known as Middle English. During this period the inflections, which had begun to break down toward the end of the Old English period, become greatly reduced, and it is consequently known as the period of leveled inflections. The language since 1500 is called Modern English. By the time we reach this stage in the development a large part of the original inflectional system has disappeared entirely, and we therefore speak of it as the period of lost inflections. The progressive decay of inflections is only one of the developments that mark the evolution of English in its various stages. We shall discuss in their proper place the other features that are characteristic of Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.

Old English was not an entirely uniform language. Not only are there differences between the language of the earliest written records (about A.D. 700) and that of the later literary texts, but the language differed somewhat from one locality to another. We can distinguish four dialects in Old English times: Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon, and Kentish. Of these Northumbrian and Mercian are found in the region north of the Thames settled by the Angles. They possess certain features in common and are sometimes known collectively as Anglian. But Northumbrian, spoken north of the Humber, and Mercian, between the Humber and the Thames, each possess certain distinctive features as well. Unfortunately we know less about them than we should like since they are preserved mainly in charters, runic inscriptions, a few brief fragments of verse, and some interlinear translations of portions of the Bible. Kentish is known from still scantier remains and is the dialect of the Jutes in the southeast. The only dialect in which there is an extensive collection of texts is West Saxon, which was the dialect of the West Saxon kingdom in the southwest. Nearly all of Old English literature is pre served in manuscripts transcribed in this region. The dialects probably reflect differences already present in the continental homes of the invaders.


 

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