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The history of the English language begins in the fifth century AD. when the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, who up to that time had lived in western Europe, started their invasion of the British Isles.

At the time of the invasion Britain was inhabited by the so called "romanised Celts", culture and ways of life and whose language had undergone certain changes mainly in the form of borrowings from the Latin language.

At the beginning of our era the Celts could be found on the territories of the present-day Spain, Great Britain, western Germany and northern Italy. A later wave of Celtic tribes, having occupied for some centuries the central part of England, were in turn driven westwards by Germanic Invaders, and their modern language representatives are Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

The Romans invaded Britannia. In 407 AD, with the departure of the last Roman emissary Constantine hostilities among the native tribes in England began anew. Most of what the Romans did perished after they left, so it is with the Germanic tribes that the history of England truly begins.

It should be noted that nowadays the remnants of the Celtic group of languages face the threat of complete disappearance, unable to survive in the competition with English. Cornish became extinct already in the 18th century, Manx - after the second world war. Scottish Gaelic is spoken only in the Highlands by about 75 thousand people, Irish - by half a million, the figures showing a steady declining tendency, and the absolute majority of those speaking these languages are bilingual, English being no less familiar to them than their former native tongue.

We have very little indirect evidence about the beginning of the Old English period - 5th -7th centuries. The first written records were dated as far back as the beginning of the 8th century, that is why the 5th-7th centuries are generally referred to as "the pre-written EnglishĒ



The phonetics of the Old English period was characterized by a system of dynamic stress. The fixed stress fell on the first root syllable:

The vowels had the following characteristic features:

a) The quantity and the quality of the vowel depended upon its position in the word. Under stress any vowel could be found, but in unstressed position THERE were no diphthongs or long monophthongs, but only short vowels [a], [ej, [i], [o], [u]

b) The length of the stressed vowels (monophthongs and diphthongs) was phonemic, which means that there could be two words differing only in the length of the vowel

c) there was an exact parallelism of long and short vowels:

The consonants were few. Some of the modern sounds were non-existent ([◊][∆][ō])

The quality of the consonant very much depended on its position in the word, especially the resonance and articulation .



Speaking about Germanic consonants, we should first of all speak of the correspondence between Indo-European and Germanic languages which was, presented as- a system of interconnected facts by the German linguist Jacob Grimm in 1822. This phenomenon is called the First Consonant Shift, or Grimm's law.

The table below shows-a scheme of Grimm's law with the examples from Germanic and other Indo-European languages..

Indo-european 1. pater (p,t,k) Germanic father (f,p,h)
2. dwo (b,d,g) two (p,t,k)
3. bh,dh,gh (aspirated) b,d,g (non-aspirated)


However, there are-some, instances where Grimm's law seems not to apply. These cases were explained by a Dutch linguist Karl Verner, and the seeming exceptions from Grimm's law have come to be known as Verner's law.

Verner's law explains the changes in the Germanic voiceless fricatives f p h resulting from the first consonant shift and the voiceless fricatives depending upon the position of the stress in the original Indo-European word, namely:

Vernerís law  
Indo-european Germanic
P,t,k,s B,g,z


According to Verner's law, the above change occurred if the consonant in question was found after an unstressed vowel. It is especially evident in the forms of Germanic strong verbs, except the Gothic ones, which allows to conclude that at some time the stress in the first two verbal stems fell on the root, and in the last two - on the suffix.



Old English was a synthetic language (the lexical and grammatical notions of the word were contained in one unit). It was highly inflected, with many various affixes. The principal grammatical means were suffixation, vowel interchange and supplition.

Suffixation: (1 keep) - (you keep) - (he keeps)

Vowel interchange: (to write) - (I wrote)

Supplition: (to go) - (went)

There was no fixed word-order in Old English, the order of the words in the sentence being relatively free.

The Germanic nouns had a well-developed case system with four cases (nominative, genitive,1 dative, accusative)1 and two number forms (singular and plural). They also had the category of gender (feminine, masculine and neuter). The means of form building were the endings added to the root/stem of the noun.


Date: 2015-01-12; view: 3834

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