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A Brief History of the English Language

  • Date Submitted: 09/22/2013 07:51 PM
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A Brief History of the English Language
English is a member of the Indo-European family of languages. This broad family includes most of the European languages spoken today.
The Indo-European family includes several major branches: Latin and the modern Romance languages (French etc.); the Germanic languages (English, German, Swedish etc.); the Indo-Iranian languages (Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit etc.); the Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Czech etc.); the Baltic languages of Latvian and Lithuanian; the Celtic languages (Welsh, Irish Gaelic etc.); Greek.

The influence of the original Indo-European language can be seen today, even though no written record of it exists. The word for father, for example, is vater in German, pater in Latin, and pitr in Sanskrit. These words are all cognates, similar words in different languages that share the same root.
Of these branches of the Indo-European family, two are, as far as the study of the development of English is concerned, of paramount importance, the Germanic and the Romance (called that because the Romance languages derive from Latin, the language of ancient Rome).
English is a member of the Germanic group of languages.
It is believed that this group began as a common language in the Elbe river region about 3,000 years ago. By the second century BC, this Common Germanic language had split into three distinct sub-groups:
    • East Germanic was spoken by peoples who migrated back to southeastern Europe. No East Germanic language is spoken today, and the only written East Germanic language that survives is Gothic.
    • North Germanic evolved into the modern Scandinavian languages of Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic (but not Finnish, which is related to Hungarian and Estonian and is not an Indo-European language).
    • West Germanic is the ancestor of modern German, Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, and English.

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