European Humanities
October 2014
Mr. Spragins

Assignment: The Story of English Internet Hunt

For each of the three major periods in the development of the English language, find the following on the internet and create a brief PowerPoint presentation.

  1. A brief description of the culture of that period in English History
  2. A map of England at the time
  3. A recording of what the language sounded like at that time.
  4. Some pictures (artifacts that will give us a sense of the time and place.) 

Prehistory of English and Britain:

1. Common Origin of Western Languages (6000-4500 BC): Indo European nomads 

- The invention of  the wheel and domestication of the horse enable Indo European tribes to migrate east and west from their original territories in the area near the Crimean Sea.- father (English); vater (German); pitar (Sanskrit)
- snow, bee, beech, wolf
- Find a map of the Indo European nomad migrations.


2. The Celts (1000 BC)

- The language of the Celts still survives in Wales: Cymraeg
- lilt of speech, inverted sentence constructions "Pity it was that he died so early."

3. The Romans (55 BC)

- British Isles are conquered by Julius Caesar during the first century BC.
- Place names from Roman: castra (camp): Chester, Manchester, Winchester

Old English and Anglo-Saxon England:

4. Old English: Anglo-Saxon England (5th c. AD)

- Germanic tribes, the Anglii, the Frisii, and the Jutes, cross the sea from Northern Europe.
- The invasion drives the Celts west into Wales and into Ireland.
- Old English contains few Celtic words: crag, tor (a high rock), combe (a deep valley: Wycombe). This paucity of Celtic in modern English is indicative of the hatred between the Celts and the Anglo-Saxon conquerors; despite cultural antipathy, many of the finest writers in English are of Celtic origin.
- Anglo-Saxon words: 
- sheep, shepherd, ox, earth, plough, swine, dog, wood, field, work: reflections of the lives of these farmers. Glee, laughter, mirth.
- The building blocks of English: the, is, you
- Old English dialects
- Anglo-Saxon love of wordplay: analogous to intricate, interlacing, embellishments of art 


  • Anglo-Saxon Invasions (Wikipedia)




5. The Conversion to Christianity (597 AD)

- The conversion of Britain to Christianity created a new collision of Old English with Latin.
- The mission of St. Augustine to Britain began a gradual conversion to Christianity which was completed by 635 AD.
- This was the time of the construction of churches and monasteries and the great monk teachers.
- Old English gains the capacity for abstract thought:
- Greek and Latin words like angel, discipline, litany, martyr, mass, relic, shrift, shrine and psalm
- Sabbath from Hebrew; Eastern words from the Bible: camel, lion, cedar, myrrh ; also from the Bible came more exotic words from the East: orange, pepper, oyster, mussel, gingerphoenix
- God, heaven and hell: (OE) Halig Gast- Holy Ghost; feond- fiend, Doomsday- Judgement Day
- The impact of this infusion of new words from Latin gave Old English new flexibility: one of the fundamental characteristics of our language is its flexibility: we have many synonyms for one word. 


6. The Viking Invasions (750-1050 AD)

- The Viking invasion and settlement of Eastern Britain is one of the great migrations in European history; what began as plunder-raids ended as conquest and settlement.
- The interaction between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings melded Old English and Viking, both Germanic languages, and helped simplify the language.
- Old Norse words: get, hit, leg, low, root, skin, same, want, wrong, sk- words like sky:
- Old Norse enriched the language by providing more synonyms: rear or raise a child; wish and want; craft and skill, hide and skin.
- Beowulf, the greatest single work of Old English: a fusion of Saxon and Viking


The Norman Conquest and Middle English Period:

7. The Norman Invasion (1066 AD: the Battle of Hastings)

- When England was conquered by the Normans in 1066, the French language becomes the official language of the ruling class: the aristocracy and the government.
- Legal language: felony, perjury, attorney, bailiff, nobility
French literary, courtly culture provided the language of chivalry: the brave, honorable, and courteous character attributed to the ideal knight.
- English, however, survived as the language of the common man, too hardy by this point to be obliterated.
- Another layer to enrich the language: King (OE) and now royal, regal, sovereign (French)
- Synonym Word groups: rise-mount-ascend; ask-question-interrogate, time-age-epoch: a rich treasure chest of synonyms for writers 


8.  Middle English (1150-1450 AD)

- Anglo-Normans were cut off from their previous homeland on the continent.
- English was revived as the official court language as a political tool to inspire patriotic feeling
- 100 Years War with France: war and plague make labor scarce; common men achieve higher status, a new generation of non-French speakers assume positions of power in the church and government
- We have a record in writing of the changes that had taken place in spoken English over this long period
- Observe the loss of Old English word endings and the rise of prepositions like by, with, and from

Chaucer (1400 AD)

- This poet made a conscious choice to write in English and not French, symbolic of the rebirth of English as a national language: a patriotic statement.
- subject matter: individuals from all classes of English society
- Chaucer was alive to the energy and potential of the language of everyday

- The richness of Middle English, Latinized and Frenchified by Christianity and Conquest inspires Chaucer.

Welcome, my knyght: English
Peace: French
Suffisance: French from Latin roots

- The variety of Middle English enables the talented poet to invent language appropriate to character so that an individual emerges whose autonomy expresses itself in unique linguistic forms; without flexibility of language, expressions of character are limited.

  • "Sumer is icumen in" - manuscript image (London, British Library, Harley MS 978, f. 11v); RealAudio recording (Elly van Gelderen's audio page)