Short essay on history of english language

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short essay on history of english language

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These "silent e's" were continued in the spelling system but repurposed as a tool to signal the value of the long vowels changed in the Great Vowel Shift (e.g. In mate, name, while etc.). Other sounds were reduced then eliminated, such as the k's and g's in the old clusters kn and gn (as in knight and gnat ) and some of the remnants of Old English yogh, the old velar fricative (as in neighbor and bough ). The result is the numerous set of "silent letters" that learners find so maddening. By the late 1500s, under the impetus of printing the tremendous variety of spellings in written English had shaken down into a far smaller set of variants, and a great part of the outlines of the modern orthography was in place. Changes in orthographic norms slowed considerably, and Modern English was left with a spelling system from an earlier period of its history: essentially it is a normalized Middle English system. The result is a set of letter-to-sound mismatches greater than those of elsewhere in Europe, even in some respects greater than those of French, whose spelling was codified a little later.

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These factors encouraged the growth of record-keeping and bureaucracy and the continued growth in importance of the court of Chancery and Chancery English. Property records, tax-collecting and other financial records, laws, and records of crime and punishment all burgeoned in the 1500s. The rise of schools, designed to train not only religious workers but also secular clerical workers for government, made it possible to train larger numbers of people in literacy and thereby also further spread the developing norms for orthography. The growth of London and its role in public institutions ensured its importance as the center of a linguistic standard for the developing nation. Standard written norms based on London English developed and were used even where local pronunciations were hardly affected by the sounds of spoken London English. Documents moved around in far greater numbers than essay people and thus could influence the norms of the region more easily than the spoken dialect features of travellers. The growth of a professionalized class of printers outside of the direct control of church and government led to the role of printers in setting norms of writing and spelling. Printers had a strong interest in standardization to reduce variation and hence make the printing process easier. The printing profession evolved into the profession of publishing, and publishers have been important ever since in the setting of written standards. During the 1500s, a major upheaval in the pronunciation of English vowels, the Great English Vowel shift, spread through the speech community and tore the conservative written forms of the long vowels away from their changing pronunciations, leaving English with a set of letter-to-written vowel. At about the same time, many inflectional endings were reduced and finally eliminated, notably many final unstressed e's.

Writing had been used for governmental purposes from the beginning of app the Anglo-saxon era, but for a long time its chief use remained in the church. After the conquest it was used more and more for governmental purposes, centered in the royal court and law courts. The court of Chancery in London became the seat of official record-keeping, and by the 1300s spelling norms were developing noticeably, in a written variety called Chancery English. The rise of two important centers of learning outside london, Oxford and Cambridge, by the 1300s affected written norms as well. These towns had somewhat different dialects, but they were still relatively close to each other and to the court, and many of the spelling norms developed there could also be applied to writing the london dialect. The triangle of London-Oxford-Cambridge, with its revolving scholarly and clerical workforce, became a large and important center of developing orthographic norms. Printing and the beginnings of the information revolution The advent of printing in the late 1400s drastically changed the speed at which manuscripts could be produced and therefore disseminated, and the adoption of paper also helped to make written documents cheaper and more widespread.

short essay on history of english language

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And like the the split of /k the orthographic mismatch of the letter /g/ and the sounds it stood for was imported into English via the introduction during Middle English of large retainer numbers of French loanwords with the new /d/ sound in them. Third, the conquest brought about a change in the dialect taken as the standard. The seat of the royal court and government moved to london after the conquest. (Edward the confessor built his beloved Westerminster Abbey in Westminster, then just down the river to the west of the roman and Saxon settlements of London, and used buildings around the abbey as a seasonal court. The conqueror built a whole court complex around the abbey, which thus became the center of government.) As a result the new pronunciation norms were derived from London English and not from ancestral Wessex which was in the west country. Many manuscripts were re-copied into the newly important London dialect of the ruling classes. Older spelling norms were abandoned for new ones based on London pronunciations.

Some English was still written, but far less than before. With no schools and monasteries teaching ways of writing Old English, any incipient norms were swept away and people hardly literate in the language just tried to spell as the words sounded, with predictably irregular results. Second, after the conquest many scribes were French or French-trained. Their norms for representing sounds were different in many respects. The letter c, for example, was used in French to spell an /s/ sound in many loanwords of Latin origin; the letter c in the roman writing system represented a /k but a sound change in Latin turned /k/ into /s/ before front non-low vowels. (Thus Latin civitas /kiwitas/ evolved into French cité, from where we get our word city.) From many instances like this one, the use of a single letter c to represent the radically different sounds /k/ and /s/ came into the English spelling system (and persists. The /s/ variant developed by assimilation and weaking of the original /k/ in particular contents. A similar sound change when Latin was changing into the romance languages gave rise to the use of the letter g for both a /g/ sound and a /d/ sound, as in goat. Like the split of the early /k/ sound into /k/ and /s this split of Latin /g/ was induced by assimilation of the /g/ before front non-low vowels, in which the sound took on the frontness of the following vowel.

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short essay on history of english language

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The physical technology of this system hardly changed for resume 800 years. During that time some norms arose for spelling (incipient standardized spellings, although still by our standards highly variable but the sounds of the language were changing faster. As usual with written languages, norms for writing lagged behind those for pronunciation, thus providing another source of divergence of the written form from the spoken. Although the royal court was in Winchester, other regional centers of government and/or learning arose or continued developing, such as York, peterborough, jarrow - and at the end of the Anglo-saxon period, just before the conquest, london. The first three of these centers tended to have their own orthographic norms based on Northern pronunciations.

Thus there was no single center for the development new of orthographic norms, although the royal court in the south exerted a powerful force for normalization. The period after the conquest: Spelling during the middle English period The norman Conquest and its aftermath changed the entire social and governmental structure. It also affected spelling greatly, for various reasons. The most obvious is that the use of English in written documents was greatly reduced. English was no longer the dominant language for law and government, so the tendency toward standardization for Anglo-saxon writing was essentially stopped in its tracks.

A word in a spelling the reader has seen before is easier and quicker to recognize than one not seen before. Also reading is apparently quicker the less variation there is in the forms of words. (But there is much individual variation on this last point.) The manuscripts were apparently normally read aloud, rather than internally as most reading is now done. That means the process of reading was slow enough that variation in the visual forms did not seriously detract from production of the sounds as prompted by the written characters. With reading 'to oneself the process is potentially swifter once the reader has mastered the system; but variation can then slow it down.


If there was ever consistency at the start of the use of the roman alphabet for representing Anglo-saxon, it began to lessen immediately. The novelty of the alphabetic system as a technology, the lack of fixed norms for written representations, and the changes over time of the language were all forces that led to greater divergence of the written forms from the spoken string. Add to that dialect variation: Some of the scribes came from outside wessex, and even when they tried to write so as to approximate wessex sounds, their own local pronunciations often affected the characters they wrote. Scholars observe the dialect features of individual manuscripts to gain clues about where the manuscript was composed and/or copied. There was at that time no strong countervailing force leading toward standardization,. E reduction of variation, such as would come later. Spellings are so variable that to lessen the difficulties modern readers may have, old English texts are generally "normalized or printed in accordance with what scholars think is a good representative form for each word. Manuscripts were produced in fairly large numbers by monks copying originals using quill pens, ink, and, as the writing surface, prepared sheepskins (parchment) or the much more expensive and high quality calfskins (vellum).

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From the reader's perspective, we might think that simply pronouncing a word based on the prompts provided by the graphemes would be enough to allow a reader to produce summary a spoken message matching the written form. Yet it turns out that producing the sound of an utterance by reading it off from the graphemes is no simple cognitive task. Getting a pronunciation out of alphabetic writing requires people to analyze the sound string down to the level of component sounds. Yet this type of phonemic analysis is apparently not an obvious or natural one for humans; it needs to be taught statement intensively before it can be done fairly automatically and that is one reason why acquisition of literacy at an early age is stressed. It takes a lot of practice to reliably decode messages from alphabetic writing. Some of those who try to learn to read alphabetic writing never master it because they can't separate the speech string into individual segments, which are clusters of vocal gestures in consonants and vowels, in this way. Syllables apparently are a more natural unit for humans to perceive and hence code (write) and decode (read) by means of marks on a page. Reading is also apparently swifter the more familiar the form of the written words are.

short essay on history of english language

found in Latin or its Romance descendents, such as the fricatives thorn þ, eth ð, and yogh (a voiced palatal or velar fricative, represented by a character that looks somewhat. Later on in the medieval period these runic characters were replaced with digraphs, two-letter symbols such as th, sh, and. The letters in these digraphs do not have their usual values, but are used as a complex to indicate single sounds. Writing in Anglo-saxon: Variation and incipient standardization. Norms for writing words consistently with an alphabetic character set are collectively called orthography. Consistency in writing was never absolute in Anglo-saxon because the whole system was new and norms for writing words in a consistent way took time to develop. It is not easy for writers to remember a single orthographic representation, called a spelling, for a word; yet this is what is required for standardization, unless there is a perfect one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes, which is an ideal rarely reached with alphabetic. Writers seem to prefer to produce written forms they have seen before for specific words, even if there is not a good match between written characters and sounds.

An earlier Germanic writing system called runes, also alphabetic and originating ultimately from the same source as the roman alphabet, was used for more limited purposes (largely incantations, curses, and a few poems) when the tribes were still on the continent and also after their. Alphabetic writing systems are based on the principle of fruit representing spoken sound segments, specifically those at the level of consonants and vowels, by written characters, ideally one for each sound segment. Crucial elements of the sound stream of a message are thus 'captured' by a linear sequence of marks that can be "sounded out" to recapture the message by means of its sounds. The entire sound stream is not captured, but enough of it is to provide a prompt for lexical recognition. (Other kinds of writing systems are based on written representation of other linguistic units such as syllables, words, or some mix of these. the roman alphabet and Anglo-saxon, the roman alphabet, being designed for a language with a very different phonological system, was never perfectly adapted for writing English even when first used to represent Anglo-saxon. The first monks writing English using Roman letters soon added new characters to handle the extra sounds.

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Featured Article, thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 791,864 times. Did this article help you? The history of English: Spelling and Standardization (suzanne kemmer). The history of English, linguistics/English 395, Spring 2009, prof. Rice University, course Information, course Schedule, owlspace login page. Writing systems and alphabets in England. English has an alphabetic writing system based on the roman alphabet that was brought to Anglo-saxon England by gift Christian missionaries and church officials in the 600s.


short essay on history of english language
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  4. Spelling and Standardization. English : Historical overview. Writing systems and alphabets in England. English has an alphabetic writing system based on the roman alphabet that was brought to Anglo-saxon England by Christian missionaries and church officials in the 600s.

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