My wife took a course called “The History of the English Language” at the University of Texas. It served to meet some part of her degree requirement. Whenever I tell this story, my friends from outside the Republic of Texas usually ask me if it was to fulfill a “Foreign Language” requirement. Actually, no…but I will assure you, she did not take it just for the fun of it. At the time, we thought it had to be the most boring class imaginable.
Since it was her final semester and we could not marry until she graduated, I was motivated to help her complete the course. I discovered that my two years of college German were very helpful in deciphering sections of Middle English. I became a frequent “drop in” to the class as we struggled to understand the ramblings of her professor.
As time went by, I found myself thinking back on the things we learned. It explained much about the language we speak and why it is so frustrating with all its peculiar spellings.
English got started when the Celts migrated to what is now England, during the Iron Age. The Romans invaded them around the time of Christ which brought Latin to England and introduced a lot of new words. Things went along passably well for the Celts, as the Romans had a lot to offer (roads, peace, pillows and wine to name a few). Then things started to get dicey in the Roman Empire. The Romans pulled out in 395 AD, leaving the Celtic-Roman mixed people to the mercy of the Angles and Saxons who came over from Germany….which is where that strong German influence came from.
For around 400 years, things were OK until the Vikings took over in 787 AD, bringing yet another language; Norse. What we now call, “Old English” (chances are that you never call anything “Old English”….but stick with me here…) is a mutt language of Anglo-Saxon and Norse.
Then the Normans come along in 1066 and brought French to the British island. French became the language of the elite, with Old English relegated to the working, lower class. French might have replaced English in England had it not been for the Great Plague. With one-third of the population dead, social order began to break down and the classes started to mix. French and Old English began to mix together, yielding “Middle English” ….yet another dialect with its own set of peculiar spellings.
Between 1300 and 1600, we had the Renaissance and another wave of problems for weak spellers. Knowledge from ancient Rome and Greece were rediscovered. With the growth in “all things cultural,” there was also a great increase in new words. 12,000 new words entered the English language in the 16th century alone …and a great many of these words were derived from Latin.
During the first part of the Renaissance, rules for spelling and grammar were largely absent. For example, if you were to read the works of Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales, for example) in the original language (Middle English) you would see words spelled in many different ways. Sometimes, different spellings of the same word were used in the same sentence. It was all dependent on how the word sounded to the writer. That leads me to ponder why one word would sound different ways to Chaucer in the same sentence…but questions like that are not very much appreciated in the average college class.
As you might suspect, spelling words “just any old way” made the written language challenging to read. With the introduction of the printing press around 1440, standardized spelling started to take form. This would be largely dictated by the spelling preferences of the printer, by popular books (such as the King James Bible) or by popular authors (such as Shakespeare).
About this time, the semester ended and this is all I know about the history of the English Language.
What does this have to do with using Social Media in the Job Search? Give me a couple of days….I will come up with something. In the meantime, I will elaborate on this topic just a bit more in my next post.