Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"The History of The English Language, Part Two" from VOA.
STEVE EMBER: This is Steve Ember.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today we present the second of our two programs about the history of the English Language.
STEVE EMBER: Last week, we told how the English language developed as a result of several invasions of Britain. The first involved three tribes called the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons. A mix of their languages produced a language called Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. It sounded very much like German. Only a few words remained from the Celts who had lived in Britain.
The Norman rulers added many words to English. The words “parliament,” “jury,” “justice,” and others that deal with law come from the Norman rulers.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Over time, the different languages combined to result in what English experts call Middle English. While Middle English still sounds similar to German, it also begins to sound like Modern English.
Here Warren Scheer reads the very beginning of Geoffrey Chaucer’s great poem, “The Canterbury Tales” as it was written in Middle English.
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heath…
The kings of Britain did not speak the language of the people until the early fourteen hundreds. Slowly, Norman French was used less and less until it disappeared.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The English language was strongly influenced by an event that took place more than one thousand four hundred years ago. In the year five ninety-seven, the Roman Catholic Church began its attempt to make Christianity the religion of Britain.
The language of the Catholic Church was Latin. Latin was not spoken as a language in any country at that time. But it was still used by some people.
Latin made it possible for a church member from Rome to speak to a church member from Britain. Educated people from different countries could communicate using Latin.
Latin had a great effect on the English language. Here are a few examples. The Latin word “discus” became several words in English including “disk,” “dish,” and “desk.” The Latin word “quietus” became the English word “quiet.” Some English names of plants such as ginger and trees such as cedar come from Latin. So do some medical words such as cancer.
STEVE EMBER: English is a little like a living thing that continues to grow. English began to grow more quickly when William Caxton returned to Britain in the year fourteen seventy-six. He had been in Holland and other areas of Europe where he had learned printing. He returned to Britain with the first printing press.
The printing press made it possible for almost anyone to buy a book. It helped spread education and the English language.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Slowly, during the fifteen hundreds, English became the modern language we would recognize. English speakers today would be able to communicate with English speakers in the last part of the sixteenth century.
STEVE EMBER: Experts say that Shakespeare’s work was written to be performed on the stage, not to be read. Yet every sound of his words can produce word pictures, and provide feelings of anger, fear and laughter. Shakespeare’s famous play “Romeo and Juliet” is so sad that people cry when they see this famous story.
The story of the power-hungry King Richard the Third is another very popular play by Shakespeare. Listen as Shep O’Neal reads the beginning of “Richard the Third.”
Richard the Third
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures...
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The development of the English language took a giant step just nine years before the death of William Shakespeare. Three small British ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean in sixteen-oh-seven. They landed in an area that would later become the southern American state of Virginia. They began the first of several British colonies. The name of the first small colony was Jamestown.
STEVE EMBER: Britain had other colonies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and India. The English language also became part of these colonies. These colonies are now independent, but English still is one of the languages spoken. And the English language grew as words from the native languages were added.
For example, the word “shampoo” for soap for the hair came from India. “Banana” is believed to be from Africa.
Experts cannot explain many English words. For hundreds of years, a dog was called a “hound.” The word is still used but not as commonly as the word “dog.” Experts do not know where the word “dog” came from or when. English speakers just started using it. Other words whose origins are unknown include “fun,” “bad,” and “big.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: English speakers also continue to invent new words by linking old words together. A good example is the words “motor” and “hotel.” Many years ago some one linked them together into the word “motel.” A motel is a small hotel near a road where people travelling in cars can stay for the night.
Other words come from the first letters of names of groups or devices. A device to find objects that cannot be seen called Radio Detecting and Ranging became “Radar.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is usually called NATO.
Experts say that English has more words that explain the same thing that any other language. For example, the words “large,” “huge,” “vast,” “massive,” and “enormous” all mean something really “big.”
STEVE EMBER: People often ask how many words there are in the English language. Well, no one really knows. The Oxford English Dictionary lists about six hundred fifteen thousand words. Yet the many scientific words not in the dictionary could increase the number to almost one million.
The language that permits VOA to work is English. It is not unusual to see someone from the Mandarin Service talking to someone from the Urdu Service, both speaking English. English is becoming the common language of millions of people worldwide, helping speakers of many different languages communicate.
STEVE EMBER: This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program, on the Voice of America.
1. Your English would be understood if you lived _____________________ .
2. The words "parliament", "jury", and "justice" come from _______________
3. Latin became an influence in the English Language because of the ____________ .
4. William Shakespeare wrote ______________________________ .
5. "Zephirus" probably refers to ___________________ .
6. The days Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are named after ________________ .
7. The English Language ___________________ .
8. ___________________ helped English to grow very fast in the 15th Century.
9. The word "moccasin" means a kind of shoe. It comes to English from _______________ .
10. What is the shape of the "discus" from Latin? ___________________
11. Shakespeare's plays were never ________________________ .
Act 1, Scene 1 of Richard The Third. In this scene, Richard is not happy that war has ended. He can't enjoy peace because of his deformity and ugly features. "Dogs bark at me", he complains. Therefore, he doesn't want peace. He wants to be a villain (a bad guy). He shares with us his plot gain more power. It involves murder and treachery. Kenneth Branagh plays Richard, and the lines are in large blue letters.
The History of the English Language, Part One