Inner and outer history of the language


We are going to speak about the inner and outer history of the English language. The outer history of the language is the events in the life of people speaking this language, the history of the people reflected in their language. The inner history of the language is the description of the changes in the language itself, its grammar, phonetics, vocabulary or spelling.

It is well known that theEnglish language belongs to the Germanic subdivision of the Indo—European family of languages. The direct and indirect evidence that we have concerning old Germanic tribes and dialects is approximately twenty centuries old. We know that at the beginning of AD Germanic tribes occupied vast territories in western, central and northern Europe. The dialects they spoke at the time were generally very much alike, but the degree of similarity varied. It is common to speak about the

East Germanic group of dialects – mainly spoken in central Europe – Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian ;

North GermanicOld Norwegian, Old Danish, Old Swedish, Old Icelandic;

and West Germanic – the dialects of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians and others, originally spoken in west Europe.The first knowledge of these tribes comes from the Greek and Roman authors which, together with archeological data, allows to obtain information on the structure of their society, habits, customs and languages.

The principal East Germanic Language is Gothic. At the beginning of our era the Goths lived on a territory from the North Sea to the shores of the Black Sea. The knowledge of Gothic we have now is almost wholly due to a translation of the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament made by Ulfilas, a missionary who Christianized the Gothic tribes. Except for some runic inscriptions in Scandinavia it the earliest record of a Germanic language we possess. The Goths played a prominent part in European history, making extensive conquests in Italy and Spain. In these districts, however, their language soon gave place to Latin. Gothic survived longest in the Crimea, where vestiges of it were noted down in the sixteenth century.

North Germanic is found in Scandinavia and Denmark. Runic inscriptions from the third century preserve our earliest traces of the language. In its earlier form the common Scandinavian language is conveniently spoken as Old Norse. From about the eleventh century, dialectal differences become noticeable. The Scandinavian languages fall into two groups: an eastern group including Swedish and Danish, and a western group including Norwegian and Icelandic. Of the early Scandinavian languages Icelandic is much the most important.





Iceland was colonized by settlers from Norway about A.D. 874 and preserved a body of early heroic literature unsurpassed among the German People. Among the more important monuments is Poetic Edda, a collection of poems that probably date from the tenth or eleventh centuries, Prose Edda compiled by Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241), and about forty sagas, or prose epics, in which the lives and exploits of various traditional figures are related.

West Germanic is of chief interest to us as the group to which English belongs. It is divided into two branches, High and Low German, by the operation of a Second (or High German) Sound-Shift analogous to that described below as Grimm’s Law.

This change, by which West Germanic p,t,k,d,etc. were changed into other sounds, occurred about A.D. 600 in the southern or mountainous part of the Germanic area. Accordingly in early times we distinguish as Low German tongues- Old Saxon, Old Low Franconian, Old Frisian, and Old English.The last two are closely related and constituted a special or Anglo-Frisian subgroup. Old Saxon has become the essential constituent of modern Low German or Plattdeutsch; Old Low Franconian is the basis of modern Dutch in Holland, and Flemish in northern Belgium, and Frisian survives in the Dutch province of Friesland.

(High German comprises a number of dialects and is divided chronologically into Old High German (before 1100); Middle High German (1100-1500); and Modern High German (since 1500).High German, especially as spoken in the midlands and used in the imperial chancery, was popularized by Luther’s translation of the Bible into it in (1522-1532), and since the sixteenth century has gradually established itself as the literary language of Germany.)


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