Subject and Aims of the History of English
§ 1. This outline history covers the main events in the historical development of the English language: the history of its phonetic structure and spelling, the evolution of its grammatical system, the growth of its vocabulary, and also the changing historical conditions of English-speaking communities relevant to language history.
A language can be considered from different angles. In studying Modern English (Mod E) we regard the language as fixed in time and describe each linguistic level — phonetics, grammar or lexis — synchronically, taking no account of the origin of present-day features or their tendencies to change. The synchronic approach can be contrasted to the diachronic. When considered diachronically; every linguistic fact is interpreted as a stage or step in the never-ending evolution of language. In practice, however, the contrast between diachronic and synchronic study is not so marked as in theory: we commonly resort to history to explain current phenomena in Mod E. Likewise in describing the evolution of language we can present it as a series of synchronic cross-sections, e.g. the English language of the age of Shakespeare (16th-17th c.) or the age of Chaucer (14th c).
§ 2.Through learning the history of the English language the student achieves a variety of aims, both theoretical and practical.
The history of the language is of considerable interest to all students of English, since the English language of today reflects many centuries of development. As F. Engels wrote: "Substance and form of one's own language, however, become intelligible only when its origin and gradual evolution are traced, and this cannot be done without taking into account, first, its own extinct forms, and secondly, cognate languages, both living and dead" (Anti-Duhring. M., 1959, p. 441).
This is no less true of a foreign language. Therefore one of the aims of this course is to provide the student with a knowledge of linguistic history sufficient to account for the principal features of present-day English. A few illustrations given below show how modern linguistic features can be explained by resorting to history.
§ 3.Any student of English is well aware of the difficulties of reading and spelling English. The written form of the English word is conventional rather than phonetic. The values of Latin letters as used in English differ greatly from their respective values in other languages, e.g. French, German or Latin. Cf.:
|bit — [bɪt]||full correspondence between Latin|
|three letters — three sounds||letters and English sounds|
|bite — [baɪt] four letters — three sounds||no correspondence between the vowels and their graphic representation: the final e is not pronounced, but conventionally serves to show that the preceding letter i has its English alphabetic value which is [aɪ], not [ɪ] as in other languages|
|knight — [naɪt] six letters — three sounds||the letters k and gh do not stand for any sounds but gh evidently shows that i stands for [aɪ]|
The history of English sounds and spelling accounts for these and similar peculiarities. Without going into details it will suffice to say that at the time when Latin characters were first used in Britain (7th c.) writing was phonetic: the letters stood, roughly, for the same sounds as in Latin. Later, especially after the introduction of printing in the 15th c., the written form of the word became fixed, while the sounds continued to change. This resulted in a growing discrepancy between letter and sound and in the modern peculiar use of Latin letters in English. Many modern spellings show how the words were pronounced some four or five hundred years ago, e.g. in the 14th c. knight sounded as [knix't], root as [ro:t], tale as ['ta:ls].
§ 4. Another illustration may be drawn from the vocabulary. Since English belongs to the Germanic group of languages, it would be natural to expect that it has many words or roots in common with cognate Germanic languages: German, Swedish, Danish and others. Instead, we find many more words in Mod E having exact parallels in the Romance languages: French, Latin, Spanish. Cf.:
|English||Other Germanic languages||Romance languages|
|peace||G Frieden||Fr paix|
|(OE frid)||Sw fred||L pace|
|Dutch vrede||It pace|
|army||G Heer||Fr armée|
|(OE here1)||Sw här||It armata|
The first word — give — is of native, Germanic origin, which is confirmed by the parallels from other Germanic tongues; the other words — peace and army — are borrowings from Romance languages (note that in OE the respective words were Germanic.) In present-day English the proportion of Romance roots is higher than that of native roots. The history of English will say when and how these borrowings were made and will thus account for the composition of the modern vocabulary.
§ 5. As far as grammar is concerned, it can only be noted at this stage that the history of the language will supply explanations both for the general, regular features of the grammatical structure and for its specific peculiarities and exceptions. It will explain why English has so few inflections; how its "analytical" structure arose — with an abundance of compound forms and a fixed word order; why modal verbs, unlike other verbs, take no ending -s in the 3rd p.sg.; why some nouns add -en or change the root-vowel in the plural instead of adding -s (e.g. oxen, feet)and so on and so forth.
§ 6.Another important aim of this course is of a more theoretical nature. While tracing the evolution of the English language through time, the student will be confronted with a number of theoretical questions such as the relationship between statics and dynamics in language, the role of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, the interdependence of different processes in language history. These problems may be considered on a theoretical plane within the scope of general linguistics. In describing the evolution of English, they will be discussed in respect of concrete linguistic facts, which will ensure a better understanding of these facts and will demonstrate the application of general principles to language material.
§ 7. One more aim of this course is to provide the student of English with a wider philological outlook. The history of the English language shows the place of English in the linguistic world; it reveals its ties and contacts with other related and unrelated tongues.
Sources of Language History (§ 8-10)
§ 8. Every living language changes through time. It is natural that no records of linguistic changes have ever been kept, as most changes pass unnoticed by contemporaries.
The history of the English language has been reconstructed on the basis of written records of different periods. The earliest extant written texts in English are dated in the 7th c; the earliest records in other Germanic languages go back to the 3rd or 4th c. A. D.
The development of English, however, began a long time before it was first recorded. In order to say where the English language came from, to what languages it is related, when and how it has acquired its specific features, one must get acquainted with some facts of the prewritten history of the Germanic group.
Certain information about the early stages of English and Germanic history is to be found in the works of ancient historians and geographers, especially Roman. They contain descriptions of Germanic tribes, personal names and place-names. Some data are also provided by early borrowings from Germanic made by other languages, e.g. the Finnish and the Baltic languages. But the bulk of our knowledge comes from scientific study of extant texts.
§ 9.The pre-written history of English and cognate languages was first studied by methods of comparative linguistics evolved in the 19th c. By applying these methods linguists discovered the kinship of what is now known as the Indo-European (IE) family of languages and grouped them into Germanic, Slavonic, Romance, Celtic, and others. It is one of the intentions of this course to show how comparison of existing and reconstructed forms can demonstrate differences and similarities in languages, and how reconstructed forms help to understand later developments.
§ 10.Modern linguistics has improved on the methods of comparative linguistic research applied in the 19th c. In addition to external reconstruction which was based on comparing different languages, the recently formulated method of internal reconstruction studies history from internal sources alone. This method is based on the assumption that every language is a well organised and well balanced structure of elements. Hence, if among the productive systems of the language there occur some smaller, non-productive systems one can surmise that they are relics of preceding stages of development. When traced into the past, these systems often appear more numerous and more productive, e.g. modern plural forms like oxen, teeth, isolated now, were, found in larger groups of nouns at an earlier period.. It follows that the past history of a language can also be reconstructed by considering its dialectal varieties, since the dialects often preserve forms, words or pronunciations which have become obsolete in the literary standard.
SOME THEORETICAL ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE HISTORY
Preliminary Remarks (§ 11)
§ 11.It has long been recognised that a living language can never be absolutely static; it develops together with the speech community, that is, with the people who speak it.
The great upsurge of interest in historical linguistics and its actual rise from the state of amateur speculation to a serious science date from the early 19th c. Accumulation of facts about the early stages of living languages called for theoretical interpretation of linguistic evolution. It was soon realised that the relationship of language to time involved many difficult and contradictory problems. Here are some of the questions which may naturally arise in connection with language history: What does the evolution of language consist of? Is the concept "evolution" equivalent to that of "linguistic change"? How does a linguistic change operate? What are the conditions or factors that determine and direct the development of language? What are the relationships between the facts of internal linguistic history and the history of the people?
In order to answer such questions with regard to English, and to understand not only what events occurred in the course of time but also how and why they occurred we must first consider a few theoretical questions and principles pertaining to language history.
Evolution of Language and Scope of Language History (§ 12)
§ 12.The evolution or historical development of language is made up of diverse facts and processes. In the first place it includes the internal or structural development of the language system, its various subsystems and component parts. The description of internal linguistic history is usually presented in accordance with the division of language into linguistic levels. The main, commonly accepted levels are: the phonetic and phonological levels, the morphological level, the syntactic level, and the lexical level. Accordingly, the history of the language can be subdivided into historical phonetics (phonology), historical morphology, historical syntax and historical lexicology.
The evolution of language includes also many facts which pertain to the functioning of language in the speech community. These functional aspects constitute what is known as the "external" history of the language and embrace a large number of diverse matters: the spread of the language in geographical and social space, the differentiation of language into functional varieties (geographical variants, dialects, standard and sub-standard forms, etc.), contacts with other languages. In discussing these aspects of history we shall deal with the concept of language space, that is the geographical and social space occupied by the language (known as its horizontal and vertical dimensions); and also with the concept of linguistic situation, which embraces the functional differentiation of language and the relationships between the functional varieties. Most of these features are connected with the history of the speech community, e.g. with the structure of society, the migration of tribes, economic and political events, the growth of culture and literature.
Statics and Dynamics in Language History (§ 13)
§ 13.Although certain changes constantly occur at one or another linguistic level, the historical development of language cannot be regarded as permanent instability. Many features of the language remain static in diachrony: these constant features do not alter through time or may be subject to very slight alteration.
In the first place there exist certain permanent, universal properties to be found in all languages at any period of time, such as e.g. the division of sounds into vowels and consonants, the distinction between the main parts of speech and the parts of the sentence. In addition to these universal properties, English, like other languages, has many stable characteristics which have proved almost immune to the impact of time. For instance, some parts of the English vocabulary have been preserved through ages; to this stable part belong most of the pronouns, many form-words and words indicating the basic concepts of life. Many ways of word-formation have remained historically stable. Some grammatical categories, e.g. number in nouns, degrees of comparison in adjectives, have suffered little alteration while other categories, such as case or gender, have undergone profound changes. The proportion of stable and changeable features varies at different historical periods and at different linguistic levels but there is no doubt that we can find statics and dynamics both in synchrony and in diachrony. Dynamics in diachrony, that is linguistic change, requires special consideration.
Concept of Linguistic Change (§ 14-20)
§ 14.One can distinguish three main types of difference in language: geographical, social and temporal. Linguistic changes imply temporal differences, which become apparent if the same elements or parts of the language are compared at successive historical stages; they are transformations of the same units in time which can be registered as distinct steps in their evolution. For instance, the OE form of the Past tense pl Ind. Mood of the verb to find — fundon ['fundon] became founden ['fu:ndən] in the 12th-13th c. and found in Mod E. The continuity of the item was not broken, though we can register several changes: a) phonetic and spelling changes as the root vowel [u] became [u:] and then [au] and the letter u was replaced by the digraph ou; b) phonetic and morphological changes in the inflection: -on>-en> — ; c) morphological changes in the place of the form in the verb paradigm and its grammatical meaning: fundon was the Past tense pl of the Ind. Mood; its descendant founden was also the form of Past pl Subj. and Part. II, as these three forms had fallen together; the modern found has further extended its functions — it stands now both for the singular and plural since these forms are not distinguished in the Past tense. All these changes can be defined as structural or intra linguistic as they belong to the language system.
The concept of linguistic change is not limited to internal, structural changes. It also includes temporal differences in the position of the given unit in language space, that is the extent of its spread in the functional varieties of the language. A new feature — a word, a form, a sound — can be recognised as a linguistic change only after it has been accepted for general use in most varieties of the language or in its main, "prestige" variety — the Literary Standard. For instance, in the 10th-11th c. many Scandinavian words penetrated into the Northern dialects of the English language (as a result of Scandinavian invasions and mixture of the population), e.g. sky, they, call; later they entered literary English.
§ 15. Most linguistic changes involve some kind of substitution and can therefore be called replacements. Replacements are subdivided into different types or patterns. A simple one-to-one replacement occurs when a new unit merely takes the place of the old one, e.g. in the words but, feet the vowels [u] and [e:] (pronounced four or five hundred years ago) have been replaced by [ʌ] and [i:] respectively ([u] > [ʌ] and [e:] > [i:]). OE ēa was replaced by the French loan-word river, OE ēode ['eode], the Past tense of to go, was replaced by a new form, went. Replacements can also be found in the plane of content; they are shifts of meaning in words which have survived from the early periods of history, e.g. OE feoh [feox] had the meaning ‘cattle’, ‘property’, its modern descendant is fee.
Those are the simplest one-to-one replacements. Most linguistic changes, however, both in the language system and language space, have a more complicated pattern. Two or more units may fall together and thus may be replaced by one unit, or, vice versa, two distinct units may take the place of one. The former type of replacement is defined as merging or merger, the latter is known as splitting or split. The modern Common case of nouns is the result of the merging of three OE cases — Nom., Gen. and Acc. Many instances of splitting can be found in the history of English sounds, e.g. the consonant [k] has split into two phonemes [k] and [ʧ] in words like kin, keep and chin, child.
§ 16. Linguistic changes classified into different types of replacement, namely splits and mergers, canalso be described in terms of oppositions, which is a widely recognised method of scientific linguistic analysis. Thus a merger is actually an instance of neutralisation or loss of oppositions between formerly contrasted linguistic units, while the essence of splitting is the growth of new oppositions between identical or non-distinctive forms. To use the same examples, when three OE cases merged into the Comm. case, the opposition between the cases was neutralised or lost. When [k] split into [k] and [ʧ] there arose a new kind of phonemic opposition — a plosive consonant came to be opposed to an affricate (cf. kin and chin).
§ 17. Although many linguistic changes can be described in terms of replacements and explained as loss and rise of oppositions, the concept of replacement is narrower than that of linguistic change. Some changes are pure innovations, which do not replace anything, or pure losses. Thus we should regard as innovations numerous new words which were borrowed or coined to denote entirely new objects or ideas, such as sputnik, Soviet, nylon, high-jacking, baby-sitter. On the other hand, many words have been lost (or have died out) together with the objects or ideas which have become obsolete, e.g. OE witenaʒemōt ‘Assembly of the elders’, numerous OE poetic words denoting warriors, ships and the sea.
§ 18. In addition to the distinctions described above —- and irrespective of those distinctions, — various classifications of linguistic changes are used to achieve an orderly analysis and presentation. It is obvious from the examples quoted that linguistic changes are conveniently classified and described in accordance with linguistic levels: we can speak of phonetic and phonological changes (also sound changes), spelling changes, grammatical changes, including morphology and syntax, lexical and stylistic changes. At these levels further subdivisions are made: phonetic changes include vowel and consonant changes, qualitative and quantitative changes, positional and independent changes, and so on. Changes at the higher levels fall into formal and semantic, since they can affect the plane of expression and the plane of content; semantic changes, in their turn, may take various forms: narrowing or widening of meaning, metaphoric and metonymic changes, etc.
§ 19. In books on language history one may often come across one more division of linguistic changes: into historical and analogical. This distinction was introduced by the Young Grammarian school in the late 19th c. A change is defined as historical only if it can be shown as a phonetic modification of an earlier form, c.g., the modern pl ending of nouns -es has descended directly from its prototype, OE -as due to phonetic reduction and foos of the vowel in the unstressed ending (cf. OE stān-as and NE ston -es ........... and the resulting form are called "historical". An analogical form does not develop directly from its prototype; it appears on the analogy of other forms, similar in meaning or shape. When the plural ending -es began to be added to nouns which had never taken -as — but had used other endings: -an, or -a, — it was a change by analogy or an instance of analogical levelling. This analogical change gave rise to new forms referred to as "analogical" (cf. OE nam-on and NE nam-es).
§ 20. So far we have spoken of separate changes: those of sounds, grammatical forms, or words. In describing the evolution of language, we shall more often deal with the development of entire sets or systems of linguistic units. Every separate change enters a larger frame and forms a part of the development of a certain system. As known, language is a system of interrelated elements, subsystems and linguistic levels. Every linguistic unit is a component part of some system or subsystem correlated to other units through formal or semantic affinities and oppositions. The alteration of one element is part of the alteration of the entire system as it reveals a re-arrangement of its structure, a change in the relationships of its components.
The systemic nature of linguistic change can be illustrated by the following examples.
In the early periods of history the verb system in English was relatively poor: there were only two simple tenses in the Ind. Mood — Pres. and Past — the prototypes of the modern Pres. and Past Indef. In the course of time the system was enriched by numerous analytical forms: the Future tense, the Continuous and Perfect forms, The development of these forms transformed the entire verb system, which has acquired new formal and semantic oppositions; the growth of analytical forms has also affected the employment of the two simple forms, for some of their former meanings came to be expressed by the new compound forms (e.g. futurity and priority).
In the age of Shakespeare (late 16th — early 17th c.) in certain phonetic conditions the sonorant [r] changed into [ə]giving rise to diphthongs, e.g. bear, beer, poor; the new set of diphthongs with a central glide [ɪə], [ɛe], [uə] introduced new distinctive features into the system of vowel phonemes.
Rate of Linguistic Changes (§ 20-22)
§21. Linguistic changes are usually slow and gradual. They proceed in minor, imperceptible steps unnoticed by the speakers. The rate of linguistic changes is restricted by the communicative function of language, for a rapid change would have disturbed or hindered communication between speakers of different generations. Unlike human society, language undergoes no revolutions or sudden breaks. The slow rate of linguistic change is seen in the gradual spread of new features in language space.
This should not be understood to mean that the speed of evolution in language is absolutely consistent or that all changes proceed at exactly the same pace. As shown below, at some historical periods linguistic changes grew more intensive and more rapid, whereas at other periods they slowed down and the English language was stabilised.
§ 22. It is important to note that different parts or levels of language develop at different rates.
It is often said that the vocabulary of a language can change very rapidly- This is true only if we compare lexical changes with changes at other linguistic levels, e.g. grammatical. Lexical changes are quite conspicuous and easy to observe, since new items spring into being before our very eyes, though, as a matter of fact, they rarely amount to more than isolated words or groups of words. New words are usually built in conformity with the existing ways of word-formation which are very slow to change; the new formations make use of available elements — roots, affixes — and support the productive word-building patterns by extending them to new instances. Cf. motel and Iwtel, typescript and manuscript. It should be added that if the number of new words is very large, it takes; them several hundred years to be adopted and assimilated (as was the case in the Middle Ages, when English borrowed hundreds of words from French).
The system of phonemes cannot be subjected to sudden or rapid changes since it must preserve the oppositions between the phonemes required for the distinction of morphemes. Sometimes phonetic changes affect a whole set of sounds — a group of vowels or a group of consonants, — but as a rule they do not impair the differentiation of phonemes.
Likewise, the grammatical system is very slow to change. Being the most abstract of linguistic levels if must provide stable formal devices for arranging words into classes and for connecting them into phrases and sentences.
Mechanism of Change. Role of Synchronic Variation (§ 23-26)
§ 23. From comparing the state of linguistic units before and after a change one can determine the nature of the change, define its type and direction; but in order to understand how the change came about one must also trace the process or mechanism of the change.
Alinguistic change begins with synchronic variation. Alongside the existing language units — words, forms, affixes, pronunciations, spellings, syntactic constructions — there spring up new units. They may be similar in meaning but slightly different in form, stylistic connotations, social values, distribution in language space, etc. In the same way new meanings may arise in the existing words or forms in addition to their main meanings. Both kinds of variation — formal and semantic — supply the raw material for impending changes.
§ 24. Synchronic variation is to be found in every language at every stage of its history. It is caused by two main factors: functional differentiation of language and tendencies of historical development.
Language is a heterogeneous system of immeasurable complexity; it functions in various forms as a group of mutually intelligible overlapping speech varieties. The range of synchronic variation largely depends on the distinction of the main functional varieties and also on the variable use of the language in different conditions of communication, in various social groups and in individual forms of speech. Synchronic differences between the varieties of language may consist of specific items not to be found in other varieties, or in the different use of the same items, which may seem slightly unusual and yet quite intelligible to the speakers of other varieties.
Synchronic variation reveals the tendencies of historical development and is produced by those tendencies. New features, which appear as instances of synchronic variation, represent dynamics in synchrony and arise in conformity with productive historical trends.
§ 25.Variation supplies material for linguistic change and also provides conditions for its realisation.
At every period of history, language offers a wide choice of expressive means to the speaker. From this stock — consciously or unconsciously — the speaker selects forms of expression suitable in the given situation; in making this choice he observes the speech habits of his social group or employs forms of expression current in other varieties of the language; sometimes he creates new expressive means — forms, words, phrases — in accordance with the productive historical tendencies. Old and new forms begin to be used indiscriminately, in free variation, which may lead to a change in their relative frequencies and finally to the substitution of one for another. Thus synchronic variation ensures a gradual imperceptible realisation of the change. If the co-existing competing units lose all differences, one rival will die out and the other will occupy its place, for only in rare cases can genuine free variation exist for long (that is, co-existence of absolute equivalents). If the differences between parallel means of expression persist and are accentuated, both rivals will survive as distinct units.
§ 26. The process of change consisting of several stages, including the stage of variation is illustrated below by the substitution of the verb ending -(e)s for the earlier -eth:
|Before the change||Process of change Variation stage||After the change|
|Appearance of new forms||Co-existence of old and new forms||Selection of new forms|
|14fh c.||15th-17fh c.||18th c.|
|e. g. help-eth||help-eth|
The variation stage may extend over a long period. During this period, at successive cross-sections, we can observe the gradual rapprochement of the coexisting, competing units, shifts in their frequencies, growth or loosening of stylistic and dialectal constraints and other evidence of the change in progress (the ending (e)s was first recorded in the Northern dialects and was dialect-ally restricted; when it came into general use, -eth acquired stylistic restrictions: it was used only in high poetry and religious texts).
Causes of Language Evolution (§ 27-31)
§ 27. The causes or moving factors in language history have always attracted the attention of linguists and have given riseto various explanations and theories. In the early 19th c. philologists of the romantic trend (J.G. Herder, J. and W. Grimm and others) interpreted the history of the Indo-European, and especially the Germanic languages, as decline and degradation, for most of these languages have been losing their richness of grammatical forms, declensions, conjugations and inflections since the so-called "Golden Age" of the parent-language. Linguists of the naturalist trend (e.g. A. Schleicher) conceived language as a living organism and associated stages in language history with stages of life: birth, youth, maturity, old age, and death. In the later ]9th c. the psychological theories of language (W. Wundt, H. Paul) attributed linguistic changes to individual psychology and to accidental individual fluctuations. The study of factual history undertaken by the Young Grammarians led them to believe that there are no superior or inferior stages in language history and that all languages are equal; changes are brought about by phonetic laws which admit of no exceptions (seeming exceptions are due to analogy, which may introduce a historically unjustified form, or else to borrowing from another language). Sociologists in linguistics (J. Vendryes, A. Meillet) maintained that linguistic changes are caused by social conditions and events in external history.
Some modern authors assert that causality lies outside the scope of linguistics, which should be concerned only with the fact and mechanism of the change; others believe that linguistics should investigate only those causes and conditions of language evolution which are to be found within the language system; external factors are no concern of linguistic history. In accordance with this view the main internal cause which produces linguistic change is the pressure of the language system. Whenever the balance of the system or its symmetrical structural arrangement is disrupted, it tends to be restored again under the pressure of symmetry inherent in the system.
The recent decades witnessed a revival of interest in extralinguistic aspects of language history. The Prague school of linguists was the first among the modern trends to recognise the functional stratification of language and its diversity dependent on external conditions. In present-day theories, especially in the sociolinguistic trends, great importance is attached to the variability of speech in social groups as the primary factor of linguistic change.
§ 28. Like any movement in nature and society, the evolution of language is caused by the struggle of opposites. The moving power underlying the development of language is made up of two main forces: one force is the growing and changing needs of man in the speech community; the other is the resisting force that curbs the changes and preserves the language in a state fit for communication. The two forces are manifestations of the two principal functions of language — its expressive and communicative functions. The struggle of the two opposites can also be described as the opposition of thought and means of its expression or the opposition of growing needs of expression and communication and the available resources of language.
These general forces operate in all languages at all times; they are so universal that they fail to account for concrete facts in the history of a particular language. To explain these facts many other conditioning factors must be taken into consideration.
§ 29.The most widely accepted classification of factors relevant to language history divides them into external or extralinguistic and internal (also intra-linguistic and systemic).
Strictly speaking, the term "extra-linguistic" embraces a variety of conditions bearing upon different aspects of human life, for instance, the psychological or the physiological aspects. In the first place, however, extralinguistic factors include events in the history of the people relevant to the development of the language, such as the structure of society, expansion over new geographical areas, migrations, mixtures and separation of tribes, political and economic unity or disunity, contacts with other peoples, the progress of culture and literature. These aspects of external history determine the linguistic situation and affect the evolution of the language.
§ 30. Internal factors of language evolution arise from the language system. They can be subdivided into general factors or general regularities, which operate in all languages as inherent properties of any language system, and specific factors operating in one language or in a group of related languages at a certain period of time.
The most general causes of language evolution are to be found in the tendencies to improve the language technique or its formal apparatus. These tendencies are displayed in numerous assimilative and simplifying phonetic changes in the history of English (e.g. the consonant cluster [kn] in know, and knee was simplified to [n]; [t] was missed out in often and listen, etc.) To this group we can also refer the tendency to express different meanings by distinct formal means and thus avoid what is known as "homonymy clashes".
On the other hand, similar or identical meanings tend to be indicated by identical means, therefore the plural ending of nouns -(e)s has gradually spread to most English nouns and replaced numerous markers of the plural.
Another group of general internal tendencies aims to preserve the language as a vehicle fit for communication. These tendencies resist linguistic change and account for the historical stability of many elements and features ("statics in diachrony"). For instance, since the earliest periods English has retained many words and formal markers expressing the most important notions and distinctions, e.g. the words he, we, man, good, son; the suffix -d- to form the Past tense. This tendency also accounts for the growth of compensatory means to make up for the loss of essential distinctions, e.g. the wider use of prepositional phrases instead of case forms.
Among the general causes of language evolution, or rather among its universal regularities, we must mention the interdependence of changes within the sub-systems of the language and the interaction of changes at different linguistic levels.
Interdependence of changes at different linguistic levels can be illustrated by the history of noun morphology in English. In the course of history nouns have lost most of their cases (in OE there were four cases, nowadays — only two). The simplification of noun morphology involved changes at different levels: phonetic weakening of final syllables, analogical levelling of forms at the morphological level, and stabilisation of the word order at the level of syntax.
§31. Some factors and causes of language evolution are confined to a certain group of languages or to one language only and may operate over a limited span of time. These specific factors are trends of evolution characteristic of separate languages or linguistic groups, which distinguish them from other languages. Since English belongs to the Germanic group of languages, it shares many Germanic trends of development with cognate languages. These trends were caused by common Germanic factors but were transformed and modified in the history of English, and were combined with other trends caused by specifically English internal and external factors. The combination of all these factors and the resulting course of evolution is unique for every language; it accounts for its individual history which is never repeated by other languages. Thus English, like other Germanic languages, displayed a tendency towards a more analytical grammatical structure, but it has gone further along this way of development than most other languages, probably owing to the peculiar combination of internal and external conditions and to the interaction of changes at different linguistic levels.
In conclusion it must be admitted that motivation of changes is one of the most difficult problems of the historical linguistics. The causes of many developments are obscure or hypothetical. Therefore in discussing the causes of the most important events in the history of English, we shall have to mention various theories and interpretations.
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