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How Has English changed as a result of contact with other languages? What other factors have caused English to change?

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Introduction

How Has English changed as a result of contact with other languages? What other factors have caused English to change? In answering both parts of this question I propose to discuss the nature of language change from an historical perspective (diachronically) and then from a contemporary point of view (synchronically). There are four areas which can be affected in any language and which will be examined in my essay: lexis, which is vocabulary - and I will include semantics here; phonology, which is the sound system and pronunciation; syntax, which is the grammar, sentence structure and word endings; lastly, orthography, that is spelling and the written letter. It is important at the outset to say that English did not arrive in Britain as a single unified language but in the form of three or four Germanic dialects spoken by Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. The first point of contact on British shores would have been with Celtic speaking Britons. David Crystal says that only a handful of Celtic words came .into English: crag, combe - valley; tor-peak; Thames, avon (river), Dover (water) in south eastern Britain. Dick Leith talks about the importance of external and internal history in understanding language change. Internal history and evidence refers to the nature of grammar and vocabulary and linguistics. External history and evidence refers to who spoke the language and non-linguistic historical information. The place names in Anglo-Saxon Britain are internal evidence but the dates and the invasions by different tribes is external. Leith reminds us that this point of history is more complex than initially realised. ...read more.

Middle

As a result, the inflected syllable at the end of the words are more weakly stressed. "Some linguists argue that the Old English inflectional system was inefficient and was, therefore, as the linguist Roger Lass has argued, 'ripe for re-modelling'. Speakers themselves start to regularise the paradigms...deleting endings." .. CH.3 Origins of English P. 118. As said before, the greatest phonological change occurred between 1400 and 1700: the Great Vowel Shift. The pronunciation of vowels shifted to produce sounds that we would more or less recognise today. It meant that the vowel quality was raised on the tongue. One of the most persuasive explanations is a sociological one that focuses on speakers' sense of their own language prestige. At a time of urbanisation of London and the rise of the modern class system, people from rural East Anglia and the Midlands moving toward London would not have wanted to sound like country bumpkins. Chambers and Trudghill are quoted in CH. 7 Accents of English, as referring to this change as lexical diffusion. Undoubtedly, the greatest internal factor for change was the invention of the printing press. As Harris and Taylor observe, Caxton had to "...introduce and popularise a new technology which is destined to revolutionise the availability of information in civilised society. The political and educational consequences of this new technology will be profound." (Caxton on Dialects P. 1-69) Caxton recognised the problem of English having no standard dialect and he had to make an arbitrary choice and he chose the dialect where his press was based, which happened to be a great commercial centre of Britain: London .and the dialect of the south east Midlands. ...read more.

Conclusion

(Ch.5 P.213) If we come up to date and withdraw from the international scene, we can consider the internal factors in Britain which are still influencing and causing language to change. We can see that these are pretty much the same factors that I have mentioned before. Technological innovations - particularly in media and computers - has seen a massive expansion in vocabulary, new words, acronyms and word extension: e.g. internet, WISIWYG and mouse. Social and political events continue to provide neologisms and phrases: 'yomping' from the Falklands war. The desire for a pure, language surface with regularity in newspapers, radio programmes and in Parliament. Indeed, .the last .fifteen years have witnessed an education debate resulting in a much more prescriptive English curriculum. Urbanisation and the expansion of the media has produced a homogenous accent over the south of England: Estuary English, which is simultaneously being bombarded by mid-Atlantic English from the USA. The glut of Australian TV soaps is considered influential in producing .the sound of the high rising tone in English accents. The Feminist movement has been instrumental over the past 'thirty years in persuading change from male orientated expressions to neutral ones: chairman - chairperson; Miss/Mrs - Ms. In conclusion, I believe that the most powerful cause of change is contact with other languages but I hope I have shown that we must be aware of internal factors too.. Britain is a maze of diverse dialects and accents in constant exposure with one another and at the mercy of political, social and economic pressures. ...read more.

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