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To what extent can Old English be regarded as the same language as contemporary English?

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Introduction

Question 2 To what extent can Old English be regarded as the same language as contemporary English? The English Language is a language that is continually changing, even today. It is spoken throughout the world and there are many different varieties of English. Many aspects of Modern English can be seen to derive from Old English; nevertheless, there are also many differences between them. In this essay I will be looking at both the similarities and differences and the reasons for the changes in the English language. I will then discuss whether Old English and contemporary English can be regarded as the same language. ELEMENTS OF MODERN ENGLISH DERIVED FROM OLD ENGLISH 1. ALPHABET A good place to begin looking at the elements of contemporary English which have derived from Old English is the early English futhorc alphabet. On close examination of the futhorc (Figure 2.2, p.43, Chapter 1), several letters can clearly be seen to resemble their modern day equivalent. For example, the letters b, r, f, p, t and m. There were thirty-one letters in the futhorc as Old English was spelt much more phonetically than nowadays. In the seventh century the church began producing written manuscripts which resulted in changes to the futhorc. ...read more.

Middle

If we look at the Caedmon passage on p.112, you can see the word order in the sentence: '$a aras he from $aem sl@pe' which translates into 'then arose he from that sleep' whereas the contemporary English translation would be 'then he arose from that sleep'. Old English had great flexibility in its word order, whilst Modern English has a more fixed word order. In Caedmon's Story we can also see examples of the use of inflections in Old English, as in line 26 where 'word' is shown as both 'word' and 'wordum'. Although the use of inflections still occurs in Modern English there were many more uses of inflections in Old English to show the use of 'case'. Some languages today, such as Russian, still use many inflections. Nouns in Old English were masculine, feminine or neuter and had different endings depending on whether they were used in the Nominative, Accusative, Dative or Genitive case. In Modern English nouns are not subject to case differentiations. Another grammatical structure which no longer exists in contemporary English is the use of double negatives. Again in the Caedmon passage we can see: 'Ne con ic noht singan' - Not now I not (how) to sing. Old English incorporated the use of double negatives, as do many modern languages such as Spanish. ...read more.

Conclusion

It was therefore necessary to choose one dialect for printing which eventually led to the beginning of the standardization of English. I have discussed the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation aspects which have derived from Old English and, as one can see, there are a mixture of both similarities and differences between Old and Modern English. Overall, a great deal of Modern English vocabulary appears to be derived from Old English, but then again all languages have evolved from the same Indo-European root. It would be interesting to carry out a similar exercise looking at whether Spanish and Old English could be regarded as the same language. Perhaps there would be more similarities between those languages, particularly in the syntax and the phonetic pronunciation. There is very little similarity between the syntax of Old and Modern English, apart from the continued use of a subject, verb and object in the sentences. Although there is some continuity in the vocabulary of Modern English I feel that overall there are more differences than similarities, especially in the basic structure and pronunciation. I feel that it is very unlikely that a speaker of Old English would be able to understand a speaker of Modern English. It is for these reasons that I suggest that Old and Modern English, although similar in some ways, should be regarded overall as different languages. ...read more.

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