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The English language

September 19, 2013
West Germanic languages Dutch (Low Franconian,...

West Germanic languages Dutch (Low Franconian, West Germanic) Low German (West Germanic) Central German (High German, West Germanic) Upper German (High German, West Germanic) English (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic) Frisian (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic) North Germanic languages East Scandinavian West Scandinavian Line dividing the North and West Germanic languages

The English language is very interesting. It contains a lot of words which are from a Latin language while it’s a Germanic language, it shows how much of a mix not only the English language itself is, but the speakers too. The speakers are a mix of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, Vikings and other folks and it’s very interesting how that is reflected in the language. You could make an English sentence which can be understood by a Frisian or a Dutch person without any knowledge of English, but you could do the same for a German or a French speaker without any knowledge of English. If we take the following sentence for example:

‘Here is a good man’

This can be understood by a Dutch person, because in Dutch this means: ‘Hier is een goede man’. This sentence can be pronounced like this: (hir  (i like ‘e’ in ‘to be‘, r as a rolling r like in Spanish) is ain khoodeh man (a of ‘after‘).’

You will probably recognize the similarities between these two sentences. Here = hier, is = is, a = een, good = goed, man = man. It is without any foreknowledge already comprehensible up to a certain extent.

Now let’s take a German sentence:

‘Hier lebt ein Mann’

Hier = here, lebt = lives, ein = a, Mann = man. Like you can see, the German language is more away from the English language, it contains elements which are still comprehensible, but an English speaker will far better understand a Dutch text than a German text, because the development of the language of the Germans has underwent some other development than the language of the Dutch and the English. One word which can be hard to recognize is the word ‘lebt’. Though, if you know the linguistic principle of the change from ‘b’ sounds to ‘v’ sounds, you will understand it. Leben = to live. Now let’s change the ‘b’ to a ‘v’:   leven. This is the Dutch word for ‘to live’. The reason why Dutch and English is more comprehensible for eachother is because Dutch has underwent this ‘b’ to ‘v’ change, which is present in English too. Just keep in mind that this isn’t always applied! If we take the German word ‘beleben’ it’s Dutch equivalent is ‘beleven’, which only contains a change in the last ‘b’. Now let’s take another sentence in German:

‘Ich spreche und ich warte.’

Much harder to understand if you don’t know anything about German. Let’s take the Dutch equivalent:

‘Ik spreek en ik wacht.’

Still hard…. Let’s take the Swedish one:

‘Jag talar och jag väntar.’

Talar? That looks like ‘talk. Yes, you are right! There is influence from the Scandinavian languages on the English language and for some reason the word ‘talar’ isn’t used with the meaning of ‘talking’ anymore in other Germanic languages. In Dutch there are words like ‘spreken’, ‘praten’ and ‘zeggen’, which are all related to making movements with your mouth to say something, but ‘talen’ doesn’t exist. Neither in German, they have the words ‘sprechen’, ‘sagen’ and ‘reden’, but ‘talken’ doesn’t exist. The word ‘talar’ however might be related to ‘taal’, which is the Dutch word which means ‘language’, which is Latinized in English. The Brits don’t have any word anymore which refers to language which is of Germanic origin.

This sentence contains a lot of elementary words, which are contained most well in different languages. The reason why English is still classified as a Germanic language, in spite off the huge Latin-based vocabulary, is because the language contains a basic vocabulary which is obviously German.

Anyway, like you see, the Swedish equivalent is the best approach of this sentence, which is:

‘I talk/speak and I wait’.

‘to wait’ is a word which in German is too different to recognize: ‘warten’, the R makes it hard to recognize it, but in Dutch there is a ‘ch’, which is pronounced like ‘KH’ and however it’s different from ‘to wait’ too, it makes the word less confusing. The Swedish equivalent seems to be most close though, with their word ‘vänta’. The most interesting part of this is how this word is different in every Germanic language by a change in the letters, which can create an uncomprehensibility between all Germanic speakers.

‘I speak’ seems to be close to ‘ik spreek’ and ‘ik spreek’ will be far more recognizable than ‘ich spreche’, again this shows how more related the English language is to Dutch than to German. German differs most from all other Germanic languages, although it’s considered as the main language among them, probably because it developed when Martin Luther King started to combine all German dialects in order to form a standard language out of them.

Area in which Old Dutch was spoken.

Area in which Old Dutch was spoken.

Now let’s look at the word ‘and’. In modern-day Dutch, the word ‘en’ is used, but in old Dutch, they used ‘ende’, which is very similar to ‘and’. In German they use the word ‘und’, which is closer to the word for and in English than the Dutch form of it.

The Anglo-Saxons were bringing this Germanic language to England, but it’s interesting how after 1066 with the Battle of Hastings all kinds of new words entered the language. Just look at the words which I used so far in this post: ‘language’, ‘similar’, ‘main’, ‘to combine’, ‘pronounced’, ‘equivalent’, ‘to recognize’, ‘development’, ‘comprehensible’. All these words which look far more complicated than the Germanic words are of Latin origin and used by the French. There are even French words in Swedish, like ‘rekommendera’, which means ‘to recommend’.

It’s maybe due to the isolation of England that it dominates the world nowadays, the language isn’t only related to England which is isolated, but it’s related to a lot of more countries which are in a position of isolation too. Maybe because of that isolation the French and Latin-based words could stay in the language after they came in, because there weren’t any powers to take them away again. It could be even the isolation of England which made it possible that there is a combination of Germanic, Celtic and Latin influences in the language. Bucket is an example, but also slogan. Unfortunately, due to the low status of Celtic they never have had any big influence on the English language. The English considered the celtic citizens of the country as lower beings and especially after the coming of the Normans, their languages just remained being spoken in the outskirts of the country. After the 1970s though there was a revival of the languages and nowadays people still try to maintain them, which is succesful because of modern tools which give possibilities like websites in Irish, but for sure there would have been more Celtic spoken if it would have been, for example, the only national language of Ireland. Right now English is also an official language, which creates the situation of more people using English, just because it’s the easiest way of communication and almost everyone uses it. It’s part of the cultural heritage of Ireland though and it would be a shame if the language were to be lost.

The English language however is expanding and it reaches the entire world. It’s the new lingua franca after the failure of Esperanto and maybe one day the whole world speaks English. Maybe due to the influences of all these kinds of different people the English language was the best suitable language to be spoken in the world. Although French was a possible candidate too, this language is maybe too self-centered unlike English, which has influences from all kinds of languages, while the French wanted to maintain their language in the same state for a few centuries.

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