This is Steve Ember.
is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we present the second of our two
programs about the history of the English Language.
week, we told how the English language developed as a result of several
invasions of Britain. The first
involved three tribes called the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons. A mix of their languages produced a language
called Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. It
sounded very much like German. Only a few
words remained from the Celts who had lived in Britain
invasions added words to Old English.
The Vikings of Denmark, Norway and Sweden arrived in Britain more than
one thousand years ago. The next
invasion took place in the year ten sixty-six.
French forces from Normandy were led by a man known as William the
Norman rulers added many words to English.
The words "parliament," "jury," "justice," and others that deal with law
come from the Norman rulers.
time, the different languages combined to result in what English experts call
Middle English. While Middle English
still sounds similar to German, it also begins to sound like Modern English.
Warren Scheer reads the very beginning of Geoffrey Chaucer's great poem, "The
Canterbury Tales" as it was written in Middle English.
that aprill with his shoures soote
droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
bathed every veyne in swich licour
vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
hath in every holt and heath…
wrote that poem in the late thirteen hundreds.
It was written in the language of the people. The rulers of Britain at that time still spoke the Norman French
they brought with them in ten sixty-six.
kings of Britain did not speak the language of the people until the early
fourteen hundreds. Slowly, Norman
French was used less and less until it disappeared.
English language was strongly influenced by an event that took place more than
one thousand four hundred years ago. In
the year five ninety-seven, the Roman Catholic Church began its attempt to make
Christianity the religion of Britain.
language of the Catholic Church was Latin.
Latin was not spoken as a language in any country at that time. But it was still used by some people.
made it possible for a church member from Rome to speak to a church member from
Britain. Educated people from different
countries could communicate using Latin.
had a great effect on the English language.
Here are a few examples. The
Latin word "discus" became several words in English including "disk," "dish,"
and "desk." The Latin word "quietus"
became the English word "quiet." Some
English names of plants such as ginger and trees such as cedar come from Latin.
So do some medical words such as cancer.
is a little like a living thing that continues to grow. English began to grow more quickly when
William Caxton returned to Britain in the year fourteen seventy-six. He had been in Holland and other areas of
Europe where he had learned printing.
He returned to Britain with the first printing press.
printing press made it possible for almost anyone to buy a book. It helped spread education and the English
during the fifteen hundreds, English became the modern language we would
recognize. English speakers today would
be able to communicate with English speakers in the last part of the sixteenth
It was during this time period that the
greatest writer in English produced his work.
His name was William Shakespeare.
His plays continue to be printed, acted in theaters, and seen in motion
pictures almost four hundred years after his death.
Experts say that Shakespeare's work was
written to be performed on the stage, not to be read. Yet every sound of his words can produce word pictures, and
provide feelings of anger, fear and laughter.
Shakespeare's famous play "Romeo and Juliet" is so sad that people cry
when they see this famous story.
story of the power-hungry King Richard the Third is another very popular play
by Shakespeare. Listen as Shep O'Neal
reads the beginning of "Richard the Third."
Now is the winter of our discontent
glorious summer by this sun of York;
the clouds that lour'd upon our house
deep bosom of the ocean buried.
our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
bruised arms hung up for monuments;
stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
dreadful marches to delightful measures ...
development of the English language took a giant step just nine years before
the death of William Shakespeare. Three
small British ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean in sixteen-oh-seven. They landed in an area that would later
become the southern American state of Virginia. They began the first of several British colonies. The name of the first small colony was
people in these new colonies began to call areas of their new land by words
borrowed from the native people they found living there. For example, many of the great rivers in the
United States are taken from American Indian words. The Mississippi, the Tennessee, the Missouri are examples.
Other Native American words included
"moccasin", the kind of shoe made of animal skin that Indians wore on their
feet. This borrowing or adding of foreign words to English was a way of
expanding the language. The names of
three days of the week are good examples of this. The people from Northern Europe honored three gods with a special
day each week. The gods were Odin, Thor
and Freya. Odin's-day became Wednesday
in English, Thor's-day became Thursday and Freya's-day became Friday.
had other colonies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and India. The English language also became part of
these colonies. These colonies are now
independent, but English still is one of the languages spoken. And the English language grew as words from
the native languages were added.
For example, the word "shampoo" for soap for
the hair came from India. "Banana" is
believed to be from Africa.
cannot explain many English words. For
hundreds of years, a dog was called a "hound."
The word is still used but not as commonly as the word "dog." Experts do not know where the word "dog"
came from or when. English speakers
just started using it. Other words
whose origins are unknown include "fun," "bad," and "big."
speakers also continue to invent new words by linking old words together. A good example is the words "motor" and
"hotel." Many years ago some one linked
them together into the word "motel." A
motel is a small hotel near a road where people travelling in cars can stay for
words come from the first letters of names of groups or devices. A device to find objects that cannot be seen
called Radio Detecting and Ranging became "Radar." The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is usually called NATO.
say that English has more words that explain the same thing than any other
language. For example, the words
"large," "huge," "vast," "massive," and "enormous" all mean something really
often ask how many words there are in the English language. Well, no one really knows. The Oxford English Dictionary lists about
six hundred fifteen thousand words. Yet
the many scientific words not in the dictionary could increase the number to
almost one million.
experts are never really sure how to count English words. For example, the word "mouse." A mouse is a small creature from the rodent
family. But "mouse" has another very
different meaning. A "mouse" is also a
hand-held device used to help control a computer. If you are counting words do you count "mouse" two times?
to the Voice of America hear people speaking more than forty different
languages. Most broadcasters at VOA
come from countries where these languages are spoken. International organizations such as VOA would find it impossible
to operate without a second language all the people speak.
language that permits VOA to work is English.
It is not unusual to see someone from the Mandarin Service talking to
someone from the Urdu Service, both speaking English. English is becoming the
common language of millions of people worldwide, helping speakers of many
different languages communicate.
Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.
is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next
week for another EXPLORATIONS program, on the Voice of America.