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The aims of studying the history of the English language

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Lecture 1

1. Synchronic and diachronic approaches to studying the language. The concept of ‘language change’

A language can be considered from different angles. In studying Modern English we regard the language as fixed in time and describe each linguistic level – phonetics, grammar or lexis (Slide 1)synchronically, taking no account of the origin of present-day features (Slide 2). 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.

Through learning the history of the English language the student achieves a variety of aims, both theoretical and practical (Slide 3). So, one of the aims is to provide the student with a knowledge of linguistic history sufficient to account for the principal features of present-day English. For example, through centuries writing and spelling was changing in English. At the time when Latin letters were first used in Britain (7th c.) writing was phonetic: the letters stood for the same sound. After the introduction of printing (15th c.) the written form of the word became fixed, while the sounds continued to change (knight was [knix’t]) (Slide 4, 5) . 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 and so on (Slide 6). 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 (Slide 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.

2.Concept of ‘language change’.

One can distinguish three main types of difference in language: geographical, social and temporal (Slide 8). Language 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 example, the OE form of the Past tense pl Ind. Mood of the verb to find – fund on became founder [fu:ndən] in the 12th -13th c. and found in Mod E. (Slide 9) All these changes can be defined as structural or intralinguistic as they belong to the language system. (Slide 10)

The causes of language change. Different schools have different answers. In the 19th c. the representatives of the romantic trend thought that the history of I-E and esp. of Germanic languages shows their degradation and corruption. Most of Germanic languages lost their inflections, declensions and others. Naturalists thought that any language is a living organism. (Slide 11)It is developed just like the human body (Schleicher). Psychologists attributed changes to psychology of people. (Slide 12) Sociologists thought that linguistic changes are caused by social conditions and historical events (Meillet). (Slide 13) Young-Grammarian school representatives thought that phonetic changes destroy the grammatical system. (Slide 14)

When there are no documents of language to be traced the pre-written history of any language is studied by methods of comparative linguistics. It is 200 years old. It all started with a publication of an article by Franz Bopp (1816) (Slide 15). The talk is about the so-called I-E language. It is now well-supported with evidence from many languages that there was a language spoken by people in pre-historic times (Slide 16). It was given a name Proto-Indo-European. There are 2 main problems. Actually, when and where it was spoken. The time can hardly be accurately dated. It is dated far back 1000 B.C. – 4000 B.C. In the 15th thousand B.C. I-E still existed and people spoke it. Why is it so? The most ancient languages are compared like the Hittite, Ancient Greek, Veda (Slide 17). It was found out that the difference between them is so much that the time period between them should be no less than 2000 years. In the 4th millennium B.C. P-I-E was dead. 1000 B.C. is the most probable time of existing P-I-E homeland (Slide 18). It is based upon linguistic and archeological facts.

Linguistic facts:

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