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Sources of Language History

Connection of the subject with other disciplines

The aims and the purpose of the study of the subject

The purpose of this course is a systematic study of the language’s development from the earliest times to the present day. Such study enables the student to acquire a more profound understanding of the language of today. Besides, history of English is an important subsidiary discipline for history of England and of English literature.

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, the interdependence of different processes in language history. 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.

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; it reveals its ties and contacts with other related and unrelated languages.


History of the English language is connected with other disciplines. It is based on the history of England, studying the development of the language in connection with the concrete conditions in which the English people lived in the several periods of their history. It is also connected with disciplines studying present-day English, viz., theoretical phonetics, theoretical grammar, and lexicology. It shows phonetic, grammatical, and lexical phenomena as they developed, and states the origin of the present-day system.


The history of the English language has been reconstructed on the basis of written records of different periods. The earliest extant written texts in English are date in the 7th c.; the earliest records in other Germanic languages go back to the 3rd or 4th c. A.D. However, we have relatively few texts from that time, and the texts we do have do not cover all types of language. For example, we do not have many examples of everyday speech, domestic language or the dialects of particular areas. This means that whatever generalization we do make about Old English, we always have to bear in mind the gaps in our data, and the fact that we are interpreting the past, not objectively describing it.

The development of English, however, began a long time before it was first recorded. In order to say where the English language came from, to what languages it is related, when and how it has acquired its specific features, one must get acquainted with some facts of the pre-written history of the Germanic group.

Certain information about the early stages of English and Germanic history is to be found in the works of ancient historians and geographers, especially Roman. They contain descriptions of Germanic tribes, personal names and place-names. Some data are also provided by early borrowings from Germanic made by other languages, e.g. the Finnish and the Baltic languages. But the bulk of our knowledge comes from scientific study of extant texts.

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