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The Formation of the English National Language. Periods in the History of the English Language





Lecture 2

The Germanic group of languages

The drawbacks of the comparative-historical method

Despite all the merits, the comparative-historical method has its drawbacks:

1. It is impossible to precisely date the phenomenon reconstructed with the help of the comparative-historical method.

2. This method cannot completely reconstruct the language under study.

3. This method can be used only to analyze those phenomena, which are similar in the compared languages, but it is not good for different phenomena.

4. This method makes it possible to explain only the results of the language divergence, but it does not explain the results of the language convergence.

5. This method cannot be used to study languages with amorphous structure or isolating languages, that is, languages, which have no affixes, case or number conjugation, etc.

6. This method does not apply data of other sciences.

 

The late 18th-century discovery that Sanskrit (an ancient language of India) was related to Latin, Greek, Germanic, and Celtic revolutionized European linguistic studies. This discovery led to several decades of intensive historical-comparative work and to important advances in historical linguistics during the 19th century. By studying phonetic correspondences from an ever-increasing number of languages, linguists eventually ascertained that most of the languages of Europe, Persia (Iran), and the northern part of India belong to a single family, now called Indo-European.

The vast Indo-European family of languages, to which most of the languages spoken in Europe belong consists of several branches, of which the Germanic languages are one.

Nowadays Germanic languages are spoken in many countries: German (in Germany, Austria, and partly in Switzerland), Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic, English.

In ancient times the territory of Germanic languages was much limited. Thus, in the 1st c. AD Germanic languages were only spoken in Germany and in territories adjacent to it, and also in Scandinavia.

Germanic languages are classified into three groups: (1) East Germanic, (2) North Germanic, (3) West Germanic.

East Germanic languages have been dead for many centuries. Of the old East Germanic languages only one is well known, namely, Gothic.

All North Germanic and West Germanic languages have survived until our own time.


 

One of the most characteristic features of a nation is the national language, which rises above all the territorial and social dialects and unites the whole nation. Usually a national language develops on the basis of some territorial dialects, which under certain historical, economic, political, and cultural conditions become generally recognized as a means of communication.

The English national language has developed on the basis of the dialects of London, which can be easily explained by the fact that after the Norman Conquest London became the political, cultural center of England and its economic center as well.

 





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