The history of the English language.
We are so accustomed to thinking of English as an inseparable adjunct to the English people that we are likely to forget that it has been the language of England for a comparatively short period in the world’s history. Since its introduction into the island about the middle of the fifth century it has had a career extending through only 1,500 years. Yet this part of the world had been inhabited by humans for thousands of years: 50,000 according to more moderate estimates. During this long stretch of time, most of it dimly visible through prehistoric mists, the presence of a number of cultures can be detected; and each of these cultures had a language. Nowhere does our knowledge of the history of humankind carry us back to a time when humans did not have a language. What can be said about the early languages of England? Unfortunately, little enough.
What we know of the earliest inhabitants of England is derived wholly from the material remains that have been uncovered by archaeological research. The classification of these inhabitants is consequently based upon the types of material culture that characterized them in their successive stages. Before the discovery of metals, human societies were dependent upon stone for the fabrication of such implements and weapons as they possessed. Generally speaking, the Stone Age is thought to have lasted in England until about 2000 B.C., although the English were still using some stone weapons in the battle of Hastings in 1066. Stone, however, gradually gave way to bronze, as bronze was eventually displaced by iron about 500 or 600 B.c.1 Because the Stone Age was of long duration, it is customary to distinguish between an earlier and a later period, known as the Paleolithic (Old Stone) Age and the Neolithic (New Stone) Age.
Paleolithic humans, the earliest inhabitants of England, entered at a time when this part of the world formed a part of the continent of Europe, when there was no English Channel and when the North Sea was not much more than an enlarged river basin. The people of this period were short of stature, averaging about five feet, long-armed and short-legged, with low foreheads and poorly developed chins. They lived in the open, under rock shelters or, later, in caves. They were dependent for food upon the vegetation that grew wild and such animals as they could capture and kill. Fortunately, an abundance of fish and game materially lessened the problem of existence. Their weapons scarcely
42926015430500 The Iron Age begins in Southern Europe rather earlier. The metal was apparently just coming into use in the eastern Mediterranean in Homeric times. One of the prizes in the funeral games in the Iliad, by which Achilles commemorated the death of his friend Patroclus, was an ingot of iron extended beyond a primitive sledge or ax, to which they eventually learned to affix a handle. More than one distinct group is likely to be represented in this early stage of culture. The humans whose remains are found in the latest Paleolithic strata are distinguished by a high degree of artistic skill. But representations of boar and mastodon on pieces of bone or the walls of caves tell us nothing about the language of their designers. Their language disappeared with the disappearance of the race, or their absorption into the later population. We know nothing about the language, or languages, of Paleolithic culture.
“Neolithic” is likewise a convenient rather than scientific term to designate the peoples who, from about 5000 B.C., possess a superior kind of stone implement, often polished, and a higher culture generally. The predominant type in this new population appears to have come from the south and, from its widespread distribution in the lands bordering on the Mediterranean, is known as the Mediterranean race. It was a dark race of slightly larger stature than the Paleolithic population. The people of this technologically more advanced culture had domesticated the common domestic animals and developed elementary agriculture. They made crude pottery and did a little weaving, and some lived in crannogs, structures built on pilings driven into swamps and lakes. They buried their dead, covering the more important members of society with large mounds or barrows, oval in shape. But they did not have the artistic gifts of late Paleolithic peoples. Their language has not survived, and because our hope of learning anything about the language they spoke rests upon our finding somewhere a remnant of the race still speaking that language, that hope, so far as England is concerned, is dead. In a corner of the Pyrenees mountains of Spain, however, there survives a small community that is believed by some to represent this non-Indo-European culture. These people are the Basques, and their language shows no affiliation with any other language now known. Allowing for the changes it has doubtless undergone through the centuries, the Basque language may furnish us with a clue to the language of at least one group in the Neolithic cultures of Europe.
The first people in England about whose language we have definite knowledge are the Celts. It used to be assumed that the coming of the Celts to England coincided with the introduction of bronze into the island. But the use of bronze probably preceded the Celts by several centuries. We have already described the Celtic languages in England and called attention to the two divisions of them, the Gaelic or Goidelic branch and the Brythonic branch. Celtic was probably the first Indo-European tongue to be spoken in England. One other language, Latin, was spoken rather extensively for a period of about four centuries before the coming of English. Latin was introduced when Britain became a province of the Roman Empire. Because this was an event that has left a significant mark upon later history, it will be well to consider it separately.
In the summer of 55 B.C. Julius Caesar, having completed the conquest of Gaul, decided upon an invasion of England. What the object of his enterprise was is not known for certain. It is unlikely that he contemplated the conquest of the island; probably his chief purpose was to discourage the Celts of Britain from coming to the assistance of Celts in Gaul, should the latter attempt to throw off the Roman yoke. The expedition that year almost ended disastrously, and his return the following year was not a great success. In crossing the Channel some of his transports encountered a storm that deprived him of the support of his cavalry. The resistance of the Celts was unexpectedly spirited. It was with difficulty that he effected a landing, and he made little headway. Because the season was far advanced, he soon returned to Gaul. The expedition had resulted in no material gain and some loss of prestige. Accordingly the following summer he again invaded the island, after much more elaborate preparations. This time he succeeded in establishing himself in the southeast. But after a few encounters with the Celts, in which he was moderately successful, he exacted tribute from them (which was never paid) and again returned to Gaul. He had perhaps succeeded in his purpose, but he had by no means struck terror into the hearts of the Celts, and Britain was not again troubled by Roman legions for nearly a hundred years.
The 1.2. The Roman Conquest.
It was in A.D. 43 that the Emperor Claudius decided to undertake the actual conquest of the island. With the knowledge of Caesar’s experience behind him, he did not underestimate the problems involved. Accordingly an army of 40,000 was sent to Britain and within three years had subjugated the peoples of the central and southeastern regions. Subsequent campaigns soon brought almost all of what is now England under Roman rule. The progress of Roman control was not uninterrupted. A serious uprising of the Celts occurred in A.D. 61 under Boudicca (Boadicea), the widow of one of the Celtic chiefs, and 70,000 Romans and Romanized Britons are said to have been massacred. Under the Roman Governor Agricola (A.D. 78–85) the northern frontier was advanced to the Solway and the Tyne, and the conquest may be said to have been completed. The Romans never penetrated far into the mountains of Wales and Scotland. Eventually they protected the northern boundary by a stone wall stretching across England at approximately the limits of Agricola’s permanent conquest. The district south of this line was under Roman rule for more than 300 years.
Romanization of the Island.
It was inevitable that the military conquest of Britain should have been followed by the Romanization of the province. Where the Romans lived and ruled, there Roman ways were found. Four great highways soon spread fanlike from London to the north, the northwest, the west, and the southwest, while a fifth cut across the island from Lincoln to the Severn. Numerous lesser roads connected important military or civil centers or branched off as spurs from the main highways. A score of small cities and more than a
hundred towns, with their Roman houses and baths, temples, and occasional theaters, testify to the introduction of Roman habits of life. The houses were equipped with heating apparatus and water supply, their floors were paved in mosaic, and their walls were of painted stucco—all as in their Italian counterparts. Roman dress, Roman ornaments and utensils, and Roman pottery and glassware seem to have been in general use. By the third century Christianity had made some progress in the island, and in A.D. 314, bishops from London and York attended a church council in Gaul. Under the relatively peaceful conditions that existed everywhere except along the frontiers, where the hostile penetration of the unconquered population was always to be feared, there is every reason to think that Romanization had proceeded very much as it had in the other provinces of the empire. The difference is that in Britain the process was cut short in the fifth century.
The Latin Language in Britain.
Among the other evidences of Romanization must be included the use of the Latin language. A great number of inscriptions have been found, all of them in Latin. The majority of these proceed no doubt from the military and official class and, being in the nature of public records, were therefore in the official language. They do not in them- selves indicate a widespread use of Latin by the native population. Latin did not replace the Celtic language in Britain as it did in Gaul. Its use by native Britons was probably confined to members of the upper classes and some inhabitants of the cities and towns. Occasional graffiti scratched on a tile or a piece of pottery, apparently by the worker who made it, suggest that in some localities Latin was familiar to the artisan class. Outside the cities there were many fine country houses, some of which were probably occupied by the well-to-do. The occupants of these also probably spoke Latin. Tacitus tells us that in the time of Agricola the Britons, who had hitherto shown only hostility to the language of their conquerors, now became eager to speak it. At about the same time, a Greek teacher from Asia Minor was teaching in Britain, and by A.D. 96 the poet Martial was able to boast, possibly with some exaggeration, that his works were read even in this far-off island. On the whole, there were certainly many people in Roman Britain who habitually spoke Latin or upon occasion could use it. But its use was not sufficiently widespread to cause it to survive, as the Celtic language survived, the upheaval of the Germanic invasions. Its use probably began to decline after 410, the approximate date at which the last of the Roman legions were officially withdrawn from the island. The few traces that it has left in the language of the Germanic invaders and that can still be seen in the English language today will occupy us later.
The 1.3. The Germanic Conquest.
About the year 449 an event occurred that profoundly affected the course of history. In that year, as traditionally stated, began the invasion of Britain by certain Germanic tribes, the founders of the English nation. For more than a hundred years bands of conquer and settlers migrated from their continental homes in the region of Denmark and the Low Countries and established themselves in the south and east of the island, gradually extending the area they occupied until it included all but the highlands in the west and north. The events of these years are wrapped in much obscurity. Although we can form a general idea of their course, we are still in doubt about some of the tribes that took part in the movement, their exact location on the continent, and the dates of their respective migrations.
919299136044200The traditional account of the Germanic invasions goes back to Bede and the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle. Bede in his Ecdesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, tells us that the Germanic tribes that conquered England were the Jutes, Saxons, and Angles. From what he says and from other indications, it seems possible that the Jutes and the Angles had their home in the Danish peninsula, the Jutes in the northern half (hence the name
Jutland) and the Angles in the south, in Schleswig-Holstein, and perhaps a small area at the base. The Saxons were settled to the south and west of the Angles, roughly between the Elbe and the Ems, possibly as far as the Rhine. A fourth tribe, the Frisians, some of whom almost certainly came to England, occupied a narrow strip along the coast from the Weser to the Rhine, together with the islands opposite. But by the time of the invasions the Jutes had apparently moved down to the coastal area near the mouth of the Weser, and possibly also around the Zuyder Zee and the lower Rhine, thus being in contact with both the Frisians and Saxons.
Britain had been exposed to attacks by the Saxons from as early as the fourth century. Even while the island was under Roman rule these attacks had become sufficiently serious to necessitate the appointment of an officer known as the Count of the Saxon Shore, whose duty it was to police the southeastern coast. At the same time the unconquered Picts and Scots in the north were kept out only at the price of constant vigilance. Against both of these sources of attack the Roman organization seems to have proved adequate. But the Celts had come to depend on Roman arms for this protection. They had, moreover, under Roman influence settled down to a more peaceful mode of life, and their military traditions had lapsed. Consequently when the Romans withdrew in 410 the Celts found themselves at a disadvantage. They were no longer able to keep out the warlike Picts and Scots. Several times they called upon Rome for aid, but finally the Romans, fully occupied in defending their own territory at home, were forced to refuse assistance. It was on this occasion that Vortigern, one of the Celtic leaders, is reported to have entered into an agreement with the Jutes whereby they were to assist the Celts in driving out the Picts and Scots and to receive as their reward the isle of Thanet on the northeastern tip of Kent.
The Jutes, who had not been softened by contact with Roman civilization, were fully a match for the Picts and Scots. But Vortigern and the Celts soon found that they had in these temporary allies something more serious to reckon with than their northern enemies. The Jutes, having recognized the weakness of the Britons, decided to stay in the island and began making a forcible settlement in the southeast, in Kent.3 The settlement of the Jutes was a very different thing from the conquest of the island by the Romans. The Romans had come to rule the Celtic population, not to dispossess it. The Jutes came in numbers and settled on the lands of the Celts. They met the resistance of the Celts by driving them out. Moreover the example of the Jutes was soon followed by the migration of other continental tribes. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle some of the Saxons came in 477, landed on the south coast, and established themselves in Sussex. In 495 further bands of Saxons settled a little to the west, in Wessex.4 Finally in the middle of the next century the Angles occupied the east coast and in 547 established an Anglian kingdom north of the Humber. Too much credence, of course, cannot be put in these statements or dates. There were Saxons north of the Thames, as the names Essex and42926015367000 Middlesex (the districts of the East Saxons and Middle Saxons) indicate, and the Angles had already begun to settle in East Anglia by the end of the fifth century. But the entries in the Chronicle may be taken as indicating in a general way a succession of settlements extending over more than a century which completely changed the character of the island of Britain.
It is difftcult to speak with surety about the relations of the newcomers and the native population. In some districts where the inhabitants were few, the Anglo-Saxons probably settled down beside the Celts in more or less peaceful contact. In others, as in the West Saxon territory, the invaders met with stubborn resistance and succeeded in establishing themselves only after much fighting. Many of the Celts undoubtedly were driven into the west and sought refuge in Wales and Cornwall, and some emigrated across the Channel to Brittany. In any case such civilization as had been attained under Roman influence was largely destroyed. The Roman towns were burnt and abandoned. Town life did not attract a population used to life in the open and finding its occupation in hunting and agriculture. The organization of society was by families and clans with a sharp distinction between eorls, a kind of hereditary aristocracy, and the ceorls or simple freemen. The business of the community was transacted in local assemblies or moots, and justice was administered through a series of fines—the wergild—which varied according to the nature of the crime and the rank of the injured party. Guilt was generally determined by ordeal or by compurgation. In time various tribes combined either for greater strength or, under the influence of a powerful leader, to produce small kingdoms. Seven of these are eventually recognized, Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex, and are spoken of as the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. But the grouping was not very permanent, sometimes two or more being united under one king, at other times kingdoms being divided under separate rulers. In the early part of the seventh century Northumbria gained political supremacy over a number of the other kingdoms and held an undoubted leadership in literature and learning as well. In the eighth century this leadership passed to Mercia. Finally, in the ninth century, Wessex under the guidance of Egbert (802–839) began to extend its influence until in 830 all England, including the chieftains of Wales, acknowledged Egbert’s overlordship. The result can hardly be called a united kingdom, but West Saxon kings were able to maintain their claim to be kings of all the English, and under Alfred (871–889) Wessex attained a high degree of prosperity and considerable enlightenment.
The Names “England” and “English.”
The Celts called their Germanic conquerors Saxons indiscriminately, probably because they had had their first contact with the Germanic peoples through the Saxon raids on the coast. Early Latin writers, following Celtic usage, generally call the Germanic inhabitants of England Saxones and the land Saxonia. But soon the terms Angli and Anglia occur beside Saxones and refer not to the Angles individually but to the West Germanic tribes generally. Æthelbert, king of Kent, is styled rex Anglorum by Pope Gregory in 601, and a century later Bede called his history the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. In time Angli and Anglia become the usual terms in Latin texts. From the beginning, however, writers in the vernacular never call their language anything but Englisc (English). The word is derived from the name of the Angles (OE Engle) but is used without distinction for the language of all the invading tribes. In like manner the land and its people are early called Angelcynn (Angle-kin or race of the Angles), and this is the common name until after the Danish period. From about the year 1000 Englaland (land of the Angles) begins to take its place. The name English is thus older than the name England. It is not easy to say why England should have taken its name from the Angles. Possibly a desire to avoid confusion with the Saxons who remained on the continent and the early supremacy of the Anglian kingdoms were the predominant factors in determining usage.
1.5. The Scandinavian Influence: The Viking Age.
Near the end of the Old English period English underwent a third foreign influence, the result of contact with another important language, the Scandinavian. In the course of history it is not unusual to witness the spectacle of a nation or people, through causes too remote or complex for analysis, suddenly emerging from obscurity, playing for a time a conspicuous, often brilliant, part, and then, through causes equally difficult to define, subsiding once more into a relatively minor sphere of activity. Such a phenomenon is presented by the Germanic inhabitants of the Scandinavian peninsula and Denmark, one- time neighbors of the Anglo-Saxons and closely related to them in language and blood. For some centuries the Scandinavians had remained quietly in their northern home. But in the eighth century a change, possibly economic, possibly political, occurred in this area and provoked among them a spirit of unrest and adventurous enterprise. They began a series of attacks upon all the lands adjacent to the North Sea and the Baltic. Their activities began in plunder and ended in conquest. The Swedes established a kingdom in Russia; Norwegians colonized parts of the British Isles, the Faroes, and Iceland, and from there pushed on to Greenland and the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland; the Danes founded the dukedom of Normandy and finally conquered England. The pinnacle of their achievement was reached in the beginning of the eleventh century when Cnut, king of Denmark, obtained the throne of England, conquered Norway, and from his English capital ruled the greater part of the Scandinavian world. The daring sea rovers to whom these unusual achievements were due are commonly known as Vikings, (The term viking is usually thought to be derived from Old Norse v?k, a bay, as indicating “one who came out from, or frequented, inlets of the sea.”), and the period of their activity, extending from the middle of the eighth century to the beginning of the eleventh, is popularly known as the Viking Age. It was to their attacks upon, settlements in, and ultimate conquest of England that the Scandinavian influence upon Old English was due.
The Scandinavian Invasions of England.
In the Scandinavian attacks upon England three well-marked stages can be distinguished. The first is the period of early raids, beginning according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 787 and continuing with some intermissions until about 850. The raids of this period were simply plundering attacks upon towns and monasteries near the coast. Sacred vessels of gold and silver, jeweled shrines, costly robes, and valuables of all kinds were carried off, and English people were captured to be made slaves. Noteworthy instances are the sacking of Lindisfarne and Jarrow in 793 and 794. But with the plundering of these two famous monasteries the attacks apparently ceased for forty years, until renewed in 834 along the southern coast and in East Anglia. These early raids were apparently the work of small isolated bands.
The second stage is the work of large armies and is marked by widespread plundering in all parts of the country and by extensive settlements. This new development was inaugurated by the arrival in 850 of a Danish fleet of 350 ships. Their pirate crews wintered in the isle of Thanet and the following spring captured Canterbury and London and ravaged the surrounding country. Although defeated by a West Saxon army, they soon renewed their attacks. In 866 a large Danish army plundered East Anglia and in 867 captured York. In 869 the East Anglian king, Edmund, met a cruel death in resisting the invaders. The incident made a deep impression on all England, and the memory of his martyrdom was vividly preserved in English tradition for nearly two centuries. The eastern part of England was now largely in the hands of the Danes, and they began turning their attention to Wessex. The assault upon Wessex began shortly before the accession of King Alfred (871–899). Even the greatness of this greatest of English kings threatened to prove insufficient to withstand the repeated attacks of the Northmen. After seven years of resistance, in which temporary victories were invariably succeeded by fresh defeats, Alfred was forced to take refuge with a small band of personal followers in the marshes of Somerset. But in this darkest hour for the fortunes of the English, Alfred’s courage and persistence triumphed. With a fresh levy of men from Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire, he suddenly attacked the Danish army under Guthrum at Ethandun (now Edington, in Wiltshire). The result was an overwhelming victory for the English and a capitulation by the Danes (878).
The Treaty of Wedmore (near Glastonbury), which was signed by Alfred and Guthrum the same year, marks the culmination of the second stage in the Danish invasions. Wessex was saved. The Danes withdrew from Alfred’s territory. But they were not compelled to leave England. The treaty merely defined the line, running roughly from Chester to London, to the east of which the foreigners were henceforth to remain. This territory was to be subject to Danish law and is hence known as the Danelaw. In addition the Danes agreed to accept Christianity, and Guthrum was baptized. This last provision was important. It might secure the better observance of the treaty, and, what was more important, it would help to pave the way for the ultimate fusion of the two groups.
The third stage of the Scandinavian incursions covers the period of political adjustment and assimilation from 878 to 1042. The Treaty of Wedmore did not put an end to Alfred’s troubles. Guthrum was inclined to break faith, and there were fresh invasions from outside. But the situation slowly began to clear. Under Alfred’s son Edward the Elder (900–925) and grandson Athelstan (925–939) the English began a series of counterattacks that put the Danes on the defensive. One of the brilliant victories of the English in this period was Athelstan’s triumph in 937 in the battle of Brunanburh, over a combined force of Danes and Scots, a victory celebrated in one of the finest of Old English poems. By the middle of the century a large part of eastern England, though still strongly Danish in blood and custom, was once more under English rule.
Toward the end of the century, however, when England seemed at last on the point of solving its Danish problem, a new and formidable succession of invasions began. In 991 a substantial Viking fleet, which may have been under the command of Olaf Tryggvason, attacked and pillaged various towns along the southeast coast of England. It then sailed up the Blackwater to the vicinity of Maldon, where it was met by Byrhtnoth, the valiant earl of the East Saxons, in a battle celebrated in another famous Old English war poem, The Battle of Maldon. Here the English, heroic in defeat, lost their leader, and soon the invaders were being bribed by large sums to refrain from plunder. The invasions now began to assume an official character. In 994 Olaf, who shortly became king of Norway, was joined by Svein, king of Denmark, in a new attack on London. The sums necessary to buy off the enemy became greater and greater, rising in 1012 to the amazing figure of
£48,000. In each case the truce thus bought was temporary, and Danish forces were soon again marching over England, murdering and pillaging. Finally Svein determined to make himself king of the country. In 1014, supported by his son Cnut, he crowned a series of victories in different parts of England by driving Æthelred, the English king, into exile and seizing the throne. Upon his sudden death the same year his son succeeded him. Three years of fighting established Cnut’s claim to the throne, and for the next twenty-five years England was ruled by Danish kings.
The Tests of Borrowed Words.
The similarity between Old English and the language of the Scandinavian invaders makes it at times very difficult to decide whether a given word in Modern English is a native or a borrowed word. Many of the more common words of the two languages were identical, and if we had no Old English literature from the period before the Danish invasions, we should be unable to say that many words were not of Scandinavian origin. In certain cases, however, we have very reliable criteria by which we can recognize a borrowed word. These tests are not such as the lay person can generally apply, although occasionally they are sufficiently simple. The most reliable depend upon differences in the development of certain sounds in the North Germanic and West Germanic areas. One of the simplest to recognize is the development of the sound sk. In Old English this was early palatalized to sh (written sc), except possibly in the combination scr, whereas in the Scandinavian countries it retained its hard sk sound. Consequently, while native words like ship, shall, fish have sh in Modern English, words borrowed from the Scandinavians are generally still pronounced with sk: sky, skin, skill, scrape, scrub, bask, whisk. The OE scyrte has become shirt, while the corresponding ON form skyrta gives us skirt. In the same way the retention of the hard pronunciation of k and g in such words as kid, dike (cf. ditch), get, give, gild, and egg is an indication of Scandinavian origin.
1.6. The Norman Conquest.
Toward the close of the Old English period an event occurred that had a greater effect on the English language than any other in the course of its history. This event was the Norman Conquest in 1066. What the language would have been like if William the Conqueror had not succeeded in making good his claim to the English throne can only be a matter of conjecture. It would probably have pursued much the same course as the other Germanic languages, retaining perhaps more of its inflections and preserving a predominantly Germanic vocabulary, adding to its word-stock by the characteristic methods of word formation already explained, and incorporating words from other languages much less freely. In particular it would have lacked the greater part of that enormous number of French words that today make English seem, on the side of vocabulary, almost as much a Romance as a Germanic language. The Norman Conquest changed the whole course of the English language. An event of such far-reaching consequences must be considered in some detail.
The Year 1066.
When in January 1066, after a reign of twenty-four years, Edward the Confessor died childless, England was again faced with the choice of a successor. And there was not much doubt as to where the choice would fall. At his succession Edward had found England divided into a few large districts, each under the control of a powerful earl. The most influential of these nobles was Godwin, earl of the West Saxon earldom. He was a shrewd, capable man and was soon Edward’s principal adviser. Except for one brief interval, he was the virtual ruler of England until the time of his death. His eldest son, Harold, succeeded to his title and influence and during the last twelve years of Edward’s reign exercised a firm and capable influence over national affairs. The day after Edward’s death Harold was elected king.
His election did not long go unchallenged. William, the duke of Normandy at this time, was a second cousin to the late king. Although this relationship did not give him any right of inheritance to the English throne, he had nevertheless been living in expectation of becoming Edward’s successor. Edward seems to have encouraged him in this hope. While William had been on a brief visit in England, Edward had assured him that he should succeed him. Even Harold had been led, though unwillingly, to acknowledge his claim. Having on one occasion fallen into William’s hands, it seems he had been forced to swear, as the price of his freedom, not to become a candidate or oppose William’s election. But the English had had enough of French favorites, and when the time came Harold did not consider himself bound by his former pledge.
Only by force could William hope to obtain the crown to which he believed himself entitled. Perhaps the difficulty involved in an armed invasion of England would have discouraged a less determined claimant. But William was an exceptionally able man. From infancy he had surmounted difficulties. Handicapped by the taint of illegitimacy, the son of his father by a tanner’s daughter of Falaise, he had succeeded to the dukedom of Normandy at the age of six. He was the object of repeated attempts upon his life, and only the devoted care of his regents enabled him to reach maturity. In early manhood he had had to face a number of crucial contests with rebellious barons, powerful neighbors, and even his overlord, the French king. But he had emerged triumphantly from them all, greatly strengthened in position and admirably schooled for the final test of his fortune. William the Great, as the chroniclers called him, was not the man to relinquish a kingdom without a struggle.
Having determined upon his course of action, he lost no time in beginning preparations. He secured the cooperation of his vassals by the promise of liberal rewards, once England was his to dispose of. He came to terms with his rivals and enemies on the continent. He appealed to the pope for the sanction of his enterprise and received the blessing of the Church. As a result of these inducements, the ambitious, the adventurous, and the greedy flocked to his banner from all over France and even other parts of Europe. In September he landed at Pevensey, on the south coast of England, with a formidable force.
His landing was unopposed. Harold was occupied in the north of England meeting an invasion by the king of Norway, another claimant to the throne, who had been joined by a brother of Harold’s, Tostig, returning from exile. Hardly had Harold triumphed in battle over the invaders when word reached him of William’s landing. The news was scarcely unexpected, but the English were not fully prepared for it. It was difficult to keep a medieval army together over a protracted period. William’s departure had been delayed, and with the coming of the harvest season many of those whom Harold had assembled a few months before, in anticipation of an attack, had been sent home. Harold was forced to meet the invader with such forces as he had. He called upon his brothers-in-law in the earldoms of Mercia and Northumbria to join him and repel the foreigner by a united effort. But they hung back. Nevertheless, hurrying south with his army, Harold finally reached a point between the Norman host and London. He drew up his forces on a broad hill at Senlac, not far from Hastings, and awaited William’s attack. The battle began at about nine o’clock in the morning. So advantageous was Harold’s position and so well did the English defend themselves that in the afternoon they still held their ground. For William the situation was becoming desperate, and he resorted to a desperate stratagem. His only hope lay in getting the English out of their advantageous position on the hill. Because he could not drive them off, he determined to try to lure them off and ordered a feigned retreat. The English fell into the trap. Thinking the Normans were really fleeing, a part of the English army started in pursuit, intending to cut them down in their flight. But the Normans made a stand, and the battle was renewed on more even terms. Then happened one of those accidents more easily possible in medieval than in modern warfare. Harold, always in the thick of the fight, was killed during the battle. According to tradition, he was pierced in the eye by a Norman arrow (although the Bayeux Tapestry supplies contradictory evidence about the arrow). In any event, his death seems to have been instantaneous. Two of his brothers had already fallen. Deprived of their leaders, the English became disorganized. The confusion spread. The Normans were quick to profit by the situation, and the English were soon in full retreat. When night fell they were fleeing in all directions, seeking safety under the cover of darkness, and William was left in possession of the field.
Although William had won the battle of Hastings and eliminated his rival, he had not yet attained the English crown. It was only after he had burnt and pillaged the southeast of England that the citizens of London decided that further resistance would be useless. Accordingly they capitulated, and on Christmas Day 1066, William was crowned king of England.
The Loss of Normandy.
The first link in the chain binding England to the continent was broken in 1204 when King John lost Normandy. John, seeing the beautiful Isabel of Angouleme, fell violently in love with her and, no doubt having certain political advantages in mind, married her in great haste (1200), notwithstanding the fact that she was at the time formally betrothed to Hugh of Lusignan, the head of a powerful and ambitious family. To make matters worse, John, anticipating hostility from the Lusignans, took the initiative and wantonly attacked them. They appealed for redress to their common overlord, the king of France. Philip saw in the situation an opportunity to embarrass his most irritating vassal. He summoned John (1202) to appear before his court at Paris, answer the charges against him, and submit to the judgment of his peers. John maintained that as king of England he was not subject to the jurisdiction of the French court; Philip replied that as duke of Normandy he was. John demanded a safe conduct, which Philip offered to grant only on conditions that John could not accept. Consequently, on the day of the trial the English king did not appear, and the court declared his territory confiscated according to feudal law. Philip proceeded
at once to carry out the decision of the court and invaded Normandy. A succession of victories soon put the greater part of the duchy in his control. One after another of John’s supporters deserted him. His unpopularity was increased by the news of the death of the young prince Arthur, John’s nephew and captive, who was married to Philip’s daughter and who, it was firmly believed, had been murdered. In 1204 Rouen surrendered, and Normandy was lost to the English crown.
So far as it affected the English language, as in other respects as well, the loss of Normandy was wholly advantageous. King and nobles were now forced to look upon England as their first concern. Although England still retained large continental possessions, they were in the south of France and had never been so intimately connected by ties of language, blood, and property interests as had Normandy. It gradually became apparent that the island kingdom had its own political and economic ends and that these were not the same as those of France. England was on the way to becoming not merely a geographical term but once more a nation.
Breadth of the French Influence.
Such classes of words as have been illustrated in the foregoing paragraphs indicate important departments in which the French language altered the English vocabulary in the Middle Ages. But they do not sufficiently indicate how very general was the adoption of French words in every province of life and thought. One has only to glance over a miscellaneous list of words—nouns, adjectives, verbs—to realize how universal was the French contribution. In the noun we may consider the range of ideas in the following list, made up of words that were already in English by 1300: action, adventure, affection, age, air, bucket, bushel, calendar, carpenter, cheer, city, coast, comfort, cost, country, courage, courtesy, coward, crocodile, cruelty, damage, debt, deceit, dozen, ease, envy, error, face, faggot, fame, fault, flower, folly, force, gibbet, glutton, grain, grief, gum, harlot, honor, hour, jest, joy, labor, leopard, malice, manner, marriage, mason, metal, mischief, mountain, noise, number, ocean, odor, opinion, order, pair, people, peril, person, pewter, piece, point, poverty, powder, power, quality, quart, rage, rancor, reason, river, scandal, seal, season, sign, sound, sphere, spirit, square, strife, stubble, substance, sum, tailor, task, tavern, tempest, unity, use, vision, waste. The same universality is shown in the adjective. Here the additions were of special importance since Old English was not very well provided with adjective distinctions. From nearly a thousand French adjectives in Middle English we may consider the following selection, all the words in this list being in use in Chaucer’s time: able, abundant, active, actual, amiable, amorous, barren, blank, brief, calm, certain, chaste, chief, clear, common, contrary, courageous, courteous, covetous, coy, cruel, curious, debonair, double, eager, easy, faint, feeble, fierce, final, firm, foreign, frail, frank, gay, gentle, gracious, hardy, hasty, honest, horrible, innocent, jolly, large, liberal, luxurious, malicious, mean, moist, natural, nice, obedient, original, perfect, pertinent, plain, pliant, poor, precious, principal, probable, proper, pure, quaint, real, rude, safe, sage, savage, scarce, second, secret, simple, single, sober, solid, special, stable, stout, strange, sturdy, subtle, sudden, supple, sure, tender, treacherous, universal, usual A list of the verbs borrowed at the same time shows equal diversity. Examples are: advance, advise, aim, allow, apply, approach, arrange, arrive, betray, butt, carry, chafe, change, chase, close, comfort, commence, complain, conceal, consider, continue, count, cover, covet, cry, cull, deceive, declare, defeat, defer, defy, delay, desire, destroy, embrace, enclose, endure, enjoy, enter, err, excuse, flatter, flourish, force, forge, form, furnish, grant, increase, inform, inquire, join, languish, launch, marry, mount, move, murmur, muse, nourish, obey, oblige, observe, pass, pay, pierce, pinch, please, practise, praise, prefer, proceed, propose, prove, purify, pursue, push, quash, quit, receive, refuse, rejoice, relieve, remember, reply, rinse, rob, satisfy, save, scald, serve, spoil, strangle, strive, stun, succeed, summon, suppose, surprise, tax, tempt, trace, travel, tremble, trip, wait, waive, waste, wince. Finally, the influence of French may be seen in numerous phrases and turns of expression, such as to take leave, to draw near, to hold one’s peace, to come to a head, to do justice, or make believe, hand to hand, on the point of, according to, subject to, at large, by heart, in vain, without fail. In these and other phrases, even when the words are English the pattern is French.
This is, that so far as the vocabulary is concerned, what we have in the influence of the Norman Conquest is a merging of the resources of two languages, a merger in which thousands of words in common use in each language became partners in a reorganized concern. English retains a controlling interest, but French as a large minority stockholder supplements and rounds out the major organization in almost every department.
The Rise of Standard English.
Out of this variety of local dialects there emerged toward the end of the fourteenth century a written language that in the course of the fifteenth won general recognition and has since become the recognized standard in both speech and writing. The part of England that contributed most to the formation of this standard was the East Midland district, and it was the East Midland type of English that became its basis, particularly the dialect of the metropolis, London. Several causes contributed to the attainment of this result.
In the first place, as a Midland dialect the English of this region occupied a middle position between the extreme divergences of the north and south. It was less conservative than the Southern dialect, less radical than the Northern. In the second place, the East Midland district was the largest and most populous of the major dialect areas. The land was more valuable than the hilly country to the north and west, and in an agricultural age this advantage was reflected in both the number and the prosperity of the inhabitants. As Maitland remarks, “If we leave Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk out of account we are to all appearances leaving out of account not much less than a quarter of the whole nation…. No doubt all inferences drawn from medieval statistics are exceedingly precarious; but, unless a good many figures have conspired to deceive us, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk were at the time of the Conquest and for three centuries afterwards vastly richer and more populous than any tract of equal area in the West.” Only the southern counties possessed natural advantages at all comparable, and they were much smaller. The prominence of Middlesex, Oxford, Norfolk, and the East Midlands generally in political affairs all through the later Middle Ages is but another evidence of the importance of the district and of the extent to which its influence was likely to be felt.
A third factor, more difficult to evaluate, was the presence of the universities, Oxford and Cambridge, in this region. In the fourteenth century the monasteries were playing a less important role in the dissemination of learning than they had once played, while the two universities had developed into important intellectual centers. So far as Cambridge is concerned any influence that it had would be exerted in support of the East Midland dialect. That of Oxford is less certain because Oxfordshire is on the border between Midland and Southern and its dialect shows certain characteristic Southern features. Moreover, we can no longer attribute to Wycliffe an important part in the establishment of a written standard. Though he spent much of his life at Oxford, he seems not to have conformed fully to the Oxford dialect. All we can say is that the dialect of Oxford had no apparent influence on the form of London English, which was ultimately adopted as standard. Such support as the East Midland type of English received from the universities must have been largely confined to that furnished by Cambridge.
Much the same uncertainty attaches to the influence of Chaucer. It was once thought that Chaucer’s importance was paramount among the influences bringing about the adoption of a written standard. And, indeed, it is unbelievable that the language of the greatest English poet before Shakespeare was not spread by the popularity of his works and, through the use of that language, by subsequent poets who looked upon him as their master and model. But it is nevertheless unlikely that the English used in official records and in letters and papers by men of affairs was greatly influenced by the language of his poetry. Yet it is the language found in such documents rather than the language of Chaucer that is at the basis of Standard English. Chaucer’s dialect is not in all respects the same as the language of these documents, presumably identical with the ordinary speech of the city. It is slightly more conservative and shows a greater number of Southern characteristics. Chaucer was a court poet, and his usage may reflect the speech of the court and to a certain extent literary tradition. His influence must be thought of as lending support in a general way to the dialect of the region to which he belonged rather than as determining
42926015430500 The Importance of London English.
By far the most influential factor in the rise of Standard English was the importance of London as the capital of England. Indeed, it is altogether likely that the language of the city would have become the prevailing dialect without the help of any of the factors previously discussed. In doing so it would have been following the course of other national tongues—French as the dialect of Paris, Spanish as that of Castile, and others. London was, and still is, the political and commercial center of England. It was the seat of the court, of the highest judicial tribunals, the focus of the social and intellectual activities of the country. In the practicalities of commerce the London economy was especially important as “an engine of communication and exchange which enabled ideas and information to be distributed and business to be done across an increasingly extensive, complex and varied field.” Patterns of migration at this time cannot be fully reconstructed, but clearly London drew in a constant stream those whose affairs took them beyond the limits of their provincial homes. They brought to it traits of their local speech, there to mingle with the London idiom and to survive or die as the silent forces of amalgamation and standardization determined. They took back with them the forms and usages of the great city by which their own speech had been modified. The influence was reciprocal. London English took as well as gave. It began as a Southern and ended as a Midland dialect. By the fifteenth century there had come to prevail in the East Midlands a fairly uniform dialect, and the language of London agrees in all important respects with it. We can hardly doubt that the importance of the eastern counties, pointed out above, is largely responsible for this change. Even such Northern characteristics as are found in the standard speech seem to have entered by way of these counties. The history of Standard English is almost a history of London English.
The Spread of the London Standard.
In the latter part of the fifteenth century the London standard had been accepted, at least in writing, in most parts of the country. Its prestige may possibly be reflected in the fact that Mak the sheep-stealer in the Towneley Plays attempts to impose upon the Yorkshire shepherds by masquerading as a person of some importance and affects a “Southern tooth.” Considerable diversity still existed in the spoken dialects, as will be apparent from what is said in the next paragraph. But in literary works after 1450 it becomes almost impossible, except in distinctly northern texts, to determine with any precision the region in which a given work was written. And in correspondence and local records there is a widespread tendency to conform in matters of language to the London standard. This influence emanating from London can be seen in the variety of English used in documents of the national bureaucracy as written by the clerks of Chancery. By the middle of the century a fairly consistent variety of written English in both spelling and grammar had developed, and as the language of official use it was likely to have influence in similar situations elsewhere. With the introduction of printing in 1476 a new influence of great importance in the dissemination of London English came into play. From the beginning London has been the center of book publishing in England. Caxton, the first English printer, used the current speech of London in his numerous translations, and the books that issued from his press and from the presses of his successors gave a currency to London English that assured more than anything else its rapid adoption. In the sixteenth century the use of London English had become a matter of precept as well as practice.
Difference between British English and American English
Tottie (2002) explains how grammar, as opposed to vocabulary, does not have to change in order to reflect a changing reality. When new vocabulary is coined and borrowed in response to new circumstances and new phenomena, the changes in grammar have been relatively few even though there are differences between AmE and BrE. The grammatical examples which are normally given are general and not exclusive for either BrE or AmE, thus variations in dialects and circumstantial use, for instance in conversation, fiction, academic writing etc., might differ in terms of their construction of grammatical features.
Modiano (1996) states that most observers of the English language recognize the differences between AmE and BrE to be found in pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling. However, while punctuation seems to be insignificant, grammatical and stylistic differences are more
extensive and important than most observers initially recognize. Some structures might be accepted in one variety of English while it is considered ungrammatical in the other, although such grammatical differences rarely impede communication. Seemingly minor differences do not cause disruptions, but these features are interlinked with the synthesis of lexical choices, pronunciation, spelling etc., which allows communication to proceed without misunderstandings.
Tottie (2002) explains how indefinite articles are used depending on whether it is followed by a vowel sound or a consonant sound, as in a dog, an apple. However, in informal AmE, the indefinite article ‘an’ is replaced with the phoneme /?/ as in a orange, a area, due to the influence of Black English where it is used frequently. Definite article usage differs between AmE and BrE. AmE uses the definite article to a greater extent than BrE, as in university and hospital.
AmEMy son is at the university
BrEMy son is at university
AmEFred is in the hospital
BrEFred is in hospital
(Tottie, 2002, p. 148)
Modiano (1996) gives examples of phrases which require a definite article in AmE, but are used without a determiner in BrE; onto grounds (BrE), onto the grounds (AmE), members of staff (BrE), members of the staff (AmE), on average (BrE), on the average (AmE). There are constructions in which BrE has a definite article, as in in the light of these developments, while AmE does not, as in in light of these developments, although both constructions are accepted in AmE (p. 126).
Tottie (2002) gives the general rule for how the s-genitive is used in both AmE and BrE. The rule of thumb is that animate nouns, particular in the singular, are constructed with the s- genitive, as in the girl’s parents, while other nouns are constructed with the of-construction, as in the color of my car. However, in recent years there has been a noticeable change in the use of s-genitive in AmE. The development has shown that abstract nouns, such as swimming and jumping, get the s-genitive as well as in the following examples of an English newspaper (Hundt 1997:40):
AmEAnita Nall and Summer Sanders – swimming’s “New Kids on the Block” AmEShow jumping’s prize money doesn’t yet approach golf or tennis . . .
Tottie (2002) explains how number sometimes varies between AmE and BrE. For instance, AmE speakers tend to prefer the plural form accommodations while BrE speakers use the singular form accommodation; conversely, AmE speakers say math while BrE speakers say maths. Noun-noun compounds represent the largest of all categories of new words and a difference in number can be distinguished there as well. In AmE the first noun is generally in singular, as in drug problem, trade union, road policy, chemical plant. In BrE the first noun is sometimes in plural, as in drugs problem, trades union, roads policy, chemicals plant.
Tottie (2002) explains the differences in verb morphology between AmE and BrE. With regular verbs the dental suffix is normally realized as t after a voiceless consonant, as in stopped, as d after a voiced consonant, as in mailed, and as ? d after a dental consonant, as in ended and wanted. There are features of both endings in both AmE and BrE.
Modiano (1996) acknowledges the differences in verb forms as perhaps the most significant dissimilarity between AmE and BrE. A number of BrE verbs have a t-inflection while AmE verbs tend to conform to the standardized –ed structure. These differences constitute a subtle distinction in pronunciation which often goes unnoticed in pronunciation, but indicates in which English a text is written. It is worth mentioning that many AmE conjugations are considered Standard English in BrE, thus both versions are accepted as correct.
burn, burnedburn, burnt
dwell, dwelleddwell, dwelt
get, gottenget, got
learn, learnedlearn, learnt
smell, smelledsmell, smelt
spell, spelledspell, spelt
spill, spilledspill, spilt spoil, spoiledspoil, spoilt
(Modiano, 1996,p. 125)
Tottie (2002) shows another class of verbs that are being used with the same pronunciation and spelling patterns. Verbs such as dream, lean, kneel and leap all have a long stem vowel which affects the pronunciation pattern in the past tense ending, especially in AmE where dreamed usually is pronounced drimd. Thus verbs as such, with a stem vowel, in past tense in AmE are pronounced with an i followed by a d, while in BrE it is pronounced with an e followed by a t.
AmE with i and dBrE with e and t Dream dreamed dreamedDream dreamt dreamt Kneel kneeled kneeledKneel knelt knelt
Lean leaned leanedLean leant leant Leap leaped leapedLeap leapt leapt
Tottie, 2002, p. 151
Modiano (1996) calls attention to the divergences of prepositions, for example, in BrE ‘the restaurant is in the High Road’ and ‘he was in Paris at the weekend’ while in AmE ‘the restaurant is on the Main Street’ and ‘he was in Paris on the weekend’. Both BrE constructions are considered peculiar in AmE. Sometimes the contrast can be even more striking, as in BrE ‘fill in a form’ and in AmE ‘fill out a form’.
Tottie (2002) explains how the same prepositions sometimes take different forms in AmE and BrE. Toward is commonly, in BrE, spelled with an -s and among (accepted in AmE and BrE) is spelled with –st, although the form amongst, in BrE, is considered old-fashioned:
AmEHe walked toward the entrance BrEHe walked towards the entrance
AmE, BrEHe found it among the flowers BrEHe found it amongst the flowers
(Tottie, 2002, p. 172)
Another example of divergence between AmE and BrE is the two forms of the preposition
around, as in:
AmE, BrEShe walked around the block BrEShe walked round the block
(Tottie, 2002, p. 172)
Modiano (1996) explains the many differences in subject concord between AmE and BrE. For example, plural nouns as organizations, businesses, official agencies, etc., are often treated as plural entities in BrE, which means they are given the verb are, whereas in AmE, the same nouns are considered singular and they get the verb is. Implied plurals are similarly constructed, for example, in BrE it is acceptable to say ‘the committee are going to issue a statement’ and ‘the government are considering the proposal’, whereas in AmE one would say ‘the committee is going to issue a statement’ and ‘the government is considering the proposal’. In the cases where the plural form is used, it indicates a reference to the individuals or the sub-groupings in an organization and not the organization itself.
Modiano (1996) explains some general features in the differences between AmE and BrE regarding punctuation. For example, the hyphens are more frequently used in BrE when writing compound nouns whereas, in AmE, they are written with two words; for instance, in BrE co-operation and in AmE cooperation. One of the main diverging features, when writers are dividing a word at the end of a line, is that in BrE the system for dividing a word is based on the morphological breaks in a word, for example, struct-ure. AmE, on the other hand, is syllabic, for example, struc-ture. However, the matters of word dividing have more or less disappeared as word-processing programs and new technology automatically adjust the margins.
The comma is used differently in AmE and BrE. For example, when listings occur in writing, in BrE, there is no comma between the second and the last item, while in AmE there is a comma following the second to the last item (p. 130):
AmEThe cover has red, white, and blue flowers BrEThe cover has red, white and blue flowers
Gelderen (2006) explains how differences in spelling between AmE and BrE occur for external reasons – the conscious decisions of editors, educators and politicians. The slight spelling differences can be understood by both AmE and BrE speakers; hence, the relatively standard English may be responsible for keeping the varieties mutually understandable.
Tottie (2002) acknowledges how most spelling differences are systematic, although some have to be learned individually. The spelling differences are divided and organized by simplified rules and they are seen as systematized. Among the systematic differences, some of the most important spelling differences are AmE -or compared to BrE –our as in color/colour, AmE -re compared to BrE -er as in centre/center, AmE -log compared to BrE – logue as in catalog/catalogue, AmE–ense compared to BrE–ence as in license (noun)/licence (noun). However, sometimes the pattern is reversed, as in BrE practise(verb),while in AmE it is spelled practice (verb)8, and the use of double ‘l’ in AmE while BrE spelling use one ‘l’, as in travelled/traveled. AmE spellings are in general shorter although there are some exceptions, as in AmE fulfill compared to BrE fulfil.
The verb ending –ize is the prevalent spelling in AmE, as in fraternize, jeopardize, militarize etc., as BrE rather use the –ise ending, although there are variations in BrE while both variations sometimes are accepted, as in organize/organize, naturalize/naturalise, etc.
Some spellings, nevertheless, have to be learned since they do not follow any pattern and cannot account for a systematic nature. The differences, just to give a few
8The reversed pattern is also, for example, applied to BrElicense (verb), compare to licence (noun).
examples, are, AmE check while BrE cheque, AmE plow while BrE plough, and AmE tire while BrE tyre.
Modiano (1996) examines the differences in pronunciation between AmE and BrE by explaining how difficult it is to determine and investigate any standard models, as accents and dialects vary, most conspicuously in the UK. Some dialects of BrE have developed through institutional establishments, such as public schools and aristocratic domains, and are therefore associated, to some extent, with social class. The English spoken in the UK became the educational standard in Europe. However, in recent years, the input of AmE has reconstructed the language use and today both AmE and BrE are accepted.
Tottie (2002) compares Received Pronunciation (RP) for BrE and Network English for AmE, the latter is the pronunciation of English used during broadcasts in the US. The choice of standard models is argued as being those which most native and non-native speakers understand, although they are used by few native speakers.
The differences in individual sounds between AmE and BrE can be divided into systematic (predictable) ones, and non-systematic (unpredictable) ones. One significant difference between some dialects in AmE and BrE is the post-vocalic /r/, thus some AmE speakers speak with a rhotic dialect. Hence, for example, father, mother, pleasure, and tar are pronounced with an audible r; a strong retroflex r-coloring of the vowel, which means that the tip of the tongue is turned back against the alveolar. In both AmE and BrE the /r/ is not trilled and the airstream is less narrowed than for a fricative.
Another noticeable characteristic of AmE is the pronunciation of the intervocalic9 /t/. In BrE, /t/ is articulated as a voiceless stop while in AmE it is a voiced tap – a rapid articulation of a stop with a single tongue tip movement. Intervocalic /t/, in AmE, tends to sound as a /d/, as in butter, batter, better, and fatter. This feature, in AmE, turns some words into homophones10 as /d/ also is pronounced in the same way between vowels spelled with d, for example, bidder and bitter, udder and utter, and medal and metal (p. 17).
The vowel systems differ in many ways between AmE and BrE. For instance, the vowels in the words dance, example, half, fast, bath have, in general, an a: in dialects spoken in southern England, while in AmE (and in some northern BrE dialects) the vowel is pronounced æ. Hence ant and aunt are homophones in AmE. However, before /r/ and in words spelled with -lm AmE use a:, as in far, car, calm, and palm. Similarly, in AmE father and sergeant have a:.
9Intervocalic consonants are placed in between two vowels and occur in the middle of a word.
10Homophones occur when words sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
AmE and BrE also differ in rounded back vowels. BrE distinguishes between three different back vowels, as in the words caught, cot, and calm, *?+, *?, and a:, respectively. In AmE, there are normally two distinctions, *?+ and *a:+, thus caught is pronounced with *?+ and cot and calm with a:. However, in some dialects in America, especially in the Midwest and the West, these vowels merge and are pronounced with the same articulation. Hence caught and cot, stalk and stock, and naughty and knotty may become homophones.
Tottie (2002) acknowledges how stress differs between AmE and BrE, although the patterns are, to some extent, systematic and can be sorted by syllables, suffixes, and whether a word is a loan word or not. Verbs ending with -ate are usually stressed on the first syllable in AmE, but on the ending in BrE. Some longer words, usually with four syllables, ending with -ary, – ery, or –ory, also have different stress assignments, thus some words are stressed on the first syllable in AmE and on the second syllable in BrE:
ancillary *?æns??lær? *æn?s?l?r?
capillary *?kæp??lær? *kæ?p?l?r?
corollary *?k?r??lær? k??r?l?r?
(Tottie, 2002, p. 21)
Although the majority of words with these endings are stressed on the first syllable, there is still a difference in pronunciation. In the second syllable from the end, AmE has a full vowel, whereas in BrE the same vowel is either reduced or not pronounced at all, as in:
commentary *?k?m?n?ter?+ *?k?m?nt(?)r?
category *?kæD??g?r?+ *?kæt?g(?)r?
cemetery *?sem??ter?+ *?sem?t(?)r?
(Tottie, 2002, p. 21)
On the other hand, words ending with -ile have reduced vowel in AmE but not in BrE, as in:
fertile *?f?rD?l *?f?ta?l
hostile *?hast?l *?h?sta?l
virile *?v?r?l *?v?ra?l
(Tottie, 2002, p. 22)
Modiano (1996) recognizes the differences in vocabulary to be increasingly important as the influence of AmE, in recent years, has had a great impact on the English use in Europe. The attitudes towards AmE have changed, and L2 learners have, to some extent, to be aware of, and have some knowledge regarding, the differences between AmE and BrE. As for today, BrE is strongly affected by AmE and many educational establishments throughout Europe have adopted a teaching approach which is encouraging the multiplicity of the English language variants. The mixture of AmE and BrE in use in Europe, which is referred to as “mid-Atlantic English”11, calls attention to how confusion in communication might occur for L2 learners, and even native speakers of AmE and BrE sometimes find the differences odd.
The differences in vocabulary are divided into three categories, depending on how they differ and in what sense they might cause confusion. The first category indicates that the terms not only share the same meaning, but are readily understood and, to varying degrees, are used in both the UK and the US. The second category indicates that there are two different terms for the same referent, but in this case the terms are not interchangeable. Despite the differences in preference, they rarely cause breakdowns in communication. The third category indicates more complicated terms which cause misunderstandings and failure in communication, as the terms have completely different meanings. In the third category, the potential of breakdowns in communication are much greater than in categories one and two. Below there is a conceptual chart with examples from all three categories and it illustrates how the terms might be interpreted by AmE and BrE speakers (p. 23-70):
Category 1 Words that differ but are understood by both AmE and BrE speakers
Room and boardAccommodation
When the term accommodation is used in AmE, it is sometimes written and spoken with an -s.
Elastic bandRubber band
The BrE term is not used in the US, but may be understood in context.
This BrE term is considered old-fashioned in America, whereas
airplane is listed as AmE in British dictionaries.
11 The term mid-Atlantic English refers to the usage of English noticed mostly in Europe where the EFL speaker uses a mixture of both AmE and BrE.
Stick shift/Gear shiftGear lever Fall (noun)Autumn
In BrE, bandage is a specific term which describes the actual roll of cloth which is used to wrap the injury. In AmE, bandage is a general term used to describe many different types of dressing, but gauze is the specific term for a thin strip of cloth used to wrap injuries.
Category 2 Non-interchangable terms which indicate the same thing
454088540386000Many Americans understand the BrE term, but do not use it. The term flat is also used in flat tyre (in AmEflat tire), and to express a battery without electricity, as in BrE flat battery (in AmE dead/empty battery).
Room mateFlat mate
The BrE term is not used in the US.
Many native AmE speakers understand the BrE term but rarely use it.
Period (punctuation)Full stop
The BrE term is not commonly used in the US and might cause disruption for native speakers of AmE.
The term funfair is most likely understood in context in the US, but Americans do not use the word.
First nameGiven name
The BrE term, while seemingly understandable, is not always comprehensible to native speakers of AmE.
Category 3 Terms which likely cause disruption or confusion
The term pavement in AmE means the area of the street on which vehicles pass. The area alongside the street which is designated for pedestrians is called sidewalk. Many Americans will be confused if someone uses the term pavement when referring to the pedestrian walkway.
Fag is slang in BrE and, furthermore, it is slang for homosexual in the US which can cause offensive misunderstandings.
Second floorFirst floor
These terms often cause confusion, because in BrE there is a ground floor followed by a first floor, whereas in AmE ground floor is referred to as first floor. Thus BrE first floor is second floor in AmE.
The BrE term is associated with a completely different sport in the US, as football, to native AmE speakers, is what Europeans call American football, although native BrE speakers usually understand the AmE term.
The BrE term plaster is not understood in the US when used to designate a small, adhesive bandage. Plaster, in AmE and BrE, is a white chalky material used in the construction industry and to make a cast for broken bones. The AmE term Band aid is a coinage and these were not originally marketed in the UK. Therefore, this coinage never caught on.
Private schoolPublic school
Public schools, in BrE, are privately owned institutions which are associated with the upper class and prestige. The term public school, in AmE, refers to schools which are operated with public funds. The term private school, however, is understood internationally.
Native AmE speakers would probably understand the term head master/mistress in context, but as the term mistress refers to a man’s secret lover in AmE, the term can appear strange to a native AmE speaker.
Implications of L2 Teaching with Multiple Englishes
Cogo (2011) argues that ELF12, which should not be confused with WE13, is valid and important in its creativity and as a communicative tool among non-native English speakers. While WE is nativized, ELF is a phenomenon described as virtual and transient in nature, strongly connected to context. Since ELF communication normally occurs in highly variable socio/lingua cultural groups or networks, the use is not monolithic and does not appear in a single variety, but is locally transformed and realized in transnational, or international, networks, and movements. As a result, speakers of ELF have developed an innovative ability to co-construct and blend English in order to ensure understanding. The opinions of teachers and learners is seen as an obstacle in the approach to ELF, although changes in attitudes towards the concept have already taken place, as learners, teachers, and English language teaching (ELT) practitioners in general are encouraged to engage in the debate of what a language is and in the issues of the English ownership. The preference regarding native-like English is criticized, as the assumption is considered dated. Instead, the approach to language teaching is accounted for by, for example, pragmatic competence. Hence, the dynamics of EFL14 communication, such as awareness and variability, are credited as equally important features of language competence.
Rajagopalan (2004) reviews the concept of native speakers of English by hypothesizing whether L2 speakers should or should not be assigned proficiency, as native speakers i.e. of the Queen’s English or General American, might experience difficulties in communication due to the interlocutor’s distinct (supposedly) foreign accent or inference of the L1. The implication of increasing numbers of EFL learners have put native speakers of English in a new situation, as the English spoken in airports, restaurants, international trade fairs, and academic conferences is closer to WE than any native English. The theoretical standpoint as to whether native speakers of English will keep their privileged status as EFL teachers is neglected because they are not model speakers of WE. This leaves standardized English (-es), such as AmE and BrE, in a less influential position.
Armah (2009) questions whether West African students and teachers can distinguish and be consistent in their English use regarding AmE and BrE, without any interference of the other
12 English as a Lingua Franca.
13 World English(-es).
14 English as a foreign language.
variety. Vocabulary, tense, spelling, and prepositions were investigated and recorded in four phases, which included conversation, whether teachers could identify and distinguish AmE and BrE, spelling exercises for candidates, and discussions concerning omission of preposition in today’s English newspapers. The conclusion of the paper suggests that the differences between AmE and BrE were not recognized. Neither teachers nor students were able to distinguish or correctly sort the examples of AmE and BrE, and the teacher’s attitudes towards being tested made some of the research unsuccessful. The result of the study implies that much work needs to be done in order to change the current trend of the indifference towards the differences between AmE and BrE, in order to achieve adequate results in writing and speech.
The initial ideas were to interview students about their attitudes towards BrE and AmE and investigate how their attitudes might affect their language-use. I soon realized that the workload would be overwhelming. The process of establishing contact with students and arranging opportunities for interviews would challenge the given timeframe for the essay. Therefore, I changed the approach and decided to test the competence and awareness of BrE and AmE. The investigation will focus on the participants’ abilities to distinguish between AmE and BrE vocabulary and spelling, and it will not include grammar or pronunciation.
In order to support the research question, a face-to-face survey will be handed out directly to the students, mainly to make sure it is completed without any help from textbooks or electronic aids such as computer programs or online dictionaries. I want to avoid an online-based survey since the participation tends to be lower than with a face-to- face survey (Gorard, 2001). It is also an opportunity to prevent the participants from conferring with each other or using reference materials. The results will be analyzed using the quantitative research method.
The survey (see appendix 1) comprises three phases. The first phase tests the participants’ abilities to distinguish between BrE and AmE lexical words. The participants will be given 40sentences, each one with one or two words printed in bold. Each sentence is followed by four alternatives. The alternatives ask the participants to decide whether they believe the requested words to be British (A), American (B) or used by both languages (C). The student will be asked to choose alternative (D) if they, by any reason, are not sure about the word. For example, the students will encounter the word petrol and the task will read: “to get a car running you need to fuel it up with petrol. Which of the following statements is true?” As shown, the requested word is printed in bold and followed by the question ‘which of the following statements is true’. The same format will be implemented on all words included in the first phase of the survey. Two words of the 40 are used by both languages, which thereby makes the correct answer ‘C’. These words, so-called red herrings, are used as a reference point in the examination of the students’ lexical awareness. The words are put into context in order to enhance the pragmatic implication as some words are used in both languages, but with diverse denotative definitions.
The selection of words is meant to represent and cover different areas in everyday-life which the students possibly might encounter, for example, work-related situations. All words have been evaluated and discussed with my supervisor and a fellow student. There will still be some concerns regarding manipulation and subjectivity since I have made the selection of words based on an anticipated use. My supervisor has informed me about how some words which have been hitherto regarded as exclusively AmE are being absorbed into BrE. I have identified these and replaced them with other words.
The second phase of the survey consists of twelve sentences, each with a word missing. The respondent is given the Swedish equivalent and will be asked to fill in the gap with the appropriate translated word in English. Depending upon the chosen spelling, their answers will be divided into BrE and AmE. Any misspelled word will be categorized as either ‘misspelled BrE’ or ‘misspelled AmE’. The answers will be determined to be BrE or AmE by the attempted spelling, based on what word I am investigating. For instance, this means that an answer spelled ‘coulor’ instead of ‘colour’ or ‘color’ will be considered a misspelled BrE word, supported by the fact that the student uses ‘ou’, evidently, the spelling belong to BrE. The chart will have an additional bar named ‘wrong word’. Any inaccurate translation will be shown in the chart and examined separately.
The last phase of the survey covers the respondents’ previous influences. The first two questions inquire of their native language and determine whether they should be taken into account or not. Students who answer that they have another first language than Swedish will not be included in the result. Their answers are of equal importance but are not going to be taken into account in the final result. This phase is put into the survey to investigate whether the students are aware of what they are learning and whether previous teachers have been clear as to which variety of English they have been using and teaching. The student has to choose whether their previous teachers used BrE, AmE or Swedish English. The term “Swedish English” refers to a non-specific use of English with classes mainly conducted in Swedish. The fourth alternative is chosen if the student is not sure and a last alternative leaves the student to write freely regarding any other English used by previous teachers. The two final questions examine influences upon the students outside the classroom and involve investigating their consumption of music and television programs. I am aware of my inability to verify whether the participants’ answers regarding music and movies are correct. In that regard, I have to trust their given answers. Information about which English the students are exposed to outside school might have an impact on their awareness and competence of BrE and AmE and are therefore relevant for the research.
The introduction to the survey will be given in Swedish to avoid any unintended input from my own accent and language use. I have chosen to exclude the option of providing an explanatory introduction to the survey because it might affect the students in their choices. Instead, an overhead transparency will be shown with two examples of how the statements are designed and how the spelling part should be performed. They will be told to put away their phones and any other technical equipment. I will be present at the time they are completing the survey, making myself available for possible questions.
The instructions are important to ensure the validity of the survey. The answers are meant to be intuitive and spontaneous and, in order for the data to be as authentic as possible, the students will be instructed that they will be anonymous and that the survey is designed to ensure their anonymity. No answer will be attributed to anyone as an individual.
Since the research does not take gender or ethnic background into account, the anonymity might avert unintended contamination when I am processing the result. In order to avoid pressure on the students, and thus rush them into guessing, no time limit will be set for their completion of the survey.
The students who are invited to participate in the investigation attend Kattegattgymnasiet in Halmstad. Approximately 1300 students, between the ages of 16 to 19, attend the school which is situated close to Halmstad city center. The school offers students to the choice between technical programs and academic programs. The students who attend the technical programs aim to be electricians and construction worker. The students who attend academic programs aim towards further studies at university level. Four classes have been invited to participate in the research.
Table3.3.1.The number of students in each class
Technical classes Academic studies classes
TS 1 27 AS 1 19
TS 2 26 AS 2 25
The first class consists of 27 students and they attend a manual labor program (TS 1). The students are between the ages of 17-18. They are studying their second year at upper secondary school with English as a compulsory subject.
The second class consists of 26 students and they attend a manual labor program (TS 2). The students are studying their second year with English as a compulsory subject. They are between the ages of 17-18.
The third class consists of 19 students and they attend a program that prepares them for further academic studies (AS 1). They study their second year at upper secondary school with English as a compulsory subject. They are between the ages of 17-18.
The fourth class consists of 25 students and they attend a further academic studies program (AS 2). The students are studying their second year at upper secondary school. They are between the ages of 17-18.
Results and Analysis
The following results were gathered, as previously mentioned, in an upper secondary school in Halmstad. A total of 97 students completed the questionnaire and the results of each phase is divided into vocabulary, spelling and previous influences.
Table 4.1.1 shows the participants’ ability to distinguish between AmE and BrE vocabulary. The label ‘wrong answer’ refers to the participants who either chose the wrong variety of English or falsely believed that the words were used by both AmE and BrE when the words were not. The percentages in the diagrams are an average of 87 participants’ answers and each color in the circle diagram represent one label each. The vocabulary phase included 40 sentences with 41 given words which the participants were asked to decide whether they belong to AmE or BrE.
Table 4.1.1 Participants’ awareness of AmE and BrE vocabulary
Wrong Answer Not Sure
Wrong Answer Not Sure
The results show that 30 % of the participants answered correctly, while 35 % of the participants failed to distinguish between AmE and BrE vocabulary and 35 % of the participants were ‘not sure’. A few participants left some words without an answer. Those answers are labeled as ‘not sure’ in the diagram, as those answers are interpreted as an insecurity of the participant’s awareness regarding whether the words belonged to AmE or BrE. Four participants offered answers for only a few of the words, the rest were marked as ‘not sure’ or left blank.
Some words stood out as being seemingly harder to distinguish as to whether they were AmE or BrE. Table 4.1.2 shows the vocabulary which had the lowest average of correct answers. The vocabulary is displayed to the left in the chart and the percentages of the participants’ awareness to the right, with the lowest average shown on top of the chart.
Table 4.1.2 The lowest average of correct answers
Vocabulary Average percentage of correct answers
Diaper (AmE) 9 %
Mail box (AmE) 13,4 %
Curse word (AmE) 13,4 %
Jam (BrE) 13,7 %
Full stop (BrE) 16,4 %
“Diaper” was the hardest word to identify. About 59 % of the participants answered that they were not sure about which variety of English “diaper” belongs to, while 30 % answered that they were not sure. “Mail box”, “curse word” and “jam” had a similar average, with a percentage just over 13 %. At the bottom of the chart, “full stop” was recognized by just over 16 %. More than 65 % answered that they were not sure about which variety of English “full stop” belongs to.
Table 4.1.3 shows the vocabulary which the participants were most successful in identifying as to whether the words belong to AmE or BrE. The vocabulary is displayed to the left in the chart and the percentages of the participants’ awareness to the right, with the highest average shown on top of the chart.
Table 4.1.3 The highest average of correct answers
Vocabulary Average percentage of correct answers
Soccer (AmE) 73 %
Sweets (BrE) 67 %
Vehicle 64 %
Socks 58 %
Petrol (BrE) 55 %
The word “soccer” stands out with an average of 73 % correct answers. “Soccer” had the highest number of correct answers followed by “sweets” with an average of 67 % correct answers. The words “vehicle” and “socks”, the two so-called red herrings, follow with 64 % and 58 %, respectively. The word “petrol” had an average of 55 % correct answers.
The participants were asked to translate twelve Swedish words into English and depending on their chosen variety, or their attempt at a certain variety, their answers are shown below in circle diagrams, one diagram for each word. The two possible correct answers are shown on top of each table. Correct answers are displayed as either “AmE” or “BrE”. The shortening ‘MS’ stands for ‘misspelled’ and it is divided into either ‘MS AmE’ or ‘MS BrE’. As mentioned before, for example, if a participant wrote ‘coulor’ instead of ‘colour’, the attempted spelling variety is interpreted as BrE as the conclusive spelling feature, in this case -‘ou’, is used. Some participants chose not to translate some of the requested words and these answers have been categorized as ‘Blank’. The category ‘incorrect’ in the circle diagrams stands for
30772107943215005905500794448500incorrect translations, such as wrong word choice or words that do not exist in the English language. The figures in the circle diagrams show the number of answers of each category.
13277854235450030861004591050030861006889750030861009175750030861001147445004255135423545006005830459105006005830688975006005830917575006005830114744500Table 4.2.1 Tire/TyreTable 4.2.2 Color/Colour
1 1 11 17
12 5 42 AmE
MS AmE MS BrE
Blank Incorrect 2 15
40 28 AmE
MS AmE MS BrE
3086100-955675003086100-727075006005830-955675006005830-7270750013106404267200030937204826000030937207112000030937209417050030937201171575004215130426720005970905482600005970905711200005970905941705005970905117157500Table 4.2.3 Traveled/TravelledTable 4.2.4 Meter/Metre
3 12 5 1 46 20 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
Incorrect 3 1 2 7 74 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
3093720-980440003093720-750570005970905-980440005970905-750570001339850420370003077210438150003077210668655003077210897255003077210112712500307721013576300042106854216400059055004381500059055006686550059055008985250059055001127125005905500135763000Table 4.2.5 Practice/PractiseTable 4.2.6 Licorice/Liquorice
1 2 10 20 29 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
Blank Incorrect 19
29 9 3
15 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
12769854819650030111705308600030111707594600030111709893300030111701219200004130040481965005862955530860005862955759460005862955989330005862955121920000Table 4.2.7 Grey/GrayTable 4.2.8 Donuts/Doughnuts
2 1 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
Blank Incorrect AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
56 28 20
14 3 2
7 40 3011170-980440003011170-749935005862955-980440005862955-7499350012636504279900030130754902200030130757207250030130759493250030130751179195004117975427990005867400490220005867400720725005867400949325005867400117919500Table 4.2.9 Pyjamas/PajamasTable 4.2.10 Catalog/Catalogue
1 7 11 8 2 58 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
Blank Incorrect 2 15 7 11
7 43 AmE BrE
MS AmE MS BrE
3013075-987425003013075-758825005867400-987425005867400-7588250012388854311650030111705168900030111707467600030111709753600030111701205865004095115431165005866130516890005866130746760005866130975360005866130120586500Table 4.2.11 Neighbor/NeighbourTable 4.2.12 Mom/Mum
8 8 5 5 17
MS AmE MS BrE
Blank Incorrect 42 1 24
MS AmE MS BrE
3011170-1016000003011170-787400005866130-1016000005866130-78740000The results show that, in general, neither AmE nor BrE were confirmed as being more frequently used than the other. The figures vary, seemingly depending on the requested word and only a few translated words were governed by one certain variety. However, the AmE term “meter” was used by 74 participants, which makes it the most frequently used term. This can be compared to the three participants who chose the BrE translation. The second most frequently used term was the BrE “pyjamas” which was the chosen translation of 58 participants, closely followed by the BrE term “grey” with 56 translations. “Licorice” (AmE) or “liquorice” (BrE) had the lowest number of correct translations with a total of 12 correct translations (in both AmE and BrE). Almost a third of the participants left the
requested translation blank and 19 participants translated the term incorrectly. The term with the highest number of incorrect answers was the term “mom” (AmE)/”mum” (BrE). There were 42 participants who translated the desired term into “mother” which does not correspond to the requested Swedish word. In terms of misspelled words, “donuts” (AmE)/”doughnuts” (BrE) stood out with 14 AmE misspelled terms and 20 BrE misspelled terms. The participants were successful in translating the terms “gray” (AmE) and “grey” (BrE). Only two participants misspelled any of the two varieties and one participant provided no response.
During the collection of the data, some participants stated that they had dyslexia and that they struggled with spelling on an everyday basis. They were informed that they had the option to avoid the spelling phase because, at that moment, they did not have the support they needed in order to perform to their best. However, only one participant left the spelling phase blank and those answers are included in the circle diagrams under the category ‘blank’.
The last phase of the questionnaire probed the participants’ previous influences and their individual tastes in music and television. As mentioned before, the first two questions of this phase investigated whether the participants had a first language other than Swedish.
Table 4.3.1 shows the total number of participants and the number of participants who stated that they had a first language other than Swedish.
Table 4.3.1 The participants’ native language/s
Number of participants First language other than Swedish
Ten participants stated that they had a mother tongue other than Swedish or that they found their second language spoken at home to be equally used. These participants’ answers are excluded in the research in order to prevent eventual input from the other languages. Questions numbers three and four inquired which variety of English their previous English teachers used and question five attempted to establish which variety of English their current English teacher uses. Questions six and seven investigated the participants’ tastes in music and whether the TV programs they preferred were spoken in AmE or BrE.
Table 4.3.2 Participants’ previous influences and choice of music and TV programs
American English Swedish English I’m not sure
American English Swedish English I’m not sure
The results show that 28 participants are ‘not sure’ about whether their middle school teachers used AmE or BrE, while 25 participants believed that their teachers used BrE. A total of 18 participants stated that their previous teachers used Swedish English, closely followed by 16 participants who believed their previous teachers used AmE.
Question four investigated the participants’ middle school teachers’ English use. The participants stated that BrE was the most frequently used variety, having been chosen by 41 participants. The use of AmE remained the same with 16 answers and both ‘Swedish English’ and the participants who were ‘not sure’ decreased to 9 and 19, respectively. Two participants stated that their high school teacher used another variety of English than AmE, BrE or Swedish English.
In question five, which investigated the participants’ current English teachers’ use, BrE was chosen by 61 participants compared to 16 participants who believed their current teacher used AmE. A total of 11 participants were ‘not sure’ about their current teachers’ English use, while one participant believed Swedish English was used. Two participants stated that another English variety was used.
Table 4.3.3 shows the participants’ awareness of their current teachers’ English use, class by class. The percentage to the right in the chart indicates the number of participants who were correct regarding their current teachers’ English use.
Technical students 1 BrE 96 %
Technical students 2 BrE 91 %
Further academic studies 1 BrE 55 %
Further academic studies 2 AmE 50 %
Question six investigated the participants’ choice of TV programs. In all, 78 participants stated that they mainly watch AmE TV programs, while 6 participants stated that they mainly watch BrE TV programs. Only 3 participants were ‘not sure’.
Question seven investigated the participants’ choice of music and 65 participants answered that the music lyrics were mainly in AmE, while 8 participants answered that the music lyrics mainly were in BrE. There were 11 participants who answered that they were ‘not sure’ and 3 participants answered that they either did not listen to music, or they listened to music other than music with AmE or BrE lyrics.