Some may be using quarantine time to brush up on a foreign language, but that often leads one to question the source of our own native English language. English, a language 6,000 years in the making, is not in the top 10 hardest languages to learn, yet is full of quirks that make it a challenge to learn to non-native speakers.
As the famous saying goes:
- The teacher taught. But the preacher never praught.
- One goose, two geese. One moose, two mooses (not meece)
- “Look” and “see” have similar meanings, but “overlook” and “oversee” mean completely different things.
- One mouse, two mice. One house, two houses.
- Vegetarians eat vegetables, but humanitarians do not live on a diet of people!
According to Wikipedia, “The English language began in Britain. English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the mid 5th to 7th centuries AD by Anglo-Saxon migrants from what is now northwest Germany, southern Denmark and the Netherlands.”
Because of its widespread use globally due initially to British colonization and later for industrialization and global trade, we may not take time to think: “Where does this language originally even come from?”
Our modern English is hardly recognizable from the first forms of English. It has greatly evolved and continues to evolve incorporating words influenced by many languages. Many words originally evolved from early German. Also, more than 150,000 words of English comes from Greek words.
The earliest source of our language dates back to 5th century AD when three Germanic tribes invaded Britain. These tribes included the Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes who crossed the North Sea from what is Denmark and northern Germany today. This would become the Anglo Saxon populations, and Norse would soon join the linguistic mix. English, German, and Swedish would descend from this language.
According to wonderpollis.com, “our alphabet was developed by Semitic-speaking people in the Middle East around 1700 B.C., and was refined and spread to other civilizations by the Phoenicians. This is the foundation of our modern alphabet. We call each of symbol a letter and each letter of the alphabet represents one sound in our language.”
Our modern alphabet we know was settled in 1604 with “J” being the final letter added. That may be the only unchanging aspect of the English language, however. According to Wordcounter, 1,100 words are added each year to the dictionary as English continues to evolve.
When I was a baby, my fist words were “Dada and Mama,” which are commonly the first words babies learn to say. Growing up, my parents started to teach me how to say “thank you,” “bless you,” “you’re welcome,” my age when people ask, and my name. Later, counting, spelling, days of the week, and months came into place. One of my uncles then started to teach me and my sister to say “May I” when asking for things.
It is easy to assume that languages are easy to learn, since we learn a native language so quickly as children. However, adults lack the same brain flexibility as we have as children (source), and it becomes more difficult to learn a new language after 7 or 8 years old.
The English language is a mysterious thing and we can’t underestimate the importance of where our culture or language comes from or where and how it started. We can’t forget where we come from. There’s also always more to our stories than what we already know. Learn something new today.