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English Langue

English Langue

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Published by Faizan

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Published by: Faizan on Feb 17, 2009
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08/31/2012

 
ENGLISH LANGUE
The English language has its origins in about the fifth century A.D., when tribes from thecontinent, the Jutes, the Saxons, and then the larger tribe of Angles invaded the small island we now call England (from Angle-land 
 
 ). Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, is preserved in Beowulf (c. A.D. 800). Middle English developed following the Norman invasion of 1066, exemplified in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1400). Modern English, dating from the sixteenth century, is exemplified in the plays of WilliamShakespeare (1564–1616). From the time the Pilgrims landed in America (1620), thelanguage began to take its own course in this "New World." Expressions like "fixing to," which had never been used in England, were "cropping up" (an expression going back toMiddle English) in the colonial press by 1716.So the American Revolution (1775–1783) not only created a new nation but also divided the English language into what H. L. Mencken, author of the classic study The American Language; An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States,called "two streams." These streams diverged to produce different words with the same denotation(the American "trunk" of a car is a "boot" in England), different pronunciations for the same words (the American sked-ju-el is the British shed-ju-el), and different spellings(theater vs. theatre, labor vs. labour). By 1781, the word "Americanism" had been coined by John Witherspoon, a Scottishclergyman recruited to become president of Princeton University. These Americanisms,Witherspoon wrote, were not "worse in themselves, but merely …of American and not of  English growth." The separation of the "two streams of English" was already noticeable. In his usual acerbicmanner, Mencken applauded the American resistance to rules:"Standard [British] English must always strike an American as a bit  stilted and precious" (p. 774).
 Judgment by Language: the Shibboleth
Once there is any kind of "standard," people could begin passing judgment (that's spelled "judgement" in England) based on what was deemed "correct." One of the first recorded instances is the "  shibboleth" test in the Old Testament. Hebrew, like all other languages,  had many dialects, and the twelve tribes of Israel did not always pronounce words in the same way. Thus, when the Gileadites "seized the fords of the Jordan" (Judg. 12:5–6), it was not enough to merely ask those who wished to cross the river "Are you an Ephraimite?" They needed a test to distinguish the enemy. They used pronunciation, and those who said "sib-bo-leth" instead of "shib-bo-leth" were slain.
 
 Americans are by and large more tolerant of language differences than the English.George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), the Englishman who wrote Pygmalion (on which themusical My Fair Lady was based), wrote, "It is impossible for an Englishman to open hismouth without making some other Englishman hate or despisehim." Shaw was, likeMencken, a great debunker and exploder of 
 
 pretension. "An honest and natural slumdialect," he wrote, "is more tolerable than the attempt of a phonetically un-taught personto imitate thevulgar dialect of the golf club" (Mencken, p. 775). 
 Dialects: the Branches of the Stream
Shaw's comment raises a point worth highlighting: we all speak a dialect. If English, inMencken's phrase, divides into "two streams," British and American, there are withinthose streams many creeks and branches (two Americanisms according to Witherspoon). Both Cockney and "the Queen's English" are, after all, dialects of British English,although one carries more prestige. Likewise, we have many dialects in the United States. Mark Twain, in his prefatorynoteto Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,tells us that there are at least seventeendistinguishable dialects in the novel. In the early twenty-first century we find manydialects of American English as we move from the New York Bronx to Charleston, or  from the Midwestern plains to the San Fernando Valley (home of the "valley girls"), or  from Chicago to New Orleans (is that pronounced with the stress on the first or the second syllable: ore-leans or ore-lens?) Is there such a thing today as a "standard"  American language?
Guides to Correctness
Certainly there have been those willing to provide guidance to the public on "correct" usage of the language. America's most famouslexicographer  , Noah Webster, published his "Blue-backed" American Speller soon after the Revolution, teaching not only spelling but also pronunciation, common sense, morals, and good citizenship. His first dictionary(1806) was one of several (the first in English being Samuel Johnson's in 1755), but when Webster died in 1843, the purchase of rights to his dictionary by Charles and George Merriam led to a new, one-volume edition that sold for six dollars in 1847. Thisedition became the standard. Except for the Bible, Webster's spelling book and dictionarywere the best-selling publications in American history up to the mid-twentieth century.Webster's spelling book (often marketed with the Bible) molded four generations of  American schoolchildren, proclaiming what was "right" without apology. In contrast,  The American Heritage Dictionary of the late twentieth century offers guidance based ona survey of its "Usage Panel," a group of respected writers and speakers who are asked what they find acceptable. In the third college edition (1997), the editors notedrasticchanges in the Panel's attitudes. More and more of the old shibboleths are widelyaccepted. For example, in 1969 most of the Usage Panel objected to using the words"contact" and " intrigue" as verbs, but by the 1993 survey, most had no problem witheither (though " hopefully" and " disinterested " remained problematic for most). 
 
 Language, if it is spoken, lives and changes (in contrast to a "dead language" such as Latin, which does not evolve because it is not spoken). As with a river, so with language: you never put your tongue to the same one twice. Lexicographers now present their dictionaries as a description of how the language looksat a particular time rather than as a
 
 prescriptionof what is "correct." The constant evolution of language makes new editions necessary. Many people have come to use theword "disinterested" to mean uninterested " instead of "without bias"; therefore, despiteobjections of purists, it does in fact mean that. "Corruption" or change? Likewise with pronunciation. In the 1990s, the word " harass" came into frequent use inthe news. Americans had traditionally put the stress on the second syllable: he-RASS.This pronunciation, according to The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide(1999), "first occurred in American English and has gained wide acceptance over thelast 50 years." But reporters on television during the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, inwhich he was accused of "  sexual harassment " by Anita Hill, tended to prefer the pronunciation HAR-ess, "the older, more traditional pronunciation [which] is still  preferred by those for whom British pronunciation is a guide." There are many influenceson our shifting language habits.
 Simplification Movement 
 Pragmatic Americans have often sought to simplify the language. The Simplified Spelling  Board, created in 1906, sought to simplify the spelling of words like "though." "But thotheir filosofy was that simpler is better, they cood not get thru to peepl as they wisht." TheChicago Tribune began to simplify spelling in their publication in 1935, but the American public would not send their brides down the "aile" nor transport their loved ones' caskets in a " herse ," so the attempt was largely abandoned with a few exceptions,   such as "tho," "thru," and "catalog." Spelling, after all, has often been used as a test of intelligence and education. It also reflects the history of the language. The word "knight" carries with it the echoes of Chaucer's Middle English pronunciation: ka-nick-te. Another major impediment to spelling reform is the association of phonetic spelling withilliteracy: while the reformers may "ake" to "berry" those men and "wimmen" who"apose" them, those who write of the "kat's tung" open themselves toridicule. Menckendeclared, however, that "American spelling is plainly better than English spelling, and inthe long run it seems sure to 
 
 prevail " (p. 483). 
Growing Vocabulary
One distinctive aspect of the English language is its tendency to absorb foreign words. English-speaking peoples (many of them explorers and adventurers) have adopted and adapted terms from many languages. Loanwords come from many foreign languages, sometimes directly, sometimes through other languages:dirge(Latin), history (Greek),  whiskey (Celtic), fellow (Scandinavian), sergeant (French), chocolate (Spanish),

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