THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE This page intentionally left blank THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE S I X T H E D I T I O N John Algeo Based on the original work of Thomas Pyles ±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±± Australia • Brazil • Japan • Korea • Mexico • Singapore • Spain • United Kingdom • United States The Origins and Development of the English Language: Sixth Edition John Algeo Publisher: Michael Rosenberg Development Editor: Joan Flaherty Assistant Editor: Megan Garvey Editorial Assistant: Rebekah Matthews
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Book of Hours of Philippe de Conrault, The Art Archive/ Bodleian Library Oxford Compositor: Pre-Press PMG © 2010, 2005 Wadsworth, Cengage Learning ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this work covered by the copyright herein may be reproduced, transmitted, stored, or used in any form or by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, scanning, digitizing, taping, Web distribution, information networks, or information storage and retrieval systems, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976
United States Copyright Act, without the prior written permission of the publisher. For product information and technology assistance, contact us at Cengage Learning Academic Resource Center, 1-800-423-0563 For permission to use material from this text or product, submit all requests online at www. cengage. com/permissions. Further permissions questions can be e-mailed to [email protected] com Library of Congress Control Number: 2008930433 ISBN-13: 978-1-4282-3145-0 ISBN-10: 1-4282-3145-5 Wadsworth 20 Channel Center Street Boston, MA 02210
USA Cengage Learning products are represented in Canada by Nelson Education, Ltd. For your course and learning solutions, visit www. cengage. com. Purchase any of our products at your local college store or at our preferred online store www. ichapters. com. Printed in the United States of America 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 13 12 11 10 09 Preface The Origins and Development of the English Language, Sixth Edition, continues to focus on the facts of language rather than on any of the various contemporary theoretical approaches to the study of those facts.
The presentation is that of fairly traditional grammar and philology, so as not to require students to master a new theoretical approach at the same time they are exploring the intricacies of language history. The focus of the book is on the internal history of the English language: its sounds, grammar, and word stock. That linguistic history is, however, set against the social and cultural background of the changing times. The first three chapters are introductory, treating language in general as well as the pronunciation and orthography of present-day English.
The succeeding central six chapters are the heart of the book, tracing the history of the language from prehistoric Indo-European days through Old English, Middle English, and early Modern English up to the present time. The final three chapters deal with vocabulary—the meaning, making, and borrowing of words. This sixth edition of a book Thomas Pyles wrote some forty-five years ago preserves the outline, emphasis, and aims of the original, as all earlier editions have. The entire book has, however, been revised for helpfulness to students and ease of reading.
The major improvements of the fifth edition have been retained. A large number of fresh changes have also been made, especially to make the presentation easier to follow. The historical information has been updated in response to evolving scholarship, new examples have been added (although effective older ones have been kept), the bibliography has been revised (including some new electronic resources in addition to print media), and the glossary has been revised for clarity and accuracy. The prose style throughout has been made more contemporary and accessible.
The author hopes that such changes will help to make the book more useful for students and instructors alike. v All of the debts acknowledged in earlier editions are still gratefully acknowledged for this one. This edition has especially benefited from the critiques of the following reviewers, whose very helpful suggestions have been followed wherever feasible. James E. Doan, Nova Southeastern University Mark Alan Vinson, Crichton College Jay Ruud, University of Central Arkansas Elena Tapia, Eastern Connecticut State University J. Mark Baggett, Samford University
My former doctoral student and now an admired teacher and Scholar-in-Residence at Shorter College, Carmen Acevedo Butcher, made a major contribution by suggesting improvements in the style and accuracy of the work, by providing new references for the bibliography (including electronic sources), and by reviewing the entire manuscript. My wife, Adele S. Algeo, who works with me on everything I do, has assisted at every step of the revision. Her editorial eye is nonpareil, and her support makes all work possible—and a pleasure. John Algeo vi PREFACE Contents PREFACE v chapter 1 Language and the English Language:
An Introduction 1 A Definition of Language 2 Language as System 2 Grammatical Signals 3 Language as Signs 5 Language as Vocal 6 Writing and Speech 6 Gestures and Speech 8 Language as Conventional 8 Language Change 10 The Notion of Linguistic Corruption 10 Language Variation 11 Correctness and Acceptability 12 Language as Human 13 Theories of the Origin of Language 13 Innate Language Ability 14 Do Birds and Beasts Really Talk? 14 Language as Communication 15 Other Characteristics of Language 16 Why Study the History of English? 17 For Further Reading 18 vii chapter 2 The Sounds of Current English 20 The Organs of Speech 20
Consonants of Current English 21 Vowels of Current English 25 Vowels before [r] 28 Stress 28 Unstressed Vowels 29 Kinds of Sound Change 29 Assimilation: Sounds Become More Alike 29 Dissimilation: Sounds Become Less Alike 30 Elision: Sounds Are Omitted 30 Intrusion: Sounds Are Added 31 Metathesis: Sounds Are Reordered 31 Causes of Sound Change 31 The Phoneme 32 Differing Transcriptions 33 For Further Reading 34 chapter 3 Letters and Sounds: A Brief History of Writing 35 Ideographic and Syllabic Writing 35 From Semitic Writing to the Greek Alphabet 36 The Greek Vowel and Consonant Symbols 36 The Romans Adopt the Greek Alphabet 37
Later Developments of the Roman and Greek Alphabets 38 The Use of Digraphs 39 Additional Symbols 39 The History of English Writing 40 The Germanic Runes 40 The Anglo-Saxon Roman Alphabet 40 The Spelling of English Consonant Sounds 41 Stops 42 Fricatives 42 Affricates 43 Nasals 43 Liquids 43 Semivowels 43 The Spelling of English Vowel Sounds 43 Front Vowels 43 Central Vowel 44 Back Vowels 44 Diphthongs 45 Vowels plus [r] 45 viii CONTENTS Unstressed Vowels 45 Spelling Pronunciations and Pronunciation Spellings 46 Writing and History 47 For Further Reading 48 chapter 4 The Backgrounds of English 49 Indo-European Origins 50
Indo-European Culture 50 The Indo-European Homeland 50 How Indo-European Was Discovered 51 Language Typology and Language Families 52 Non-Indo-European Languages 53 Main Divisions of the Indo-European Group 55 Indo-Iranian 55 Armenian and Albanian 58 Tocharian 58 Anatolian 59 Balto-Slavic 59 Hellenic 60 Italic 60 Celtic 61 Germanic 62 Cognate Words in the Indo-European Languages 63 Inflection in the Indo-European Languages 64 Some Verb Inflections 65 Some Noun Inflections 66 Word Order in the Indo-European Languages 67 Major Changes From Indo-European to Germanic 69 First Sound Shift 71 Grimm’s Law 71 Verner’s Law 73
The Sequence of the First Sound Shift 74 West Germanic Languages 74 For Further Reading 76 chapter 5 The Old English Period (449–1100) 78 Some Key Events in the Old English Period 78 History of the Anglo-Saxons 79 Britain before the English 79 The Coming of the English 79 The English in Britain 81 CONTENTS ix The First Viking Conquest 82 The Second Viking Conquest 83 The Scandinavians Become English 84 The Golden Age of Old English 84 Dialects of Old English 85 Pronunciation and Spelling 86 Vowels 86 Consonants 87 Handwriting 89 Stress 90 Vocabulary 90 The Germanic Word Stock 90 Gender in Old English 91
Grammar, Concord, and Inflection 92 Inflection 92 Nouns 93 i-Umlaut 95 Modern Survivals of Case and Number 96 Modifiers 96 Demonstratives 96 Adjectives 97 Adverbs 98 Pronouns 99 Personal Pronouns 99 Interrogative and Relative Pronouns 100 Verbs 101 Indicative Forms of Verbs 102 Subjunctive and Imperative Forms 102 Nonfinite Forms 102 Weak Verbs 103 Strong Verbs 103 Preterit-Present Verbs 104 Suppletive Verbs 105 Syntax 105 Old English Illustrated 108 For Further Reading 111 chapter 6 The Middle English Period (1100–1500) 112 Some Key Events in the Middle English Period 112 The Background of the Norman Conquest 113
The Reascendancy of English 114 Foreign Influences on Vocabulary 115 Middle English Spelling 116 x CONTENTS Consonants 116 Vowels 118 The Rise of a London Standard 119 Changes in Pronunciation 122 Principal Consonant Changes 122 Middle English Vowels 123 Changes in Diphthongs 124 Lengthening and Shortening of Vowels 126 Leveling of Unstressed Vowels 127 Loss of Schwa in Final Syllables 127 Changes in Grammar 128 Reduction of Inflections 128 Loss of Grammatical Gender 129 Nouns, Pronouns, and Adjectives 129 The Inflection of Nouns 129 Personal Pronouns 130 Demonstrative Pronouns 132 Interrogative and Relative Pronouns 133
Comparative and Superlative Adjectives 133 Verbs 133 Personal Endings 134 Participles 135 Word Order 135 Middle English Illustrated 136 For Further Reading 138 chapter 7 The Early Modern English Period (1500–1800): Society, Spellings, and Sounds 139 Some Key Events in the Early Modern Period 139 The Transition from Middle to Modern English 140 Expansion of the English Vocabulary 140 Innovation of Pronunciation and Conservation of Spelling 141 The Orthography of Early Modern English 141 The Great Vowel Shift 144 Other Vowels 147 Stressed Short Vowels 147 Diphthongs 148 Quantitative Vowel Changes 149
Early Modern English Consonants 149 Evidence for Early Modern Pronunciation 151 Stress 151 Scholarly Studies 151 CONTENTS xi Early Modern English Illustrated 152 Spelling 152 Pronunciation 153 For Further Reading 155 chapter 8 The Early Modern English Period (1500–1800): Forms, Syntax, and Usage 156 The Study of Language 157 Early Dictionaries 157 Eighteenth-Century Attitudes toward Grammar and Usage 158 Nouns 160 Irregular Plurals 161 His-Genitive 161 Group Genitive 162 Uninflected Genitive 163 Adjectives and Adverbs 163 Pronouns 164 Personal Pronouns 164 Relative and Interrogative Pronouns 168
Case Forms of the Pronouns 169 Verbs 170 Classes of Strong Verbs 170 Endings for Person and Number 176 Contracted Forms 177 Expanded Verb Forms 178 Other Verbal Constructions 179 Prepositions 179 Early Modern English Further Illustrated 180 chapter 9 Late Modern English (1800–Present) 181 Some Key Events in the Late Modern Period 181 The National Varieties of English 182 Conservatism and Innovation in American English 183 National Differences in Word Choice 185 American Infiltration of the British Word Stock 186 Syntactical and Morphological Differences 187 British and American Purism 188 Dictionaries and the Facts 189
National Differences in Pronunciation 190 British and American Spelling 193 Variation within National Varieties 194 xii CONTENTS Kinds of Variation 194 Regional Dialects 195 Ethnic and Social Dialects 196 Stylistic Variation 198 Variation within British English 198 World English 199 Irish English 199 Indian English 201 The Essential Oneness of All English 202 For Further Reading 202 chapter 10 Words and Meanings 206 Semantics and Change of Meaning 207 Variable and Vague Meanings 208 Etymology and Meaning 208 How Meaning Changes 209 Generalization and Specialization 210 Transfer of Meaning 211 Association of Ideas 212
Transfer from Other Languages 212 Sound Associations 213 Pejoration and Amelioration 213 Taboo and Euphemism 214 The Fate of Intensifying Words 217 Some Circumstances of Semantic Change 218 Vogue for Words of Learned Origin 219 Language and Semantic Marking 220 Semantic Change is Inevitable 222 For Further Reading 223 chapter 11 New Words from Old 224 Creating Words 224 Root Creations 224 Echoic Words 225 Ejaculations 225 Combining Words: Compounding 227 Spelling and Pronunciation of Compounds 227 Amalgamated Compounds 229 Function and Form of Compounds 230 Combining Word Parts: Affixing 230 Affixes from Old English 230
Affixes from Other Languages 232 CONTENTS xiii Voguish Affixes 233 Shortening Words 235 Clipped Forms 235 Initialisms: Alphabetisms and Acronyms 236 Apheretic and Aphetic Forms 237 Back-Formations 238 Blending Words 239 New Morphemes from Blending 239 Folk Etymology 241 Shifting Words to New Uses 242 One Part of Speech to Another 242 Common Words from Proper Names 243 Sources of New Words 245 Distribution of New Words 245 For Further Reading 246 chapter 12 Foreign Elements in the English Word Stock 247 Popular and Learned Loanwords 248 Latin and Greek Loanwords 248 Latin Influence in the Germanic Period 248
Latin Words in Old English 249 Latin Words Borrowed in Middle English Times 250 Latin Words Borrowed in Modern English Times 251 Greek Loanwords 251 Celtic Loanwords 252 Scandinavian Loanwords 253 Old and Middle English Borrowings 253 Modern English Borrowings 254 French Loanwords 254 Middle English Borrowings 254 Later French Loanwords 256 Spanish and Portuguese Loanwords 258 Italian Loanwords 259 Germanic Loanwords 260 Loanwords from Low German 260 Loanwords from High German 261 Loanwords from the East 262 Near East 262 Iran and India 263 Far East and Australasia 264 Other Sources 265 Loanwords from African Languages 265
Slavic, Hungarian, Turkish, and American Indian 266 xiv CONTENTS The Sources of Recent Loanwords 266 English Remains English 267 For Further Reading 268 Selected Bibliography 269 Glossary 281 Index of Modern English Words and Affixes 301 Index of Persons, Places, and Topics 329 CONTENTS xv This page intentionally left blank CHAPTER ±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±±± Language and the 1 English Language An Introduction The English language has had a remarkable history. When we first catch sight of it in historical records, it is the speech of some none-too-civilized tribes on the continent of Europe along the North Sea.
Of course, it had a still earlier history, going back perhaps to somewhere in eastern Europe or western Asia, and long before that to origins we can only speculate about. From those murky and undistinguished beginnings, English has become the most widespread language in the world, used by more peoples for more purposes than any other language on Earth. How the English language changed from being the speech of a few small tribes to becoming the major language of the Earth—and in the process itself changed radically— is the subject of this book.
Whatever language we speak—English, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, or Arapaho— helps to define us personally and identify the community we belong to. But the fact that we can talk at all, the fact that we have a language, is inextricably bound up with our humanity. To be human is to use language, and to talk is to be a person. As the biologist and author Lewis Thomas wrote: The gift of language is the single human trait that marks us all genetically, setting us apart from the rest of life. Language is, like nest-building or hive-making, the universal and biologically specific activity of human beings.
We engage in it communally, compulsively, and automatically. We cannot be human without it; if we were to be separated from it our minds would die, as surely as bees lost from the hive. (Lives of a Cell 89) The language gift that is innate in us is not English or indeed any specific language. It is instead the ability to learn and to use a human language. When we say, “Bread is the staff of life,” we do not mean any particular kind of bread— whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, French, matzo, pita, or whatever sort. We are talking instead about the kind of thing bread is, what all bread has in common.
So also, when we say that language is the basis of our humanity, we do not mean any particular language—English, Spanish, Japanese, Tagalog, Hopi, or ASL (American Sign Language of the deaf). Rather we mean the ability to learn and 1 use any such particular language system, an ability that all human beings naturally have. This ability is language in the abstract, as distinct from any individual language system. A DEFINITION OF LANGUAGE A language is a system of conventional vocal signs by means of which human beings communicate. This definition has several important terms, each of which is examined in some detail in the following sections.
Those terms are system, signs, vocal, conventional, human, and communicate. LANGUAGE AS SYSTEM Perhaps the most important word in the definition of language is system. We speak in patterns. A language is not just a collection of words, such as we find in a dictionary. It is also the rules or patterns that relate our words to one another. Every language has two levels to its system—a characteristic that is called duality of patterning. One of these levels consists of meaningful units—for example, the words and word parts such as Adam, like, -d, apple, and -s in the sentence “Adam liked apples. The other level consists of units that have no meaning in themselves, although they serve as components of the meaningful units—for example, the sounds represented by the letters a, d, and m in the word Adam. The distinction between a meaningful word (Adam) and its meaningless parts (a, d, and m) is important. Without that distinction, language as we know it would be impossible. If every meaning had to be represented by a unique, unanalyzable sound, only a few such meanings could be expressed. We have only about 35 basic sounds in English; we have hundreds of thousands of words.
Duality of patterning lets us build an immensely large number of meaningful words out of only a handful of meaningless sounds. It is perhaps the chief characteristic that distinguishes true human language from the simpler communication systems of all nonhuman animals. The meaningless components of a language are its sound system, or phonology. The meaningful units are its lexis, or vocabulary, and its grammatical system, or morphosyntax. All have patterning. Thus, according to the sound system of Modern English, the consonant combination mb never occurs at the beginning or at the end of any word.
As a matter of fact, it did occur in final position in earlier stages of our language, which is why it was necessary in the preceding statement to specify “Modern English. ” Despite the complete absence of the sounds mb at the ends of English words for at least 600 years, we still insist on writing—such is the conservatism of writing habits—the b in lamb, climb, tomb, dumb, and a number of other words. But this same combination, which now occurs only medially in English (as in tremble), may well occur finally or even initially in other languages.
Initial mb is indeed a part of the systems of certain African languages, as in Efik and Ibibio mbakara ‘white man,’ which became buckra in the speech of the Gullahs—black Americans living along the coastal region of Georgia and South Carolina who have preserved a number of words and structural features that their ancestors brought from Africa. It is notable that the Gullahs simplified the initial 2 chapter 1 consonant combination of this African word to conform to the pattern of English speech. The lexis or vocabulary of a language is its least systematic aspect.
Grammar is sometimes defined as everything in a language that can be stated in general rules, and lexis as everything that is unpredictable. But that is not quite true. Certain combinations of words, called collocations, are more or less predictable. Mild and gentle are words of very similar meaning, but they go with different nouns: “mild weather” and “gentle breeze” are somewhat more likely than the opposite combinations (“mild breeze” and “gentle weather”). A case of the flu may be severe or mild; a judgment is likely to be severe or lenient.
A “mild judgment” would be a bit odd, and a “lenient case of the flu” sounds like a joke. Some collocations are so regular that they are easily predictable. In the following sentence, one word is more probable than any other in the blank: “In its narrow cage, the lion paced back and . ” Although several words are possible in the blank (for example, forward or even ahead), forth is the most likely. Some combinations are completely predictable: “They ran fro. ” Fro is normal in present-day English only in the expression “to and fro. ” The tendency of certain words to collocate or go together is an instance of system in the vocabulary.
In the grammatical system of English, a very large number of words take a suffix written as -s to indicate plurality or possession. In the latter case, it is a comparatively recent convention of writing to add an apostrophe. Words that can be thus modified are nouns. They fit into certain patterns in English utterances. Alcoholic, for instance, fits into the system of English in the same way as duck, dog, and horse: “Alcoholics need understanding” (compare “Ducks need water”), “An alcoholic’s perceptions are faulty” (compare “A dog’s perceptions are keen”), and the like.
But that word can also modify a noun and be modified by an adverb: “an alcoholic drink,” “somewhat alcoholic,” and the like; and words that operate in the latter way are called adjectives. Alcoholic is thus either an adjective or a noun, depending on the way it functions in the system of English. The utterance “Alcoholic worries” is ambiguous because our system, like all linguistic systems, is not completely foolproof. It might be either a noun followed by a verb (in a newspaper headline) or an adjective followed by a noun.
To know which interpretation is correct, we need a context for the expression. That is, we need to relate it to a larger structure. Grammatical Signals The grammatical system of any language has various techniques for relating words to one another within the structure of a sentence. The following kinds of signals are especially important. • Parts of speech are grammatical categories into which we can classify words. The four major ones are noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Some words elong primarily or solely to one part of speech: child is a noun, seek is a verb, tall is an adjective, and rapidly is an adverb. Other words can function as more than one part of speech; in various meanings, last can be any of the four major parts. English speakers move words about pretty freely from one part of speech to another, as when we call a book that is enjoyable to read “a good read,” language and the english language 3 making a noun out of a verb. Part of knowing English is knowing how words can be shifted in that way and what the limits are to such shifting. Affixes are one or more added sounds or letters that change a word’s meaning and sometimes alter its part of speech. When an affix comes at the front of a word, it is a prefix, such as the en- in encipher, enrage, enthrone, entomb, entwine, and enwrap, which marks those words as verbs. When an affix comes at the back of a word, it is a suffix, such as the -ist in dentist, geologist, motorist, and violinist, which marks those words as nouns. English has a small number of inflectional suffixes (endings that mark distinctions of number, case, person, tense, mood, and comparison).
They include the plural -s and the possessive ’s used with nouns (boys, boy’s); the third person singular present tense -s, the past tense and past participle -ed, and the present participle -ing used with verbs (aids, aided, aiding); and the comparative -er and superlative -est used with some adjectives and adverbs (slower, slowest). Inflection (the change in form of a word to mark such distinctions) may also involve internal change, as in the singular and plural noun forms man and men or the present and past verb forms sing and sang.
A language that depends heavily on the use of inflections, either internal or affixed, is said to be synthetic; English used to be far more synthetic than it now is. • Concord, or agreement, is an interconnection between words, especially marked by their inflections. Thus, “The bird sings” and “The birds sing” illustrate subject-verb concord. (It is just a coincidence that the singular ending of some verbs is identical in form with the plural ending of some nouns. Similarly, in “this day” both words are singular, and in “these days” both are plural; some languages, such as Spanish, require that all modifiers agree with the nouns they modify in number, but in English only this and that change their form to show such agreement. Highly synthetic languages, such as Latin, usually have a great deal of concord; thus Latin adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in number (bonus vir ‘good man,’ boni viri ‘good men’), in gender (bona femina ‘good woman’), and in case (bonae feminae ‘good woman’s’).
English once used concord more than it now does. • Word order is a grammatical signal in all languages, though some languages, like English, depend more heavily on it than others do. “The man finished the job” and “The job finished the man” are sharply different in meaning, as are “He died happily” and “Happily he died. ” • Function words are minor parts of speech (for example, articles, auxiliaries, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, and certain adverbial particles) that serve as grammatical signals used with word order to serve some of the same functions as inflections.
For example, in English the indirect object of a verb can be shown by either word order (“I gave the dog a bone”) or a function word (“I gave a bone to the dog”); in Latin it is shown by inflection (canis ‘the dog,’ Cani os dedi ‘To-the-dog a-bone I-gave’). A language like English whose grammar depends heavily on the use of word order and function words is said to be analytic. • Prosodic signals, such as pitch, stress, and tempo, can indicate grammatical meaning. The difference between the statement “He’s here” and the question 4 chapter 1 “He’s here? ” is the pitch used at the end of the sentence.
The chief difference between the verb conduct and the noun conduct is that the verb has a stronger stress on its second syllable and the noun on its first syllable. In “He died happily” and “He died, happily,” the tempo of the last two words makes an important difference of meaning. All languages have these kinds of grammatical signals available to them, but languages differ greatly in the use they make of the various signals. And even a single language may change its use over time, as English has. LANGUAGE AS SIGNS In language, signs are what the system organizes.
A sign is something that stands for something else—for example, a word like apple, which stands for the familiar fruit. But linguistic signs are not words alone; they may also be either smaller or larger than whole words. The smallest linguistic sign is the morpheme, a meaningful form that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. The word apple is a single morpheme; applejack consists of two morphemes, each of which can also function independently as a word. Apples also has two morphemes, but one (-s) can occur only as part of a word. Morphemes that can be used alone as words (such as apple and jack) are called free morphemes.
Those that must be combined with other morphemes to make a word (such as -s) are bound morphemes. The word reactivation has five morphemes in it (one free and four bound), as a stepby- step analysis shows: re-activation activate-ion active-ate act-ive Thus reactivation has one free morpheme (act) and four bound morphemes (re-, -ive, -ate, and -ion). A word cannot be divided into morphemes just by sounding out its syllables. Some morphemes, like apple, have more than one syllable; others, like -s, are less than a syllable. A morpheme is a form (a sequence of sounds) with a recognizable meaning.
Knowing a word’s early history, or etymology, may be useful in dividing it into morphemes, but the decisive factor is the form-meaning link. A morpheme may, however, have more than one pronunciation or spelling. For example, the regular noun plural ending has two spellings (-s and -es) and three pronunciations (an s-sound as in backs, a z-sound as in bags, and a vowel plus z-sound as in batches). Each spoken variation is called an allomorph of the plural morpheme. Similarly, when the morpheme -ate is followed by -ion (as in activateion), the t of -ate combines with the i of -ion as the sound “sh” (so we might spell the word “activashon”).
Such allomorphic variation is typical of the morphemes of English, even though the spelling does not represent it. Morphemes can also be classified as base morphemes and affixes. An affix is a bound morpheme that is added to a base morpheme, either a prefix (such as re-) or a suffix (such as -s, -ive, -ate, and -ion). Most base morphemes are free (such as language and the english language 5 apple and act), but some are bound (such as the insul- of insulate). A word that has two or more bases (such as applejack) is called a compound. A linguistic sign may be word-sized or smaller—a free or a bound morpheme.
But it may also be larger than a word. An idiom is a combination of words whose meaning cannot be predicted from its constituent parts. One kind of idiom is the combination of a verb with an adverb, a preposition, or both—for instance, turn on (a light), call up (on the telephone), take over (a business), ask for (a job), come down with (an illness), and go back on (a promise). Such an expression is a single semantic unit: to go back on is to ‘abandon’ a promise. But from the standpoint of grammar, several independent words are involved. LANGUAGE AS VOCAL
Language is a system that can be expressed in many ways—by the marks on paper or a computer screen that we call writing, by hand signals and gestures as in sign language, by colored lights or moving flags as in semaphore, and by electronic clicks as in old-fashioned telegraphy. However, the signs of language—its words and morphemes—are basically vocal, or oral-aural, being sounds produced by the mouth and received by the ear. If human communication had developed primarily as a system of gestures (like the sign language of the deaf), it would have been quite different from what it is.
Because sounds follow one another sequentially in time, language has a one-dimensional quality (like the letters we use to represent it in writing), whereas gestures can fill the three dimensions of space as well as the fourth dimension of time. The ears can hear sounds coming from any direction, but the eyes can see gestures made only in front of them. The ears can hear through physical barriers, such as walls, which the eyes cannot see through. Speech has both advantages and disadvantages in comparison with gestures; but on the whole, it is undoubtedly superior, as its evolutionary survival demonstrates.
Writing and Speech Because writing has become so important in our culture, we sometimes think of it as more real than speech. A little thought, however, will show why speech is primary and writing secondary to language. Human beings have been writing (as far as we can tell from the surviving evidence) for at least 5000 years; but they have been talking for much longer, doubtless ever since they were fully human. When writing developed, it was derived from and represented speech, albeit imperfectly (see Chapter 3). Even today there are spoken languages that have no written form.
Furthermore, we learn to talk long before we learn to write; any human child without physical or mental limitations will learn to talk, and most human beings cannot be prevented from doing so. It is as though we were “programmed” to acquire language in the form of speech. On the other hand, it takes a special effort to learn to write. In the past, many intelligent and useful members of society did not acquire that skill, and even today many who speak languages with writing systems never learn to read or write, while some who learn the rudiments of those skills do so only imperfectly.
To affirm the primacy of speech over writing is not, however, to disparage the latter. If speaking makes us human, writing makes us civilized. Writing has some 6 chapter 1 advantages over speech. For example, it is more permanent, thus making possible the records that any civilization must have. Writing is also capable of easily making some distinctions that speech can make only with difficulty. We can, for example, indicate certain types of pauses more clearly by the spaces that we leave between words when we write than we ordinarily are able to do when we speak.
Grade A may well be heard as gray day, but there is no mistaking the one phrase for the other in writing. Similarly, the comma distinguishes “a pretty, hot day” from “a pretty hot day” more clearly than these phrases are often distinguished in actual speech. But the question mark does not distinguish between “Why did you do it? ” (I didn’t hear you the first time you told me), with rising pitch at the end, and “Why did you do it? ” (You didn’t tell me), with falling terminal pitch. Nor can we show in writing the difference between sound quality ‘tone’ (as in “The sound quality of the recording was excellent”) nd sound quality ‘good grade’ (as in “The materials were of sound quality”)—a difference that we signal very easily in speech by strongly stressing sound in the first sentence and the first syllable of quality in the second. Incense ‘enrage’ and incense ‘aromatic substance for burning’ are likewise sharply differentiated in speech by the position of the stress, as sewer ‘conduit’ and sewer ‘one who sews’ are differentiated by vowel quality. In writing we can distinguish those words only in context. Words that are pronounced alike are called homophones.
They may be spelled the same, such as bear ‘carry’ and bear ‘animal,’ or they may be distinguished in spelling, such as bare ‘naked’ and either of the bear words. Words that are written alike are called homographs. They may also be pronounced the same, such as the two bear words or tear ‘to rip’ and tear ‘spree’ (as in “He went on a tear”), or they may be distinguished in pronunciation, such as tear ‘a drop from the eye’ and either of the other two tear words. Homonym is a term that covers either homophones or homographs, that is, a word either pronounced or spelled like another, such as all bear/bare and tear words.
Homophones are the basis of puns, as in childish jokes about “a bear behind” and “seven days without chocolate make one weak,” whose written forms resolve the ambiguity of their spoken forms. But William Shakespeare was by no means averse to this sort of thing: puns involving tale and tail, whole and hole, hoar and whore, and a good many other homophones (some, like stale and steal, no longer homophonous) occur rather frequently in the writings of our greatest poet. The conventions of writing differ somewhat from those of ordinary speech.
For instance, we ordinarily write was not, do not, and would not, although we usually say wasn’t, don’t, and wouldn’t. Furthermore, our choice of words is likely to be different in writing and in everyday speech. But these are stylistic matters, as is also the fact that writing tends to be somewhat more conservative than speech. Representing the spellings of one language by those of another is transliteration, which must not be confused with translation, the interpretation of one language by another. Greek ??? an be transliterated pyr, as in pyromaniac, or translated fire, as in firebug. One language can be written in several orthographies (or writing systems). When the president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later called Kemal Ataturk), in 1928 substituted the Roman alphabet for the Arabic in writing Turkish, the Turkish language and the english language 7 language changed no more than time changed when he introduced the Gregorian calendar in his country to replace the Islamic lunar one used earlier. Gestures and Speech
Such specialized gestures as the indifferent shrug of the shoulders, the admonitory shaking of the finger, the lifting up of the hand in greeting and the waving of it in parting, the widening of the eyes in astonishment, the scornful lifting of the brows, the approving nod, and the disapproving sideways shaking of the head—all these need not accompany speech at all; they themselves communicate. Indeed, there is some reason to think that gestures are older than spoken language and are the matrix out of which it developed. Like language itself, such gestures vary in use and meaning from one culture to another.
In India, a sideways wagging of the head indicates that the head-wagger understands what another person is saying. When gestures accompany speech, they may be more or less unconscious, like the crossed arms of a person talking with another, indicating a lack of openness to the other’s ideas. The study of such communicative body movements is known as kinesics. Our various tones of voice—the drawl, the sneer, the shout, the whimper, the simper, and the like—also play a part in communication (which we recognize when we say, “I didn’t mind what he said, I just didn’t like the way he said it”).
The tones and gestures that accompany speech are not language, but rather parallel systems of communication called paralanguage. Other vocalizations that are communicative, like laughing, crying, groaning, and yelping, usually do not accompany speech as tones of voice do, though they may come before or after it. LANGUAGE AS CONVENTIONAL Writing is obviously conventional because we can represent the same language by more than one writing system.
Japanese, for example, is written with kanji (ideographs representing whole words), with either of two syllabaries (writing systems that present each syllable with a separate symbol), or with the letters of the Roman alphabet. Similarly, we could by general agreement reform English spelling (soe dhat, for egzammpul, wee spelt it liek dhis). We can change the conventions of our writing system merely by agreeing to do so. Although it is not so obvious, speech is also conventional. To be sure, all languages share certain natural, inherent, or universal features.
The human vocal apparatus (lips, teeth, tongue, and so forth) makes it inevitable that human languages have only a limited range of sounds. Likewise, since all of us live in the same universe and perceive our universe through the same senses with more or less the same basic mental equipment, it is hardly surprising that we should find it necessary to talk about more or less the same things in more or less similar ways. Nevertheless, the world’s many languages are conventional and generally arbitrary; that is to say, there is usually no connection between the sounds we make and the phenomena of life.
A comparatively small number of echoic words imitate, more or less closely, other sounds. Bow-wow seems to English speakers to 8 chapter 1 be a fairly accurate imitation of the sound made by a dog and therefore not to be wholly arbitrary, but it is highly doubtful that a dog would agree, particularly a French dog, which says gnaf-gnaf, or a German one, which says wau-wau, or a Japanese one, which says wung-wung. In Norway cows do not say “moo” but mmmooo, sheep do not say “baa” but m? , and pigs do not say “oink” but noffnoff. Norwegian hens very sensibly say klukk-klukk, though doubtless with a heavy Norwegian accent.
The process of echoing such sounds (also called onomatopoeia) is conventional. Most people assume that their language is the best—and so it is for them, because they mastered it well enough for their own purposes so long ago that they cannot remember when or how. It seems to them more logical and sensible, more natural, than the way others talk. But there is nothing really natural about any language, since all these highly systematized and conventionalized methods of human communication must be acquired. There is, for instance, nothing natural in our use of is in such a sentence as “The woman is busy. The utterance can be made just as effectively without that verb, and some languages do get along perfectly well without it. This use of the verb to be was, as a matter of fact, late in developing and never developed in Russian. To the speaker of Russian it is more “natural” to say “Zhenshchina zanyata”— literally, “Woman busy”—which sounds to our ears so much like baby talk that the unsophisticated speaker of English might well (though quite wrongly) conclude that Russian is a childish tongue. The system of Russian also manages to struggle along without the definite article the.
As a matter of fact, the speaker of Russian never misses it—nor should we if it had not become conventional with us. To a naive speaker of English, calling the organ of sight eye may seem perfectly natural, and those who call it anything else—like the Germans, who call it Auge, the Russians, who call it glaz, or the Japanese, who call it me—are likely to be regarded as unfortunate because they do not speak languages in which things are properly named. The fact is, however, that eye, which we pronounce exactly like I (a fact that might be cited against it by a foreign speaker), is the name of the organ only in present-day English.
It has not always been so. Londoners of the fourteenth century pronounced the word with two syllables, something like “ee-eh. ” If we chose to go back to King Alfred’s day in the late ninth century, we would find yet another form of the word from which Modern English eye developed. The Scots are not being quaint or perverse when they say “ee” for eye, as in Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse”: Still thou art blest, compared wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee: But och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear!
The Scots form is merely a variant of the word—a perfectly legitimate pronunciation that happens not to occur in standard Modern English. Knowledge of such changes within a single language should dissipate the notion that any word is more appropriate than any other word, except in a purely chronological and social sense. language and the english language 9 Language Change Change is normal in language. Every language is constantly turning into something different, and when we hear a new word or a new pronunciation or use of an old word, we may be catching the early stages of a change.
Change is natural because a language system is culturally transmitted. Like other conventional matters—such as fashions in clothing, hairstyles, cooking, entertainment, and government—language is constantly being revised. Language evolves more slowly than do some other cultural activities, but its change is continuous and inevitable. There are three general causes of language change. First, words and sounds may affect neighboring words and sounds. For example, sandwich is often pronounced, not as the spelling suggests, but in ways that might be represented as “sanwich,” “sanwidge,” “samwidge,” or even “sammidge. Such spellings look illiterate, but they represent perfectly normal, though informal, pronunciations that result from the position of a sound within the word. When nearby elements thus influence one another within the flow of speech, the result is called syntagmatic change. Second, words and sounds may be affected by others that are not immediately present but with which they are associated. For example, the side of a ship on which it was laden (that is, loaded) was called the ladeboard, but its opposite, starboard, influenced a change in pronunciation to larboard.
Then, because larboard was likely to be confused with starboard because of their similarity of sound, it was generally replaced by port. Such change is called paradigmatic or associative change. Third, a language may change because of the influence of events in the world. New technologies like the World Wide Web require new forms like google ‘to search the Internet for information’ and wiki (as in Wikipedia) ‘a Website, database, or software for creating Web sites, especially collaborative ones,’ from the Hawaiian word for ‘fast. New forms of human behavior, however bizarre, require new terms like suicide bomber. New concepts in science require new terms like transposon ‘a transposable gene in DNA. ’ In addition, new contacts with persons who use speechways different from our own may affect our pronunciation, vocabulary, and even grammar. Social change thus modifies speech. The documented history of the English language begins about A. D. 700, with the oldest written records. We can reconstruct some of the prehistory before that time, to as early as about 4000 B. C. but the farther back in time we go, the less certain we can be about what the language was like. The history of our language is traditionally divided into three periods: Old English, from the earliest records (or from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England around A. D. 450) to about 1100; Middle English, approximately from 1100 to 1500; and Modern English, since about 1500. The lines dividing the three periods are based on significant changes in the language about those times, but major cultural changes around 1100 and 1500 also contribute to our sense of new beginnings.
These matters are treated in detail in Chapters 5 through 8. The Notion of Linguistic Corruption A widely held notion resulting from a misunderstanding of change is that there are ideal forms of languages, thought of as “pure,” and that existing languages represent corruptions of earlier ideal ones. Thus, the Greek spoken today is supposed to 10 chapter 1 be a degraded form of Classical Greek rather than what it really is, a development of it. Since the Romance languages are developments of Latin, it would follow from this point of view that they also are corrupt, although this assumption is not usually made.
Those who admire or profess to admire Latin literature sometimes suppose that a stage of perfection had been reached in Classical Latin and that every subsequent development in Latin was an irreparable deterioration. From this point of view, the late development of Latin spoken in the early Middle Ages (sometimes called Vulgar, or popular, Latin) is “bad” Latin, which, strange as it may seem, was ultimately to become “good” Italian, French, Spanish, and so on. Because we hear so much about “pure” English, we might carefully examine this notion.
When Captain Frederick Marryat, an English novelist, visited the United States in 1837–1838, he thought it “remarkable how very debased the language has become in a short period in America,” adding that “if their lower classes are more intelligible than ours, it is equally true that the higher classes do not speak the language so purely or so classically as it is spoken among the well-educated English. ” Both statements are nonsense. The first is based on the captain’s apparent notion that the English language had reached a stage of perfection at the time English-speaking people first settled America.
After this, presumably because of the innate depravity of those English settlers who brought their language to the New World, it had taken a steadily downward course, whatever that may mean. One wonders also precisely how Marryat knew what constituted “classical” or “pure” English. It is probable that he was merely attributing certain superior qualities to that type of English that he was accustomed to hear from persons of good social standing in the land of his birth and that he himself spoke. Any divergence was “debased”: “My speech is pure; thine, wherein it differs from mine, is corrupt. Language Variation In addition to its change through the years, at any given period of time a language exists in many varieties. Historical, or diachronic, variation is matched by contemporary, or synchronic, variation. The latter is of two kinds: dialects and registers. A dialect is the variety of a language associated with a particular place (Boston or New Orleans), social level (standard or nonstandard), ethnic group (Jewish or African-American), sex (male or female), age grade (teenage or mature), and so on.
Most of us have a normal way of using language that is an intersection of such dialects and that marks us as being, for example, a middle-aged, white, cultured, female Charlestonian of old family or a young, urban, working-class, male Hispanic from New York City. Some people have more than one such dialect personality; national politicians, for example, may use a Washingtonian government dialect when they are doing their job and a “down-home” dialect when they are interacting with their voters.
Ultimately, each of us has a unique, personal way of using language, an idiolect, which identifies us for those who know us. A register is the variety of a language used for a particular purpose: sermon language (which may have a distinctive rhythm and sentence melody and include words like brethren and beloved), restaurant-menu language (which is full of “tasty adjectives” like garden-fresh and succulent), telephone-conversation language (in which the speech of the secondary participant is full of uh-huh, I see, yeah, and language and the english language 11 h), postcard language (in which the subjects of sentences are frequently omitted: “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here. ”), and e-mail and instant-messaging language with abbreviations like BTDT (been there, done that), CUL8ER (see you later), CYO (see you online), and LOL (laughing out loud). Everyone uses several registers, and the more varied the circumstances under which we talk and write, the more registers we use. The dialects we speak help to define who we are. They tell those who hear us where we come from, our social or ethnic identification, and other such intimate facts about us.
The registers we use reflect the circumstances in which we are communicating. They indicate where we are speaking or writing, to whom, via what medium, about what subject, and for what purpose. Dialects and registers provide options—alternative ways of using language. And those options confront us with the question of what is the right or best alternative. Correctness and Acceptability The concept of an absolute and unwavering, presumably God-given standard of linguistic correctness (sometimes confused with “purity”) is widespread, even among the educated.
Those who subscribe to this notion become greatly exercised over such matters as split infinitives, the “incorrect” position of only, and prepositions at the ends of sentences. All these supposed “errors” have been committed time and again by eminent writers and speakers, so that one wonders how those who condemn them know that they are bad. Robert Lowth, who wrote one of the most influential English grammars of the eighteenth century (A Short Introduction to English Grammar, 1762), was praised by one of his admirers for showing “the grammatic inaccuracies that have escaped the pens of our most distinguished writers. One would suppose that the language of “our most distinguished writers” would be good usage. But Lowth and his followers knew, or thought they knew, better; and their attitude survives to this day. This is not, of course, to deny that there are standards of usage, but only to suggest that standards must be based on the usage of speakers and writers of generally acknowledged excellence—quite a different thing from a subservience to the mandates of badly informed “authorities” who are guided by their own prejudices rather than by a study of the actual usage of educated and accomplished speakers and writers.
To talk about “correctness” in language implies that there is some abstract, absolute standard by which words and grammar can be judged; something is either “correct” or “incorrect”—and that’s all there is to that. But the facts of language are not so clean-cut. Instead, many students of usage today prefer to talk about acceptability, that is, the degree to which users of a language will judge an expression as OK or will let its use pass without noticing anything out of the ordinary. An acceptable expression is one that people do not object to, indeed do not even notice unless it is called to their attention.
Acceptability is not absolute, but is a matter of degree; one expression may be more or less acceptable than another. “If I were in your shoes” may be judged more acceptable than “If I was in your shoes,” but both are considerably more acceptable than “If we was in your shoes. ” Moreover, acceptability is not abstract, but is related to some group of people whose response it reflects. Thus most 12 chapter 1 Americans pronounce the past-tense verb ate like eight and regard any other pronunciation as unacceptable. Many Britons, on the other hand, pronounce it as “ett” and find the American preference less acceptable.
Acceptability is part of the convention of language use; in talking about it, we must always keep in mind “How acceptable? ” and “To whom? ” LANGUAGE AS HUMAN As noted at the beginning of this chapter, language is a specifically human activity. That statement, however, raises several questions. When and how did human beings acquire language? To what extent is language innate, and to what extent is it learned? How does human language differ from the communication systems of other creatures? We will look briefly at each of these questions.
Theories of the Origin of Language The ultimate origin of language is a matter of speculation since we have no real information about it. The earliest languages for which we have records are already in a high stage of development, and the same is true of languages spoken by technologically primitive peoples. The problem of how language began has tantalized philosophical minds, and many theories have been advanced, to which waggish scholars have given such fanciful names as the pooh-pooh theory, the bow-wow theory, the ding-dong theory, and the yo-he-ho theory.
The nicknames indicate how seriously the theories need be taken: they are based, respectively, on the notions that language was in the beginning ejaculatory, or echoic (onomatopoeic), or characterized by a mystic appropriateness of sound to sense in contrast to being merely imitative, or made up of grunts and groans emitted in the course of group actions. According to one theory, the early prelanguage of human beings was a mixture of gestures and sounds in which the gestures carried most of the meaning and the sounds were used chiefly to “punctuate” or amplify the gestures—just the reverse of our use of speech and hand signals.
Eventually human physiology and behavior changed in several related ways. The human brain, which had been expanding in size, lateralized—that is, each half came to specialize in certain activities, and language ability was localized in the left hemisphere of most persons. As a consequence, “handedness” developed (right-handedness for those with left-hemisphere dominance), and there was greater manual specialization. As people had more things to do with their hands, they could use them less for communication and had to rely more on sounds.
Therefore, increasingly complex forms of oral signals developed, and language as we know it evolved. The fact that we human beings alone have vocal language but share with our closest animal kin (the apes) an ability to learn complex gesture systems suggests that manual signs may have preceded language as a form of communication. We cannot know how language really began; we can be sure only of its immense antiquity. However human beings started to talk, they did so long ago, and it was not until much later that they devised a system of making marks on wood, stone, or clay to represent what they said.
Compared with language, writing is a newfangled invention, although certainly not less brilliant for being so. language and the english language 13 Innate Language Ability The acquisition of language would seem to be an arduous task. But it is a task that children all over the world seem not to mind in the least. Moreover, children in daily contact with a language other than their “home” language—that of their parents—readily learn to speak the other language with a native accent. After childhood, however, perhaps in the teen years, most people find it difficult to learn a new language.
Young children seem to be genetically equipped with an ability to acquire language. But after a while, that automatic ability atrophies, and learning a new language becomes a chore. To be sure, children of five or so have not acquired all of the words or grammatical constructions they will need as they grow up. But they have mastered the basics of the language they will speak for the rest of their lives. The immensity of that accomplishment can be appreciated by anyone who has learned a second language as an adult.
It is clear that, although every particular language has to be learned, the ability to acquire and use language is a part of our genetic inheritance and operates most efficiently in our younger years. Do Birds and Beasts Really Talk? Some animals are physically just about as well equipped as humans to produce speech sounds, and some—certain birds, for instance—have in fact been taught to do so. But no other species makes use of a system of sounds even remotely resembling ours. Human language and animal communication are fundamentally different.
In the second half of the twentieth century, a trio of chimpanzees—Sarah, Lana, and Washoe—greatly modified our ideas about the linguistic abilities of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. After several efforts to teach chimps to talk had ended in almost total failure, it was generally concluded that apes lack the cognitive ability to learn language. Some psychologists reasoned, however, that the main problem might be a simple anatomical limitation: human vocal organs are so different from the corresponding ones in apes that the animals cannot produce the sounds of human speech.
If they have the mental, but not the physical, ability to talk, then they should be able to learn a language using a medium other than sound. Sarah was taught to communicate by arranging plastic tokens of arbitrary color and shape. Each of the tokens, which were metal-backed and placed on a magnetized board, represented a word in the system, and groups of tokens corresponded to sentences. Sarah learned over a hundred tokens and could manage sentences of the complexity of “Sarah take banana if-then Mary no give chocolate Sarah” (that is, ‘If Sarah takes a banana, Mary won’t give Sarah any chocolate’).
Lana also used word symbols, but hers were on a typewriter connected to a computer. She communicated with people, and they with her via the computer. Typed-out messages appeared on a screen and had to conform exactly to the rules of “word” order of the system Lana had been taught, if she was to get what she asked for (food, drink, companionship, and the like). Washoe, in the most interesting of these efforts to teach animals a language, was schooled in a gesture language used by the deaf, American Sign Language. 14 chapter 1
Her remarkable success in learning to communicate with this quite natural and adaptable system has resulted in its being taught to a number of other chimpanzees and gorillas. The apes learn signs, use them appropriately, combine them meaningfully, and when occasion requires even invent new signs or combinations. For example, one of the apes made up the terms “candydrink” and “drinkfruit” to talk about watermelons. The linguistic accomplishment of these apes is remarkable; nevertheless, it is a far cry from the fullness of a human language.
The number of signs or tokens the ape learns, the complexity of the syntax with which those signs are combined, and the breadth of ideas that they represent are all far more restricted than in any human language. Moreover, human linguistic systems have been fundamentally shaped by the fact that they are expressed in sound. Vocalness of language is no mere incidental characteristic but rather is central to the nature of language. We must still say that only human beings have language in the full sense of that term. LANGUAGE AS COMMUNICATION
The purpose of language is to communicate, whether with others by