A Brief History of the English Language

History of English



A Brief History of the English Language

A Brief History of the English Language





A Brief History of the English Language




Menonim Menonimus




Internet Edition 



A Brief History of the English Language ‘by Menonim Menonimus, Published by www.menonimus.org

A Brief History of the English Language 

Internet Edition


A Brief History of the English Language 



D.T.P. by A. Shahriar

A Brief History of the English Language 

Printed at:

A Brief History of the English Language






I. Characteristics of Old English

II. Characteristics of the Modern English Language


English as a Masculine Language



I. Latin Influences  on English

II. Scandinavian (Norse) Influences on English

III. Greek Influences on English

IV. French (Norman) Influences on English

V. Influences or Contributions of the English Bible to English

VI. Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

VII. Loan Words as the Milestone of English 



The Great Vowel Shift


The Great Consonant Shift



The process of Word Formation in English

A.  Composition

B. Derivation

C. Back Formation

D. Shortening

E. Words of Unknown Etymology

F. Words Formed From Place Names and Proper Names

H. Words Used as Verb and Noun

G. Telescoping



A. The Origin and Development of Plural Ending in English

B. An Essay on Standard English

C. Difference Between American English and British (Royal) English

D. The History of ‘-Ing’ 



1. Note on Hybridism

2. Note on Johnsonese

3. Note on Archaism

4. Note on Euphemism

5. Note on Malapropism

6. Note on Haplology

7. Note on Slang




Language is a unique gift of Nature to human beings and this gift has differentiated man from other beings of nature.  It is known that there are about 6,500 spoken languages in the world. Again a language differs from region to region, tribe to tribe, and clan to clan of human race. Since my childhood, I was curious about knowing how the languages we speak came into being and why the languages differ from nation to nation and region to region. Hence to quench my curiosity, I took to study books of philology. But it is a vast and complex subject. There are many standard and research books on the subject. But these books are not easy to understand for common readers. So, after my considerate study of the subject, I undertook to write out a book of English philology in an easily graspable scope. The present book entitled ‘A Brief History of the English Language’ is the outcome of such an undertaking. Here I  frankly admit my limitation that this book is in no way an exhaustive one; it contains only some selected topics of English Philology. I think this book would serve the primary purpose of those readers who are anxious enough to have a pre-knowledge of a vast subject like philology.

I claim no originality in this work. I have read the standard books on this subject and compiled the selected matters from those books and presented them in this volume in an easily graspable style. I hope that the students and the readers, in general, would be able to grasp general knowledge of the origin, formation and development of the English language. Hope that my dear readers would like the book.

At last, I offer my thanks and gratitude to those writers and scholars whose works I have used as resources for this book.

Menonim Menonimus,

Santi Kanan.


A Brief History of the English Language







The English language took birth in the mouth of the Anglo Saxon around the fifth century in England and it has made a great evolution through the long history of about one thousand and five hundred years. This long history of English may be divided into three distinct periods, as: (1) The Old English Period (from 450 A. D. to 1066 A D.) (2) The Middle English Period (from 1066 to 1500) and (3) The Modern English Period (1500 to the Present Day). The chief features (characteristics) of  Old English and Modern English are going to be discussed below in brief.

I. Characteristics of Old English

English is one of the major languages of the world. It is traced that English, as a language, began to come into being in the fifth century with the settlement of Anglo Saxon races in England. Primarily there were four distinctive dialects of the language such as as­-West Saxon, Northumbrian dialect, Mercian dialect and Kentish dialect. These dialects belonged to the great Teutonic or Germanic family of language. Among these dialects, the West Saxon dialect became the popular medium of speech and writing of the Anglo Saxon who lived on the southern side of England. Nowadays which is generally called Old English indicates the West Saxon dialect; not the other dialects. The period of Old English lasted from 450 to 1150 A.D. Here it is a matter of wonder to say that modern Standard English both written and spoken has not been derived from Old English (i.e. West-Saxon dialect) but from a complete, another dialect called the East Midland Dialect, particularly the dialect of the Metropolis London. There is a lot of difference between Old English and Modern English. Comparatively Old English is so much different in character from Modern Standard English that nobody can read and understand a single sentence of Old English without a special study of its spelling, sound, vocabulary and grammar. Here an attempt has been done to bring out the characteristics of Old English with a special comparison with the Modern English language.

The first feature of Old English is that the spelling of Old English words differs from that of their modern equivalent. Particularly the long vowels in Modern English have undergone considerable modification. The Old English took the vowel ‘a’ in place of ‘o’ as in modern English. Thus correspondence of vowels is visible in the words like –

Old Eng      Modern Eng

Rap                 rope

Bat                 boat

stan                 stone

Like such change of vowels, other vowels have likewise changed in such words as-                                            

Old Eng   Modern Eng

for                  foot

metan            mate

fyre               fire

 riht               right

The old English generally used two symbols to represent the sound of ‘th’ by ‘p’ and ‘o+’  which are no longer in use in modern English as-

Old Eng Modern Eng                                                              

wip                with

da                  then

Likewise old English represented the sound of ‘sh’ by ‘sc’ as in-

Old English  Modern English

sceap            sheep

sciotan         shoot

And ‘k’ sound was represented by ‘c’ in old English as-

Old Eng    Modern Eng

cynn               kin

nacod            naked

folc               folk

The second striking feature of Old English is its large and fundamental vocabulary. It did not borrow any foreign words abundantly as Modern English does, but it utilized its native resources to provide an expression for new ideas. It had great flexibility to use old words in new ways. In Beowulf, there are more than twelve synonyms for the word ‘battle’ and seventeen synonyms to express the idea of ‘sea’. This proves how resourceful Old English vocabulary was.  

By means of prefixes and suffixes, a single root was made to yield a variety of derivatives in Old English. The Old English word ‘mod’ (Modern English ‘mood’) meant seven meanings such as- heart, mind, spirit, boldness, coverage, pride, haughtiness etc. By adding a common adjective ending ‘ig’ to the old English root word ‘mod’ it made the adjective ‘modig’ (mod+ig); by adding ‘iglice’ it made adverb ‘modiglice’ (mod+iglice) and by adding ‘ignes’ it made the noun ‘modignes’ (mod+ignes). There are other suffixes adding which many other new words were made in Old  English such suffixes are- ig, full, lice, ness, ung etc. There were some suffixes to make noun as- ‘dom’, ‘had’ etc, for example-

Old Eng              Modern Eng

Cyning-dom    kingdom 

Cild-had          childhood

Like Modern German, Old English had many self- explaining compounds formed by its native resources,  for example

Old English   Modern English 

Ealo has        alehouse 

 Earhring      ear-ring etc.

The third striking characteristics of old English is relating to its grammar. The law of its grammar was highly synthetic like German, Latin and French whereas Modern English is highly analytical. In the old English, no harm would have been done to the meaning of a sentence if the subject and object exchanged their positions. As for example ‘se cild pas words gehjerde’ that means the “child heard these words”. It will mean the same meaning if we arrange the words in another way as ‘pas word gehjerde se cild’.

Old English Gender was grammatical and not natural in contrast with Modern English gender. It means that the gender of Old English depended on the form of a word and not upon the consideration of the sex or absence of sex. As for example such words- fot (foot) mona (moon) stan (stone) in old English were considered to be masculine whereas they are feminine in Modern English. The words like mxgden (girl) wif (wife), cild (child) were considered in old English to be neuter while they are feminine in Modern English. Thus hand, sonne (sun) in old English were feminine whereas they are masculine in Modern English. In this respect, the old English gender system is comparable with that of German.

To the reference of cases, Old English had only four cases and there was no ablative or locative or instrumental case. In Old English, some nouns made their genitive singular in-‘e’ other in- ‘es’ other in-‘a’ and other in-‘an’. The ending which marked the nominative plural were- a as u, e and an. In a few nouns, the genitive cases had the same form as the nominative.

Like other Teutonic languages, Old English adjectives had two-fold declensions: weak declensions and strong declensions. The weak declensions used where the noun was preceded by a definite article or similar word (such as a demonstrative or possessive pronoun). And the strong declension was used when the noun was not preceded by such a word, as for example-

Weak Declensions                 Strong Declension

Godmann (Goodman)          se godmann (the goodman)

Like other Teutonic Languages, Old English verb had two tenses-past and present and there were no inflexional forms for the passive as in Latin or Greek. As in Modern English, the verbs of Old English were divided into two classes- weak and strong. In old English, verbs had different forms for singular and plural in different persons such as- ie sing (singular) we sunga (plural). While Modern English conjugates as-

I sing (singular)    we sing (plural)

I sang (singular)   we sang (plural)

It would be done harm to the essay if a few words are not said about the characteristics of old English prose and poetry. In this respect it is to say that Old English Prose was more clumsy, dirty and cumbersome than that of Modern English Prose; but Old English Poetry was almost as rich as Modern German and Sanskrit. In contrast to modern English poetry, Old English poetry was more lyrical, figurative and alliterative.

In conclusion, it is to say that old English was much more original, fundamental, synthetic, self-explaining and somewhat clumsy and complicated than that of Modern English. If Old English would have retained its earlier status and had not been modified and simplified to Modern English it could hardly be the international language of the present-day world. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

II. Characteristics of the Modern English Language


English as a Masculine Language

English is a language of world-wide extension. It is spoken and read not only in England and America but also in many countries of the world as a second language. By the term ‘the English language’ we mean the Modern Standard English language. Here to remind that Modern Standard English both written and spoken has not been derived from Old English (i.e. West-Saxon dialect) but from a complete, another dialect called the East Midland Dialect, particularly the dialect of the Metropolis London.  The period of Modern Standard English began with some peculiar characteristics in the early sixteenth century.  The most outstanding characteristics (which are basically masculine) of Modern English are receptive and adaptable heterogeneousness, clear and precise phonetic system, brevity and terseness, grammatical word order, logical, grave and sober, free from narrow-minded pedantry and free from any word complication.

First of all, English is characterized by extra-ordinary receptive and adaptable heterogeneousness. It borrows any foreign elements without any hesitation when the occasion needs. From its origin to the modern time it has been borrowing elements from Greek, Latin, French etc. and has been accepting and adapting the elements to its vocabulary as its integral part. This general heterogeneous receptiveness helps make the English language to be an attractive language of the world.

Secondly, the English language is characterized by a clear and precise phonetic system which is masculine in character. The English consonants are distinctively separated from each other and they are clearly and precisely pronounced. There are no indistinctive consonants in English that are abounding in Danish or any other languages. For the most part, the English vowels are more independent than in other languages as English consonant is seldom changed by the vowels on either side. Moreover, English abounds in two or more consonant sounds in such words as– prompt, tempt, weather, feast etc.

Thirdly, the English language is characterized by briefness, terseness and conciseness, which are the characteristics of a man. From the viewpoint of its grammar, English has got rid of a great many superfluities that are found in Old English and other Teutonic group of languages. In the sentence, “All the good students passed who appeared in the examination”. Here ‘all’ and ‘who’ (pronouns); ‘the’ (article); ‘good’ (adjective); have not received any mark of plural except only the noun “students”. This example shows how brief concise and terse the English language is!

The fourth outstanding characteristics of the English language is its grammatical word order. Other words in English do not play hide and seek as they often do in Latin and other languages. In English, the helping verb (auxiliary verb) does not stand far from the principal verb. As for example, ‘Corbett had killed a tiger’. Here the auxiliary verb ‘had’ stands just before the main verb ‘killed’. Thus negative words generally stand in the immediate neighbourhood of the main verb as- ”He did not like the book.’’ Here the negative word ‘not’ has stood just before the main verb ‘like’. Again, in the same manner, an adjective also stands before the word it qualifies. As for example, “Ram was a good king”. Here the adjective ‘good’ has stood just before the word ‘king’ which is qualified by the adjective ‘good’.

Fifthly, like a man, the English language is a highly logical language. In English the difference between the past ‘he went’ and the past perfect ‘he had gone’ are maintained with great logical force. In this respect, it seems that it is one of the most logical languages of the world.

The sixth feature of the English language is that, as a grown-up man, it is sober and grave. Any speaker of English does not like to use more words or words of more syllables than are strictly necessary for conveying his sense or ideas. For example we generally say – ”Raman has taken the photo of the sight”, instead of saying “Raman has taken the photograph of the sight”.

The seventh feature of the English language is that it is free from narrow-minded pedantry, like a man, not like a woman. This freedom from pedantry appears most clearly in number. Thus the word- clergy, family, committee etc. are grammatically singular in number though they can denote more than one person. Most other languages can treat these words only as singular but in English, they can take a singular verb if the idea of singularity is predominant.  For example- ”The existing clergy is better than the previous one”.

On the other hand, they can take a plural verb when the idea of plurality is predominant. As for example- “The clergy were not unanimous to maintain a new order”.

The last but not the least characteristics of the English language is that a speaker of the English language is free from the complication of words and their meanings. A speaker determines the choice of words, but not the words determine the choice of purpose.

All these characteristics discussed above show that the English language bears all the characteristics of a man. And hence Otto Jesperson has rightly said: “English is more masculine than most languages”. Again he says more, “English is positively and expressively masculine, it is the language of a grown-up man and have very little childish or feminine about it”. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language


English is an omnivorous language. It borrows words and linguistic elements freely from any language of the world when occasion needs. From the very earliest period of the English language to the present day, it has undergone many foreign influences such as- Latin, Greek, French, Scandinavian and many others.


I. Latin Influences  on English

Among the influences on English, the influence of Latin is much more ancient and vast, because the early English-speaking races, mainly the Anglo-Saxon race, had a good term with the Latin-speaking nation. There are certain periods within which English was much influenced by Latin. These periods may be classified as:

a) Latin influence in the pre-Christian period.

b) Latin influence during the introduction of Christianity into England.

c) Latin influence during the Middle English period and

d) Latin influence during and after the Renaissance period.

Now let as discuss Latin influence on English period by period in brief as under:-

Pre–Christian Period dates back to the late sixth century. During this pre-Christian period the English nation had a good touch with the higher Roman Civilization and as a result, many Latin elements pertaining to- (a) Trade and commerce (b) war and warfare. (c)  domestic life and household affairs and (d) names of plants and fruits were introduced.

Words relating to trade and commerce were: wine (from Latin word vanum), sester (Latin jar) flasce (Latin flask) calic (Latin cup) etc. Other words borrowed from Latin of commercial significance are- monger, pound, mint etc.

Words relating to war and warfare are: camp (battle), segn (banner) pytt (pit), mil (mile) etc.

Words pertaining to domestic life and household affairs are kettle (Latin catillus), cook (Latin coquss) mill (Latin Molina), cuppe (Latin cuppa) etc.

Words pertaining to plants, fruits and food were- pear, plum, pea, pepper, cheese, butter etc.

The second influence of Latin on English fell during the introduction of Christianity into England. This influence began from the very beginning of the seventh century and lasted down the eleventh century. The adoption of Christianity by the English brought them into immediate contact with Latin Christianity and Latin Literature.

During this period Latin influence on English was relating to church, domestic life and household affairs, names of trees, plants and herbs and the names of animals.

Words relating to church were- church, alter, bishop, candle, angel, anthem, creed, disciple, epistle, hymn, martyr, devil, monk, num, priest etc.  

Words pertaining to domestic life and household affairs are- cap chest, dish, mat, pillow, pin, silk etc.

Words relating to trees, plants and herbs were- pine, lily, palm, plant, mallow, poppy etc.

Words connected with animal names were- capon, doe, phoenix, trout, turtle, elephant, etc

Along with such words English also adopted some words from Latin relating to education and learning such as- school, master, verse, meter, talent etc.

Besides the above-mentioned nouns, Latin also lent a number of verbs and adjectives such as- verbs: offer, shrive, spend, slop, etc; and adjectives- short, crisp etc.

The third great influence of Latin on English began in the Middle English Period, especially from the eleventh century to the sixteenth century. The Latin influence on English during this period fell especially through literature, mainly through the Latin translation of the Bible. The occasional men of learning learned and spoke Latin and through them, the Latin words entered the domain of English. When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English then more than one thousand Latin words entered English through this translation. During this period Latin influence on English was pertaining to law, literature theology and science.

Words relating to the law are- conspiracy, custody, homicide, incumbent, minor, prosecute, testimony etc.

Words pertaining to literature are- allegory, summary, ornate, prosody, index etc.

Words relating to theology are- scripture, incarnate, supplicate, tract etc.

Words pertaining to science and medicine are- lunatic, mechanical, nervous, rational, solar, stupor, ulcer, zenith etc.

Fourth Latin influence fell on English vigorously during the Renaissance and past Renaissance periods. The words borrowed by English during this period are- noun, verb and adjective and they entered into English through literature.

Nouns: anachronism, allurement, allusion, atmosphere, dexterity, folio, circus, vacuum, stratum, excursion etc.

Verbs: adapt, alienate, assassinate, emancipate, meditate, extinguish, harass, etc.

Adjectives: abject, dexterous, expressive, habitual, domestic, scholastic, filial etc.

After the Renaissance period especially during 17th, 18th and 19th centuries English was influenced by such words as– premium, equilibrium, specimen, series, propaganda, auditorium, ultimatum, insomnia, sanatorium, referendum etc. Except these, English adopted many Latin suffixes and prefixes to native words such as– Miltoniana, Shakespeareana, dethrone, pre-Raphaelite, pro-Russian, re-organization etc.

English was not influenced by Latin vocabulary only, but also by its syntax and style. The influence of syntax and style on English began to fall during the Middle English period and this has been being continued to the present day. The absolute participle in many sentences we used today is due to Latin influence. For example- ‘The weather being cold, sister did not to go school’ and ‘The sun having set, they returned home’. In these two sentences, we notice the use of absolute participle being cold and having set.

Secondly, there are some other Latin constructions which many authors of the Renaissance period tried to imitate and they use ‘who’ for ‘he who’. As, for example- “who has come here is not known to me”. The same is true of such interrogative sentences as– To read what books have I been sent for?

Generally, the influence of Latin on English syntax is ungrammatical, but this influence gives English a new style in which many English writers show their interest. Among the causes of the influence of Latin on English the main is that Latin was the only grammar taught in schools and found worthy of study and imitation in sixteen, seventeenth and even in eighteen century England.

There is a great effect of Latin influence on English. First Latin influence on English enriched the English vocabulary, secondly, it gave a vast wealth of synonyms to English, with the result that there is an advantage of versifications. Thirdly Latin influence gave a new turn to the English sentence structure. But there has been an evil effect of Latin influence, and this is the shifting of stress from the initial syllable which has led the English language to irregularity in pronunciation. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

II. Scandinavian (Norse) Influences on English

English as a language has not come to the present world-wide station in a day or two, but through evolution and development throughout the centuries by borrowing and inserting many foreign elements to it. The first enormous and strong influence on English was that of Latin, then that of Celtic. But the Celtic influence was not as vast and strong as that of Latin influence. English had borrowed only some names of rivers, mountains, places and a few other words but they have lost into oblivion. After these two influences, English came under another foreign influence called the Scandinavian influence; the influence of which is even more strong and more significant. The Scandinavian influence on English began in English with the Danish invasion of England towards the end of the eighth century and this influence lasted down continuously for nearly three centuries, till the Norman conquest of  England, The Danish (the inhabitants of Denmark) were a Germanic race and spoke a language very much like that of the English. The life way, the custom, religion and social order of the Danish were as same as their English cousins. So the Scandinavians (the Danish were a nation beloged to Scandinavia) were not looked upon as foreigners by the English. The settlers (the Danes) did not think the natives of England to be their (of the Danish) conquered people, rather they easily sank into the mass of the natives of England and that is why the influence of the Danes on English became easy and spontaneous. The Scandinavian influence on English was three-fold: first, it lent its own words to English and secondly, it modified many English words both in meaning and pronunciation.

First of all the Scandinavians influenced many everyday nouns and commonplace verbs and adjectives in English such as-

Nouns–husband, sky, skin, skill etc.

Commonplace adjectives — happy, low, week, ugly, wrong etc.

Commonplace verbs– die, cast, hit, call, guess, take etc.

Secondly, the Scandinavian influence on English was one class of personal nouns ending in ‘son’ as- Gibson, Johnson, Thomson, Robinson, Tillotson, etc.

The third Scandinavian influence was on English grammar and syntax. It is said that the ‘s’ ending in the third person singular number in the present indicative tense of a verb is due to the Scandinavian influence. For example, Santanu breaks the window. Here we see that the verb ‘break’ takes ‘s’ because the subject of the verb is in the third person singular number in the present tense. The omission of the relative pronoun in the relative clause as- ‘this is the book he brought’- is due to the Scandinavian influence. Here the relative pronoun which is omitted.

Fourthly, the Scandinavians revived and popularized many obscured and obsolete English words such as- blend, dale, barn etc.

Fifthly, the Scandinavians modified many English words as the word ‘yet’ was taught to be pronounced with initial ‘y’ as the Scandinavians pronounced the word ‘gun’ with initial ‘g’. The form of many old English words such as- swuster, yift, yeve, chetel have been modified by the corresponding Scandinavian words as- sister, gift, give, kettle etc.

Sixthly, the Scandinavians did not modify the English words only but modified the meaning of many Old English words. The meaning of the word idwell (O.E. dwellan) was ‘to lead stray’, but its modern meaning to ‘live in a place or house’ is given by the Scandinavians. The other English words modified in meaning by Scandinavian are – dream (O.E. to mean joy, mirth), plough (O.E. meant the measurement of land) etc.

The Danish or the Scandinavians did not enrich the English vocabulary only, but also made the English language more modified more simple, easier and more popular. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

III. Greek Influences on English

Greek influence on English began from the origin of the English language and till today this influence is going on. This long time throughout the ages of Greek influence on English can be divided into two distinctive periods as- (a) the first period from the 4th century to the 16th century and (b) the second period from the 16th century to the present day.

During the first period, Greek influence on English fell in two ways – first indirectly through Latin and then directly from original Greek. During this period English took such words indirectly through Latin as- geography, theology, logic etc. 

The words that entered into English directly from the original Greek were pertaining to technical and scientific terms as under:

Words pertaining to Science were– anthropology, astronomy, botany, biology, chemistry, physics etc.

Many terms pertaining to Medical Science were- psychology, neurology, hepatic, phlebotomy etc.

Many technical terms that have been made by putting together two Greek words are: tele-gram, tele-graph, tele-phone, phono-graph, cinemato-graph.

Many Greek worlds entered into English by adding Latin prefixes to Greek words such as: dicta-phone, appendi-cities etc.

Many hybrids also have been formed by adding Greek prefixes to English words a: anti-British, hyper-sensitive etc. 

During the second period, especially during the Modern English period, English borrowed many Greek words pertaining to art and literature and many general words through Medieval Latin and French.

Words relating to art and literature are- alphabet, drama, dilemma, chorus, basis, epic, theory, orchestra, pandemonium, museum, hypen, dogma, clinic, bathos etc.

Many general words that entered into English vocabulary through Latin and French are- fancy, idea, ecstasy, sympathy, philander, phase, therm etc.

Thus Greek lent a lot of words to English either directly or indirectly, which the English language received and made an integral part and parcel of it without the least hesitation in order to enrich its vocabulary.  0 0 0


IV. French (Norman) Influences on English

One of the most illuminating foreign influences on English is the French influence by the Normans. The Normans were the inhabitants of Normandy, situated at the northern-east of French. The Normans of Normandy conquered England in 1066 A.D. and from that time the influence of Norman-French on English began. The Normans, like the English, were originally a Germanic race, and even before the Norman conquest of England social, political as well as religious intercourse had begun among the ruling classes of England and France. And as a result, some French words entered into English even before the conquest. But regular and even stronger influence began with the conquest and this influence has been going on to the present day. We can divide the long times of French influences on English into two distinctive periods such as: (a) French influence during the Middle English period and (b) French influence during the Modern English period. Let us discuss the French influence on English period by period.

During Middle English Period, English was influenced by French words relating to administration, military affairs, feudalism, law, religion; words relating to art and architectures; words relating to amusement; words relating to fashion and many others.

Words relating to administration are- state, government, reign, realm, crown, country, authority, parliament, council, people, nation etc.

Feudalism was introduced into England by the French and have some feudal words took their way into English, such as feudal vassal, prince, duke, duchess, count, viscount etc.

Some court and courtly adjectives also entered into English, such words are- courteous, noble, fine, refined etc.

The management of military affairs was also taken over by the French and as a result, the vocabulary of military words had entered into English, such words are– peace, battle, arms, armour, lance, banner, soldiers, officer, navy, admiral etc.

Many law terms entered into English as the French took a prominent role in the affairs pertaining to law and as a result, many law words and terms were accepted by English, for example, justice, judge, jury, suit, sue, crime, penalty etc.

Many words relating to religion also found their way into English such as- religion, saviour, trinity, angel, saint, altar, prayer, virgin, service, baptism, preach etc.

Words relating to amusement and food were- joy, pleasure, delight, case, comfort, fruits, flowers etc.

Words relating to fashion were- dress, apparel, costume, garment, tailor, mason, chair, table etc.

Words pertaining to art and architecture were: art, beauty, design, colour, tower, pillar, vault, palace, mansion, chapel etc.

During the Modern English period, many French words entered English. The words entered during this period were pertaining to a variety of subjects as mentioned below:

John Dryden, an enthusiastic practitioner of the earliest France dramatic life, had introduced as many as two hundred French words into English and hence the modern influence of French began to fall on English strongly and regularly. Let us discuss the French influence century by century.

Words borrowed by English from French in the 17th century are- dragon, parole, ballet, burlesque, excellence, group etc.

Words taken in the 18th century are– guillotine, salon, bureau, canteen, critique, brochure, picnic, etc.

French words borrowed in the 19th century are more in number than that of 17th and 18th century. Words taken up in the 19th century are pertaining to art and literature, military and diplomacy, and words pertaining to dress and food such as:

Words relating to art and literature: resume, literature, cliche, renaissance, baton, matinee, macabre etc.

Words pertaining to military and diplomatic affairs are:  attache, prestige, charge de-affairs, debacle, rapprochement, barrage etc

Words relating to dress and food are– rosette, fichu, profile, beret, restaurant, menu, gratin etc.

And words borrowed in the 20th century are- garage, libre, hangar, camouflage etc. In recent times, English has taken many striking phrases from French through the literal translation of French writing. Some of such phrases are- goes without saying, make a gaffe, jump to the eyes etc.

Except for such influences, French contributed much to English hybridism, such as- the Duke’s children (for the children of the duke), the noblest of all people (for the most noble of all people) etc.

Thus the influence and effect of French influence on English are so strong that the English language is considerably indebted to the French language.

A Brief History of the English Language

V. Influences or Contributions of the English Bible to English

English is a gluttonous language and it engrosses every linguistic element that comes to its contact. It did not fall back to take elements from the English translation of the Bible. The influence of the Bible began to fall on English in the thirteenth century through the Latin version of the Bible and through the translations done by John Wycliffe and Martin Luther. But this influence was neither bright nor strong nor permanent. The regular and even more strong and noteworthy influence of the Bible began to fall on English from the seventeenth century onwards with the English translation of the Bible. Before the English Bible, there was not a systematic and unanimous common Bible for all. So to fill up the lack of a uniform Bible a conference was convened at Hampton Court by King James I of England and a proposal was taken to translate the Bible into English. As an effect, forty-seven eminent divines and scholars began the task and after hard labour for three years and a half, the Authorized English version of the Bible appeared in 1611 under the seal of the authority of the King of England. The translations of the Bible followed the original Hebrew text as well as the translation of Tyndale and Coverdale and that of John Wycliffe. When the English Bible appeared it became the hand and guide book of the English people and since then its influence on the English language began to fall spontaneously. Even great writers of the English language like Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Emerson, Keats and many others were influenced by the English Bible. The influence of the English Bible on the English language was multifold as- the thematic influence, stylistic influence and linguistic influence. Thematically John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Simon Agonistes etc. were greatly influenced by the themes of the Bible.

The first linguistic influence of the Bible may be called the influence of its striking phrases. For example: tell it not in Gath, wash one’s hand of a still small voice, take up his parable etc.

The Bible influenced English similes and metaphors also, such as: clear as crystal, arose as one man, transparent as the sky, etc.

The English language received many compound expressions such as- tender- hearted, loving- kindness, long- suffering, peace- makers etc.

There are many Biblical phrases that have assumed the character of English idioms, as: to caste pearl before swine, the eleventh hour, the shadow of death, a howling wilderness, a labour of death etc.

English has got many figurative nouns from the Bible as: olive branches (means children) helpmate (means partner).

The new forms of superlatives have been to English due to the influence of the English Bible. For example– holy of holies, in my heart of hearts, the place of all places, the study of studies, the modern of moderns etc.

Many oblivious and obsolete words have been revived and preserved in the passage of the Bible for future speakers, such words are: apparel (for ‘dress’), raiment (for ‘clothes’), damsel (for ‘young woman’), travail (for ‘labour’) etc. Had these words not been preserved in the Bible probably they would have been lost from our everyday vocabulary by now.

Due to the influence of the Bible, many striking phrases have been invented with a conscious allusion to Biblical incidents, as: the Benjamin of the family, the shibboleth of a party, the worship mammon, a Leviathan ship etc.

Besides these influences, the Bible influences on the sentence structure of the English language which is very near to poetic reading. For example-

(a) Every lad has a friend of friends, a crony of cronies, whom he cherishes in his heart of hearts.

(b) The evil of evils in our present politics.

(c)The woman is a horror of horrors,

(d) Love like yours is the pearl of pearls, and he who wins it is the prince of princes.

(e) I am sorrowful to my tail’s tail etc.

Many Biblical proper names have been used as appellatives, such as: Jezebel, Rahab, Jehu etc.

The Bible affected even the language and style of English poetry, such as: 

Nature and Nature’s law lay hid in night. God said, let Newton be and there was light.

The above quoted-pair of lines is written after the style of the Bible. Where we read: God said, let there be light and there was light.

Thus the Bible contributed many new elements into English which have made the English language more figurative, poetic, alliterative and rhymed. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language        

VI. Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

William Shakespeare, the greatest English poetic dramatist, contributed many new elements to the English language through his world-famous plays and sonnets. His contributions to the English language are relating to new phrases, compound words, modification of word meaning, conscious use of the ungrammatical sentence, insertion of obsolete words, the invention of literary proverbs, the invention of striking simile, metaphor, hyperbole and other figures of speech. Let us discuss them one by one as below:

First of all, a reader of Shakespeare will be surprised, if he opens a page of any one of his writings by seeing many striking phrases, such as: full of sound and fury, a tower of strength, a Daniel has come to the judgment, yeoman’s service”, hoist with his petard, moving accident, to be or not to be etc.

The second great contribution of his to English is compound words, which before him nobody could make. By adding original French prefixes ‘-en’ and  ‘-em’ to English words he coined such words as: enact, endeared, enchased, embattle etc. and by adding English prefixes un to French words he made such new words as- unless, unvalued, unchanged etc. 

Except these, he could make compound adjectives by adding one adjective to another such as: happy valiant, daring hardy etc.

The third contribution of Shakespeare to English is ungrammatical but proverbial and charming phrases, such as-The whole ear of Denmark (for the ear of all Denmark), to know what willing ransom he will give (for what ransom he will willingly give), wanted less impudence (for had less impudence).

The fourth contribution of Shakespeare to English is that he had introduced many English words which no longer were in circulation and giving them place in his writings he has preserved such words as: courtship, eventful, excellent, fretful, hint etc.

Fifthly, Shakespeare used many verbs as nouns, nouns as verbs and many adjectives as verb. As for example:

 Verbs as nouns: control, down, dress, hatch, import etc.

 Nouns as verbs: bound, hard, jade etc

Adjectives as verbs: happy, safe, valiant etc.

Shakespeare used many provincial words, especially the words belonged to Warwickshire dialect, West Midland dialect etc. and gave a good state in literature such as- peeze (meant drive away), dwindle, bespeak etc. most imitating of Shakespeare’s phrases is ‘out Herod-Herod’ imitating which many English writers have created many new phrases such as- out Keats -Keats, out Darwin –Darwin, out Bantly- Bantly etc.

Sixthly, the illuminating contribution of Shakespeare is that he popularized many obscure English proverbs, such as:

(a) All that glitters is not gold.

(b) Sweet are the uses of adversity.

(c) Our enemies are our outward conscience.

Seventhly he invented many new axioms-like sentences which we regard as our everyday popular proverbs. As for example-

(a) Brevity is the soul of wit.

(b) He loses the world who buys it with much care.

(c) Guiltiness will speak though tongues were out of use.

(d) A good name in a man or woman is the immediate jewel to their soul etc.

Eighthly, Shakespeare’s greatest contribution to English is his invention of new simple, metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech. For example-

(a) Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more, it is a tale,

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(b) Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.

(c) Here’s the smell of blood still; 

    All the perfumes of Arabia

    Will not sweeten this little hand

Thus Shakespeare’s contributions to English are as much as that of the Bible. After him, many English writers like Keats, Ruskin, Whitman, Hopkins, Eliot and many others have gone under the conscious influences of Shakespeare’s contributions to English. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

VII. Loan Words as the Milestone of English 

Almost all the language of the world borrows words, terms, phrases and many other linguistic elements from other languages. The elements borrowed from foreign languages are called Loan Words. The loan words have been called the “Mile-stone of Philology” because loan words help us fix approximately the date of linguistic changes; they give us valuable information regarding the inner life of a nation; loan words inform us about the reciprocal relationships among nations; loan words contribute much to increase brotherhood among nations and above all loan- words enrich the vocabulary of a language considerably. Let us discuss the role of loan words in a language as follows:

First of all loan words help us fix approximately the date of linguistic changes. By studying the loan words of English we can know how English has come to its present modified status through evolution. By studying the loan words taken by Old English we can know that Old English spelling and pronunciation were more harsh and difficult than Middle English and Middle English was more complicated than Modern English. For example, Old English gender was grammatical, while the modern English gender is natural; old English was synthetical whereas Modern English is analytical. Thus we know that Old English verbs had only two tenses while in Modern English there are three tenses.

The second cause of being called the loan words the Mile-stone of Philology is that they show us the course of civilization and the wonders of the invention and in many cases, they give us valuable information regarding the inner life of nations. In other words, the loan words give us information on what nation was more advanced or what nation was inferior to the others. Thus by studying the loan words such as: wine, calic, flask, sester etc. taken by Old English from Latin in the Pre-Christian period, we can know that the Romans were more advance in the wine trade than the other nations for which they could influence on the English in the wine trade. Thus by studying the loan words of English from Greek, we can get valuable information that the Greeks were more advance in science and technology than the other nations. As for example, due to the superiority of the Greeks, they could lend such terms to English as: anthropology, astrology, biology, botany, chemistry etc. By studying the French loan words taken up by English we can know that the French were more advanced and skilled in politics and administration than the other nations for which they could influence on English and as a result, many French words entered into English, such as: crown, state, government, reign, realm, sovereign, minister etc.

Thirdly, the loan words inform us about the reciprocal relation amongst the nations, and much more they help us know the date and time of the reciprocal relations amongst nations. By studying the Scandinavian words we can know that the relationship between the English and the Scandinavians began towards the end of the eighth century. Thus by studying Indian loan words in English, we can be informed that the commercial relationship between India and England began in the seventeenth century.

Fourthly, loan words increase brotherhood among nations and help us think that all nations are one as there is a relationship among the languages. It is generally noticed that there are many Islamic people who speak English, although they differed in religion from the Christians, yet the English think those people to be akin to them because of language.

Fifthly, and above all loan words may be called the Milestone of philology because they increase the vocabulary of a language considerably. For example, the English language has borrowed many elements from Celtic, Latin, Scandinavians, French etc. from its earliest period and this borrowing have been going on to the present day which has enriched the English vocabulary beyond imagination. If these elements had not been borrowed, then the English language could never be able to become the honourable world language of the present-day world.

The above-mentioned causes make us agree with the comment of Otto Jesperson, a German philologist, who first said: “the loan words have been called the Mile-stone of Philology”. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language




English is a continuously growing language with some changes, especially in pronunciation. This changing phenomenon of the English language is explained by two shifts: one is called Vowel Shift and the other is called Consonant Shift. The Vowel Shift shows how Modern English pronunciation is shifted or changed from  Old English Pronunciation. And the Consonant Shift shows the relationship as well as the shifting of consonants of the Teutonic Families of language from the consonants of Indo-European Families of language. Let us discuss the two shifts briefly as under:

  A. The Great Vowel Shift

With the beginning of the Modern English Language in the sixteenth century, English pronunciation began to change which continued till the end of the seventeenth century. For that change, we see a great difference between the pronunciation of Chaucer and that of Shakespeare. It is to say that Shakespeare wrote when this great change only began. Hence there is also a difference between the pronunciation of Shakespeare and that of our day. But this difference is not vast but slight. This change greatly affected the long vowels, which is analyzed by C. Barbar under the title The Great Vowel Shift. The essential of The Great Vowel Shift is as follows:

(a) Front vowels- a, ea, ee, i – diphthong

(b) Back vowels –oa, oo, u – diphthong

Now let us analyze the pronunciation of these vowels-

(i) ‘a’ when is used in the beginning of a word then its pronunciation becomes as ‘a’ in the Modern English word father.

(ii) ‘Ea’ if used in the front of a word, it is pronounced as an open vowel and its sound becomes ‘a’ in as air.

(iii) ‘Ee’ is a vowel having the sound of French word e’te’.

(iv) ‘I’ is pronounced as the ‘i’ in machine.

Similar is the case with the back vowels such as: 

(i) ‘Oa’ when used at the back of word it is pronounced as ‘aw’ as in law.

(ii) When ‘oa’ is used at the back of a word its sound becomes as ‘eau’ in French word beau.

(iii) And ‘u’ when used as a back vowel its pronunciation becomes ‘u’ as in lunar.

Thus the Great Vowel Shift greatly differentiates Modern English from Old or Middle English. But it is to say that the vowel shift has made the English language somewhat logical and easy in comparison with that of the pronunciation of Old English or Modern English.

A Brief History of the English Language

B. The Great Consonant Shift

There are many and many different languages in the world. The philologists have divided the languages into two great families as:

(A) Indo-European (Aryan) Family of Languages which comprises of all the eastern and western groups of languages such as – Sanskrit, Pali, Iranian, Armenian, Slavonic, Baltic, Italic, Albanian etc. and

(B) The Teutonic (Germanic) Family of Languages includes east, north and West Germanic groups of languages such as: Gothic, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, German, Dutch, Flemish, English, Frisian etc. But it is a matter of wonder that there is a close relationship among them though they seem to be highly different from each other. Modern painstaking research has worked out the relationship and differences between the two families of languages. In 1822, a German philologist, Jacob Grimm tried his best to work out the differences between the two families of languages on the basis of the consonants. According to Jacob Grimm, there are some consonants that have changed or shifted with considerable regularity from the Indo- European to the Teutonic family of languages. As this consonant shift was first discovered and analyzed by Jacob Grimm, so this consonant shift is generally known as Jacob Grimm’s Consonant Shift.

For the comparison of the Consonant Shift, Grimm had taken Sanskrit and Latin words as the example of Indo- the European family of languages and English words as the example of the Teutonic family of languages. This law is briefly stated below:

1. Indo-European voiced aspirates become voiced non-aspirants in Teutonic as:

(a) Indo-European ‘gh’ becomes ‘g’ in Teutonic as Sanskrit ‘ghans’ becomes ‘goose’ in English.

(b) Indo-European ‘dh’ becomes ‘d’ in Teutonic, as Sanskrit ‘Vidhava’ English ‘widow’.

(c) Indo-European ‘bh’ becomes ‘b’ in Teutonic, as Sanskrit ‘bhu’ English ‘be’.

2. Indo-European voiced non-aspirates become voiceless non-aspirates in Teutonic as: 

(a) Indo- European ‘g’ becomes ‘k’ in Teutonic, as Sanskrit ‘Janu’, English ‘Knee’.

(b) Indo-European ‘d’ becomes ‘t’ in Teutonic, as: Sanskrit ‘dam’, English ‘tame’.

(c) Indo- European ‘b’ becomes ‘p’ in Teutonic, as: Sanskrit  ‘sabar’ English sap.

3. Indo-European voiceless non-aspirates become aspirates in Teutonic, as:

(a) Indo- European ‘k’ becomes ‘kh’ or ‘h’ in Teutonic as: Latin ‘centum’, English  ‘hundred’.

‘(b) Indo-European ‘t’ becomes ‘th’ in Teutonic as: Latin ‘tri’, English  ‘three’.

(c) Indo-European ‘p’ becomes ‘ph’ in Teutonic as: Latin ‘pater’, English ‘father’.

Though Jacob Grimm had laid down some laws to discover the differences between the families of languages on the basis of consonants yet this law does not hold well in every respect. Hence there have been met some puzzles in recognizing the consonant shift. To drive away the puzzling phenomenon of Grimm’s Law another philologist, Kart Varner tried his best and as a result, he discovered that the operation of the law of sound shifting depends on the position of the ascent. The certain apparent exception to Grimm’s Law which was explained and discovered by Karl Varner is known as Verner’s Law. The main points of Verner’s Law are as below:

First Karl Verner showed that Indo-European voiceless non-aspirates- k, t, p, turned into g, d, b, but not to the aspirates- kh, th, ph, if the Indo- European voiceless non-aspirates in the middle or at the end was not immediately preceded by an ascent vowel.

Verner explained that ‘t’ in the Sanskrit word ‘antara’ becomes ‘th’ in the English word ‘other’ because ‘t’ is preceded by the ascended vowel ‘a’. Here he had operated Grimm ’s Law.

Verner did not only explain the puzzling points of Grimm’s Law but also explained the exceptions which Grimm could not do such as:

(a) Indo-European ‘p’ becomes ‘b’ in Teutonic, as Indo-European ‘septm’ English  ‘seven’.

(b) Indo-European ‘s’ becomes ‘z’ in Teutonic and this ‘z’ becomes ‘r’ in old English as: Indo-European ‘ceosam’, Teutonic ‘ceas’ and old English ‘curon’.

There is great importance of the consonant shift discovered and explained by Grimm and Verner because the consonant shift is the clearest and least ambiguous criterion of the Teutonic group of languages. By studying the consonant shift we can recognize that a word with a shifted consonant is Germanic and a word with an unshifted consonant is a borrowed word. Moreover, this shift makes us know that though the languages of the world are apparently different from each other, yet there is an inner and close relationship between them. And more, with the help of the consonant shift, if anyone goes to study the origin of the languages, he will see that all the languages of the world have taken birth from only a language, which may claim to be the mother of all languages, but it is a matter of sorrow that the mother language of all the languages is still to be discovered. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language



Besides its own native sources, English vocabulary has not only been enlarged by foreign and borrowed words but it can also easily create new words and terms out of its familiar words. There are many processes to form new words, such as: Composition, Derivation, Back-formation, Shortening, Names of Places and Persons, Telescoping and use of Verbs as Nouns and Nouns as Verbs. All these processes of word formation in English have been discussed below in detail.

A.  Composition

The first simplest way to form new words in English is ‘Composition’ which means the joining together of two existing words. By such composition, the general compounds words are made. This process of composition to form compound words has been continuing from the earliest period of the English language, but the regular process of making such compound words by joining together two words began in the Middle English Period and in this respect, the English language has been inspired by Greek and German which are very flexible to form new words by joining together two familiar words. There are many ways to create new compound words by composition, such as:

(a) By joining together two Nouns,

(b) By adding Adjective to a Noun,

(c) By adding a Noun to an Adjective,

(d) By adding an Adverb to a Noun

(e) By adding an Adjective to an Adverb and

(f) By adding a Verb to an Adverb.

Let us show the examples of such compound words one by one.

New words made by adding a Noun to a Noun are –rail-way, steam-boat, mango-tree, electric-light, table-lamp, corn-field etc. This process of creating new words by adding a noun to a noun is very common in English. In this process of word formation, the last noun expresses a general meaning which is modified and limited. As for example the last part of the compound word rail-way retains a general meaning. The ‘way’ generally means a ‘road’.

The compound words made by an Adjective and a Noun are- hot-bed, block-bird, white-house, green-room, long-pent etc.

The example of compound words formed by an Adverb and a Noun are- out room, out-field, under-clothes, under-day etc.

The compound words composed by an Adverb and an Adjective are- ever-fresh, down-hearted, under-ripe etc.

The example of new words composed by an Adjective and a Verb are- white-wash, rough-hew etc.

There are many compound words made by an Adverb and a Verb, such as: over-come, in-lay, over-turn, out-live etc.

There are a number of words that are formed by a Verb and a Noun denoting the object of action such words are: break-fast, pick-pocket, know-nothing, tell-tale etc.

There are a good many words formed by an Adjective and an Adjective, such as: long-haired, short-tailed, fine-leaved etc.

Besides these processes, there is another method of forming new words as by bringing together a verb and an adverb which are generally called Phrasal Verbs. Some examples of such words are: act for, bear-down, come about, deal out etc. Such phrasal verbs are so many in English that it is a difficult task to enumerate them in a limited research hall.

There is a great significance of such compound words in literature because such words increase the poetic quality to a language. The poets from Chaucer onwards, who gave more emphasis to feeling and imagination than to intellect and reason used such compound words at large. In Shakespeare, we get such compound words as: young-eyed-charubians, a heaven-kissing-hill, proud-pied-April etc. In Spenser, we come across such compound words as: self-consuming care, silver-dropping tears, rosy-fingered morn etc. Such words increase the literary beauty to any writing for which it may not be an exaggeration to say that compound words are independent poems in themselves. 0 0 0A Brief History of the English Language

B. Derivation

The second outstanding process of forming new words is by ‘Derivation’ which means the formation of a new word out of an old one by adding either a prefix or a suffix. This process was very rare in Old English but very common in Modern English. To create new words by derivation, English took foreign prefixes or suffixes to its native words and sometimes its native prefixes or suffixes to foreign words. As prefixes English uses such prefixes as: miss, un, multi, hyper, pseudo, meta, proto, neo etc. and as suffixes, English uses such words as: -ness, -less, -full, -ish, -tion, -dom, -er, -al, -age, -ment etc. Let us show some examples of new words formed by means of Derivation.

By using the prefix ‘miss’ the English language makes such words, as: mis-done, mis-conduct, mis-behaviour, mis-applied etc.

By adding ‘un’ as prefix-we get such words as: undo, uncover, un-common, unbending etc.

By adding ‘multi’ we can create such new words, as: multi-form, multi-fold, multi- purpose, multi-millionaire etc.

The examples of words made by adding ‘hyper’ prefix are: hyperbole, hyper-sensitive, hyper-minded, hyper-intellect etc.

The examples of derivation formed by adding ‘pseudo’ as a prefix are- pseudo-classic, pseudo-romantic, pseudo-Christian etc.

By adding the prefix ‘meta’ we get-such words, as: Meta-morposed, meta-physical, metabolism etc.

The examples of new words made by the prefixes ‘proto’ to English words are: proto- type, proto-plasm, proto-French etc.

Using the prefix ‘neo’ English has enlarged its vocabulary by making such new words as: neo-classical, neo-platonic, neo-science, neo-humanism etc.

The second outstanding process of making new words by means of derivation is the use of native or foreign suffixes to its native or foreign words, such as:

By adding the suffix ‘ness’ we get such words, as: brightness, bitterness, loveliness etc.

By adding ‘less’ we make such words as: helpless, light-less, airless, mindless etc.

Examples of some new words formed by adding suffix ‘-ish’ to English native words are: foolish, boyish, girlish, bookish, littlish etc.

By adding the suffix ‘-dom’ the English vocabulary is enlarged by such words as: dukedom, kingdom, wisdom, princedom etc.

By adding ‘-tion’ we have such words as: nation, estimation, derivation, lamentation etc.

By adding ‘-er’, ‘-al’, ‘-age’, ‘-fy’ ‘-ment’, ‘-ess’ etc. we create such words as: speaker, doer, legal natural, shortage, mileage, vivify, beautify, enlargement goddess, prophetess etc.

And by adding the suffixes as: -ize, -ism, -ist, -istic, etc. either to its native words or foreign words, English has formed such words as- nationalize, jeopardize, Mohammadism, Jainism, artist, nationalist, materialistic, artistic etc.

By derivation, English has made so many words that it would be a matter of vain effort if any modern research scholar goes to collect them in a limited book within a limited space of time because such new words are being created every day. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

C. Back Formation

‘Back-formation’ is another outstanding method of forming new words in English. By Back-formation we mean the formation of a word by subtracting something from old ones. Most of the words formed by back-formation are by means of subtracting suffix or prefix. As for example, we can make the word darkle from the word darkling by subtracting –’ling’ which is generally called a suffix. But it is to say that most of the words formed by means of back-formation are done by subtracting suffixes than prefixes generally we can get new words with new meanings by subtracting such ending as: ling, y, er, ar, or, se etc. 

By subtracting- ‘ling’ we get such words as: grovel (from groveling), darkle (from darkling), side from sideling) etc.

By subtracting ‘-y’ English forms such words, as: greed (from greedy), laze (from lazy), cose (from cosy), jeopard (from jeopardy), difficult (from difficulty), pup (from puppy) etc.

By subtracting ‘-er’ from noun many verbs may be formed, as: peddle (from peddler), hawk (from hawker), harbing (from harbinger) etc.

By subtracting ‘-ar’ from noun many verbs are made, such as: ‘burgle’ (from burglar), beg (from beggar), peddle (from peddler) etc.

There are a good many words got by means of back-formation by subtracting ‘or’, such as: edit (from editor) donate (from donator) etc.

There are a good many nouns which end in ‘-se’ originally which were singular but wrongly regarded as plural but later on were made again singular by subtracting- ‘se’ such as: pea (from O.E. pease), cherry from (Old English cherise), skate (from O.E. skates) etc.

Thus many new words are going to be made by means of back-formation in English which have, likewise, been enriching the poignant vocabulary of the English language. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

D. Shortening

‘Shortening’ is another method of forming new words in English. Shortening means not the abbreviated form of a word but the clipping of one or more syllables from a word that gains a special meaning. Shortening is generally much used in conversation in a hurry. Many shortened words are not synonymous to their original meaning though many times they donate the same objects. They gain special meanings of the same kind, but not the exact meaning. For example, the shortened form of ‘omnibus’ is ‘bus’. But there is a slight difference in meaning because ‘bus’ means general ‘bus’, but ‘omnibus’ means a particular kind of passenger-carrying bus. Other examples of the shortened form of words are- photo (for photograph), bike (for bicycle) wig (for periwig) etc.

In course of time, a word formed by shortening develops into a meaning of its own which is generally different from the original. As for example, ‘cab’ is the shortened form of ‘cabriolet’ but the shortened form ‘cab’ does not mean the same kind of vehicle at all. So the shortened form of ‘Mistress’ is ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, but they are quite different in meaning. Originally ‘gent’ was the shortened form of ‘gentleman’ which meant the same thing, but in course of time it has degenerated in meaning and now comes to mean a vain pretender of ‘gentility’. Other examples of such words which are degenerated in meaning are- ‘extra’ from ‘extraordinary’, ‘phiz’ from ‘physiognomy’, ‘chap’ from ‘chapman’, ‘trade’r from ‘tradesman’ etc.

During the Middle English and early Modern English Periods, many words initiated with vowel immediately preceded by stress syllable was generally propped in a hurry of pronunciation and such words, in course of time become independent words with independent meanings of general use, such words are: ‘size’ (from assize), ‘live’ (from alive), ‘tend’ (from attend), ‘lone’ (from alone), ‘mend’ (from amend), ‘fence’ (from defense), ‘sport’ (from disport), ‘stain’ (from distain) etc.

There are many words that do not owe their origin to shortening in pronunciation, but to the abbreviations which are generally used in writing, such as: M.P. (Member of Parliament) is spoken or written as ‘Empee’ and D.C.L. as Dee Cee  Al etc.

Thus shortening has contributed much to the creation of new words with new meanings which have enlarged the vocabulary of the English language. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

E. Words of Unknown Etymology

There are a number of words the etymology of which is unknown, but such words have come to be used in our everyday vocabulary with special meanings of their own. There are many ways and causes of becoming such words as our everyday words. First of all, such words come through children who often utter some strange words which have no meaning, but in course of time, such strange words come into circulation and adopt a special meaning. Secondly, some new words come into being by means of children again because sometimes they pronounce an old word wrongly which later on gains a special meaning of its own. Thirdly, many new words come into use by sudden circumstances. The words created in such way are generally called Words of Unknown Etymology or Root-creation.

The history of the words of unknown etymology is as old as the English language. From the earliest period of the English language to the modern period such words have been going to be created. During the latter half of the Old English period and the Middle English period, English has taken many words of unknown etymology either from its native sources or by means of foreign influences. During the Old and Middle English periods, English has taken such words of unknown etymology as: boy, girl, lad, lass, pig, fog, bed, mum, job, fun, pun etc. Though the etymology of which is unknown, yet such words have occupied a special place in our everyday vocabulary.

There are many new words the investigation of the origin and history of which is unknown but said to be created by poets and writers, due to onomatopoeia. Some of such words are: bing-bong, ping-pong, ding-dong, hiss-hiss, hum-hum, bow-bow, tilter- -twilter.

There are some such words which have been created in recent time and have given a place in literature also. Examples of such words are: vodai (for a fool), bohu (for vain pedantry), hoil (for discomfiture) etc. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

 F. Words Formed From Place Names and Proper Names

Names of places and persons are also fruitful sources of new words in English. As for example- the adjective ‘Indian’ has come from the noun ‘India’. Thus many words as ‘Canter’ has come from Canterbury (name of a province in England) and ‘worsted’ from ‘worstead’ (name of a village).

The words come from the name of a person is ‘tawdry’ from saint Adry’s splendid dress. Thus the word ‘boycott’ has come from captain ‘Boycott’ (an Irish landlord). From the names of fictitious characters, such words have come into being, as: quixotic, hector, pander, malapropism, Shakespearean, Keatsian, Miltonic etc. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

G. Telescoping

Another method of forming new words in English is Telescoping. In philology, the term ‘Telescoping’ means the combination of two or more words into one. It was an old process of word-maxing in English. The Old English language formed the word ‘don’ by combining two independent words ‘do’ and ‘on’ ; ‘chortle’ from ‘chuckl’e and ‘snort’; ‘galumph’ from ‘gallop’ and ‘triumphant’ etc.

Thus by means of Telescoping, many new words have been going to be created in English as independent words. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

H. Words Used as Verb and Noun 

In English, there are many nouns, which are also used as verbs and many verbs which are also used as nouns, and such words have enriched the vocabulary of English considerably. As for example, we can take the following sentence:

(a) Ram kills a tiger.

(b) Corbett leaves the kill behind the hill.

In the first sentence, the word ‘kill’ is used as a verb, but in the second sentence, the word ‘kill’ is used as a noun. Other examples of such words which are used both as a verb and as a noun in different occasions are: smoke, talk, dress, embrace, harass etc. But it to say that the number of such words is so much in English that it would prove a vain effort, for anybody, to give a complete list of such words. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language



This chapter contains three essays as: The Origin and Development of Plural Ending in English,  An Essay on Standard English and Difference Between American English and British (Royal) English.

A. The Origin and Development of Plural Ending in English

Like other Teutonic languages, the English language has two numbers: Singular ad Plural. But there is a good difference of forming plural from singular between Old English and Modern English.

In Old English, most masculine was made plural by adding the ending ‘e’ as in Engle, some by ‘a’ as in suna, a great many by ‘an’ as in guman.

Feminine words were formed their plurals by adding the ending  ‘a’, as in griefa some by adding ‘e’ as in bene, some by adding ‘an’ as in tungan and many words without any ending.

From the very beginning of the Old English period the ending- ‘as’(later on ‘es’ or ‘s’) began to gain ground first among the masculine and then in feminine and neuter gender also. But the regular rule of the plural ending in English began during the late Middle English.  Most nouns are done plural by adding the ending ‘-s’ such as:                 

Singular    plural

Cow          cows

Boy           boys

Girl           girls

Book        books etc

In Modern English, there are many words which are plural in form but used as singular as: scissors, news, vegetables etc.

There are a good many definite words the plural of which is complete opposite words, such as:

Singular     Plural

Mouse        mice

Goose        geese

Child         children etc

The nouns generally ended in y, f, sh etc. take ‘es’ instead of ‘s’ in the plural as for examples- 

Singular     Plural

Lady           ladies

Wolf           wolves 

Fish           fishes etc

There are some words the plural of which generally depend on their use. Shakespeare wrote: She has more hair than wit and more faults than hairs. Here Shakespeare uses the hair in a plural sense, though he has not used ‘-s’ in the first word to indicate plurality; but in the second clause, he uses the ending ‘-s’ in the word.

There are many words of double plural ending, grammatically the uses of which is wrong, but logically such use is not incorrect. For example- there are eight sets of chamberses (Thackeray). Here the word ‘chamberses’ has been done double plural. Once a student (of London), wrote: cats have clawses. Here the word ‘claws’ has been done double plural by adding ‘-es’ to the plural from ‘claws’. But it is noteworthy that the rules of making plural from singular in Modern English is more logical than that of Old English. 0 0 0

B. An Essay on Standard English 

English, as an independent language, had taken birth in the mouth of the Anglo-Saxon in fourth century England. Basically, there were four dialects- the West Saxon dialect, Northumbrian dialect, Mercian dialect and Celtic dialect. English generally began to be spoken and written from its origin to the 12th century is called Old English, which generally meant not the other dialect but the West-Saxon dialect, because this dialect became a more popular and easy medium both for writing and speaking. It is a matter of wonder to note here that the English language which we generally call Standard English has not been descended from these dialects but it has arisen in the fifteen century out of a complete another dialect called the East Midland dialect, especially the dialect of the Metropolis London.

There are many factors that contributed much to the rise of Standard English. 

First, the endeavour taken by some English Academies from time to time with a view to reform and develop the English language. Some eminent scholars like- Swift, Dryden, Spart, Evelyn, Walles and some others had proposed for that cause and as a result, many eminent grammarians composed some grammars of the English Language, among which mention may be made of Joseph Priestly’s, The Rudiment of English Grammar (1761), Robert Lowth’s, Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) and John Ash’s Grammatical Institute. All these grammarians, through their grammar, codified the principles and reduced the English language to rule, settled disputed principles and pointed out the common error and thus improved the language, which become the basis of Modern Standard English.

The second factor of the rise of Standard English was due to the compilation and publication of Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. It was honoured and received by the English as a great achievement. This dictionary codified, fixed and ascertained the words with their pronunciation, spelling and meaning and as a result, the English language was developed into standard form.

The third reason of the growth and rise of Standard English is the writing of the Elizabethan writers as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Johnson, Webster, Bacon and many others, who had written their world-famous books in a language which was something modified, refined, standard and unanimously common to all. Though there is a difference between the languages of those writers and that of our day, yet this difference is not vast but slight.

The fourth reason of the growth and spreading of Standard English is the establishment of the world-wide colonies by the English. The businessmen who communicated with their colonies were educated men and hence they talked in a modified language and from their mouths, the foreigners also learned the same modified English language.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, broadcasting and newspapers contributed much to the spreading of Standard English. The radio and television broadcasting and writings of newspapers are written in such a language which is supposed to be common to all and hence they took the most wide Standard English as their means.

Nowadays we mean by the term ‘Standard English’, a language which is much more modified, easy, simple, wide and unanimously common to all who know any dialect of English. But there have been met three classes of Standard English, such as:

(A) Received Standard English

(B) Modified Standard English and

(C) Literary Standard English

Received Standard English is the best form of the regional dialects which have been received by the natives of England. Modified Standard English is the language that is spoken by the vulgar English who have abandoned their regional dialects and have taken a common form of all dialects that arose out of the admixture of all the dialects. Literary Standard English is English that has been spread by means of literature. Though there are three classes of Standard English, yet all Standard English indicated the same thing. The difference is not vast but little.

Generally, there arises a question- of whether the Standard English language will exist as the international language in the future also. The answer to the question, it may be doubted that still today there are some problems regarding English pronunciation, spelling and some rules of grammar which may stand as a barrier in front of it. The pronunciations of such words as – door, poor, boor, meat, ate, put, but, mood, moor etc. raise a puzzle to the readers. When a foreigner learns to pronounce the word ‘poor’ nicely he will be surprised when he will be taught that ‘door’ or ‘boor’ is pronounced differently. Moreover, there arises the same problem regarding such letters, like – a, e, ae, ea, t, s, ch etc.

Thus in the use of articles, in the use of degrees and in the use of prepositions there is a good deal of puzzles which a foreigner cannot take up easily.

In the future, if Standard English desires to keep up its present international status, it must modify and shorten its grammatical puzzles and complication. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

C. Difference Between American English and British (Royal) English

English, as a mother tongue, is spoken in America and in Great Britain. But the English language spoken and written in America is called American English the English language spoken and written in England is called King’s  (Royal) or British English. The English language of the Americans was not originated in America but was brought to America by the English colonists in the seventeenth century. Though American English originally belonged to Royal English, yet there are some outstanding differences between the two. The main factors that are responsible for the differentiation between the two are as follows:

First of all, the English who migrated from England to America carried with them the English language that was prevalent in seventeenth-century England, especially the language spoken and written by Shakespeare, Milton, Webster, Bunyan and the Elizabethans.

The second cause is that the English language borrowed by the colonists has taken many native or provincial elements which have not entered into the vocabulary of Royal English. On the other hand, British or Royal English has taken many foreign elements after the seventeenth century which have not been inserted into American English.

The third outstanding cause of the difference between American English and Royal English is that, when America got freedom from the yoke of Britain, then the Americans were surged with nationalism and patriotism and began to hate any foreign elements or influence on their culture. And hence some scholars came out to give a national form to their language and as a consequence, Noah Webster wrote some books on the American English language in which he willingly differentiated somewhat the English language from the language of that of Britain. The famous books written by him were: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, The American Spelling Book, Dissertation on the English Language. In 1828, he even wrote a dictionary entitled: ‘An American Dictionary of the English language.

In the above-mentioned books, he differentiated American English from Royal English especially in the pronunciation and in the spelling of many words. Nowadays, the difference that occurs between the two is mainly pertaining to vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling and syntax.

The vocabulary of American English differs from British English because the Americans have taken many native elements into their English which the British English fails to get at.

The new elements taken from its native source and from the Red-Indians are pertaining to the name of trees, name of living things and the names relating to food, such as:

Names of trees: hickory, live-oak, locust, sweet-potato, egg-plant etc.

Names of living things: moose, terrapin, porgy, shunk etc.

Names of food: pone, hominy, tapioca etc.                            

Besides these American English took some words from French, Dutch, German and Spain, which have differentiated American English from British English.

Some of the words taken from French are: portage, bureau, levee, chute etc.

Some of the words taken from Dutch are: stoop, boss, cruller etc.

Some of the words taken from German are: noodle, pretzel, smear-case etc.

 Some words taken from Spain are: corral, chile, quadroon, stampede etc.

The atmosphere of American political life compelled the Americans to introduce some political terms to their vocabulary, some of such terms are: banner-state, drank-horse, favourite son, landshide, floater, slate etc.

Many words pertaining to rail-roads, American English differs from British English.

American Eng   British Eng

Cowcatcher        pilot

Locomotive       driver engineer

Conductor         guard

Baggage            luggage

Car                   carriage etc

The second outstanding difference between the two types of English occurs in pronunciation. The Americans preserve the flat sound of ‘a’ in some words like- fast, path, grass, dance etc. while British English pronounces them with broad ‘a’ sound as ‘a’ in father.

In American English, the ‘r’ is pronounced in all position, while in Royal English the sound of the letter is omitted in such words, as: lord, port, short etc. The British English language pronounces these words as: loud, pout, shout respectively.

Concerning the sound of ‘o’ in such words, as: not, dot, pot, hot, lop etc, American English pronounce the ‘o’ as short ‘a’ while British English pronounces these words with an open ‘o’.

There are some words as: been, leisure, either, neither etc. which American English pronounces as- bin, lisure, ether, nether respectively, while Royal English pronounces ‘been’ as ‘bean’; ‘leisure’ as they pronounce ‘pleasure’ and ‘either’ and ‘neither’ with an initial diphthong ‘an’.

The words like: secretary, necessary etc. American English pronounces without the omission of any letter, but British English pronounce these words as- secret’ry, necess’ry respectively.

The third outstanding difference between the two kinds of English is pertaining to spelling. The Americans write some words without the use of ‘U’ as labor, honor etc. while British English writes with the letter ‘U’ as labour, honour etc.

Many times American English uses a single consonant in some words, while British English uses two consonants as-

American Eng  British Eng

Traveler             traveller

Wagon              waggon etc.

The American substitutes ‘er’ for ‘re’ in many words such as – figer, center, theater, while British English writes – figure, centre, theatre etc.

In some words, American English writes- ‘se’ and British English writes ‘-ce’as-

American Eng  British Eng

Defense             defence

Offense             offence etc.

Fourth outstanding difference between the two seems in syntax. American English writes infinite ‘to’ before verb as: aim to go. While British English use a gerund as: aim at going.

In the use of adverbs, American English puts the adverb before the auxiliary verb as: He frequently has been punished. In contrast, British English uses the adverb after the auxiliary verb as: He has frequently been punished.

Though both English differs from each other in some respects, yet there is a close affinity between the two in many respects, for which an American can understand British English without facing any difficulty and vice-versa. It will be interesting here to say that the English language which has become the basis of present-day International English, is Royal English, not American English.

Generally, it seems that American English concerning pronunciation and spelling is more logical than British English; because the pronunciation of American English corresponds with that of their spelling. And that is why it may be called that if the English language needs any simplification in the future it may learn something from American English. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language 

D. The History of ‘-Ing’

The history of the ending ‘-ing’ is a matter of interest while reading the history of the English language. Originally the use of ‘–ing’ was restricted only to nouns. But in course of time, its uses have been extended considerably.

At an early age of the English language, the ending ‘-ing’ was added only to noun from other nouns. As for example: school+ing=schooling; shirt+ing=shirting; stable+ing =stabling, suit+ing=suiting.

By the fifteen century, its use was extended considerably at first to weak verbs and then to strong verbs except for auxiliary verbs. As for example: coming, taking, feeling etc.

By verbs added to the ending ‘-ing’ acquired the function of noun and they take plural endings like other nouns, as– comings, goings, takings, feelings, drawings etc.

Like nouns, the verbal nouns may have taken a definite or indefinite article or an adjective before them as: the drawing, a drawing, good drawing etc.

The nouns made by such way can be combined with other nouns to make compound nouns as: picture-drawing, college-teaching, teaching-experience, dining-table etc.

They can be used both in nominative and accusative cases as: Walking in the morning is a good exercise; he stopped reading etc.

Like transitive verbs they can take objects in the accusative cases, e.g. I want his seeing the picture.

They are modified also by adverbs as in- I ordered his immediately leaving the room.

In some connection, the verbs ending in ‘–ing’ assumes a passive meaning as: These shoes want mending; the story lost much in the writing.

Another function of the ending ‘-ing’ is that it is used to form continuous tenses as: He is writing a letter; Ram is working in the field.

Thus the history of the ending ‘-ing’ is very significant from the grammatical view of the English language and the extension of the ending ‘-ing’ has made the English language more easy, terse, logical and expressive. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language



There are some terms relating to Philology. Some of such terms are Hybridism, Johnsonese, Archaism, Euphemism, Malapropism etc.  These terms are going to be explained briefly as under: 

1. Note on Hybridism

‘Hybridism’ means the words made up of parts derived from two or more different languages. Hybridism, in the English language, dates back as early as the introduction of French words to English. The English language has enriched much of its vocabulary by means of hybridism. The main process of hybridism is the addition of native endings to French or Latin or Greek or other words and by adding French or Latin or Greek endings to native words.

By adding English endings (suffixes) to French and Latin or Greek words, such hybrids are made as: by adding ‘-ing’ as- serving, preaching etc.

By adding ‘ung’ as: scornung, riwlung etc.

By adding ‘ly’ to French words, we get such hybrids as: princely, kingly, courtly etc.

By adding ‘ness’ as: faintness, clearness, cleanliness etc.

By adding ‘full’, as: beautiful, powerful, dutiful etc.

By adding ‘-ess’, ‘-age’, ‘-ment’, we get such hybrids, as: shepherdess, mileage, endearment etc.

By adding such English ending, as ‘-ty’, ‘-ous’ to foreign words, English made such hybrids, as: humanity, womanity, thunderous, murderous etc.

By adding ‘-ance’ English makes such new words as: forbearance, endurance etc.

Except these, English made many hybrids by adding many foreign endings to its native words, such as:

By adding ‘-ation’ as: admission, consideration etc.

By adding ‘-ative’ as- sedative, contributive etc.

By adding ‘-ism’, ‘-ist’, ‘-ic’ English makes such new words as: humanism, artist, mechanic etc.

In addition to them, many hybrids are made by adding many foreign prefixes to English words, such as:

By adding Greek prefix ‘-anti’ as: anti-congress, anti-king etc.

By adding the prefix ‘-pro’ as: pro–communist, pro-Russian etc.

And by adding the prefix ‘–ex’ we get such hybrids, as: ex-party, ex-head, ex-king etc.

Such many and many new words have been going to be formed by means of hybridism which, likewise, increases the glossary of new English words.

A Brief History of the English Language

2. Note on Johnsonese

‘Johnsonese’ is a term that refers to pedantic, learned, and figurative writing. Such kind of writing comes into English due to the later classical influence, but it was the day of Dr. Johnson when this pedantic style of writing reached in height, hence it is bracketed with the term “Johnsonese” after the name of Dr. Samuel Johnson. He was starved to death- this sentence was written by Dr. Johnson in pedantic style, as: he sank into inanition from nonentity. To say in other words that ‘Johnsonese’ is a term relating to a literary style through which a simple expression is expressed in an elaborative riddle.

Macaulay was somewhere influenced by Johnsonese and wrote: Sir Issac Newton is the developer of the skies in their embodiment movement. This figurative sentence may be written into a simple and plain sentence, as: Sir Issac Newton is the inventor of the theory of gravitation.

Johnsonese, as a literary style, enhances the poetic quality of the language. But it is not easy either to use or understand for common readers. In the 19th century a strong reaction set against Johnsonese as Charles Lamb, Hazlitt and others favoured simple words and natural expression. But still today the impact of Johnsonese is alive in literature, especially in the writings of pedantic writers. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

3. Note on Archaism

‘Archaism’ is a term that means the use of words or phrases that have become out of date or old-fashioned. In any language the use of archaism is seen mainly in writing; not in speaking. Likewise, in the English language, archaic words or phrases are used when occasion needs or when an old-fashioned atmosphere is sought to be evoked.

But some English writers especially poets try to revive some archaic words through their writings. By the term ‘archaic’ in English we mean, especially the words or phrases used by the English writers before the sixteenth century. Alexander Pope and his contemporaries made sparing use of archaism, but the contemporaries of Dr. Johnson took shelter in the abundant use of archaic words because they turned their look back for inspiration. Spenser became their favourite poet and hence they adopted a great many of his words which had been long forgotten.

Among many, William Thomson is one in whose writings the archaic words and phrases have occupied a special status. His Hymn to May is full of such archaic words as: sheen (for shine), ne (for nor), been (for are), mead (for prize) etc.

Like Thomson, Gilbert West, another poet, also employed a number of archaic words in his writings, as for example- sooth (for truth), prowess (for vigour), hight (for height) etc. But in favour of understanding, they had to explain those words to their readers.

In the 19th century Keats, Scott, Coleridge, Tennyson, Morris, employed many archaic words which become familiar to modern readers and thus many old words have entered into the Modern English Dictionary. Nowadays many English writers use many archaic words in order to impute highness in their poetry. But it is a matter of sorrow that the archaic words become objects of difficulty to readers who are not familiar to such words. In another hand, the use of archaic words may be called bliss in disguise because, in such a way, many out of dated words have got revival again and found their way to the modern vocabulary. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Languag

4. Note on Euphemism

Euphemism is a figure of speech through which a writer or speaker speaks something offensive or unpleasant in a pleasant manner. Etymologically the term “Euphemism” means speaking well. It has come from the Greek words ‘en’ and ‘phemi’ which mean ‘I speak well’ (en = well, phemi = I speak). As for example- we have a euphemism when we say “he has joined the great majority” instead of saying “he has died.”

But it is a matter of wonder that a word or term or phrase which was used to be meant a euphemism century before, now it has undergone a change of meaning. As for example in the days of Shakespeare, the man who looked after a funeral arrangement was euphemistically called an “undertaker”, but now it has changed its meaning and come to mean one “who undertakes other tasks than the care of the dead”. Abundant use of euphemism is generally noticeable in literature with the words: death, sex, liar etc.

Euphemism with the word ‘death’ is abundant in Shakespeare. In his drama “Macbeth” we come across:

He that’s coming

Must be provided for.

Here the phrase “provided for” is used in the sense of “murder”. Another example of such euphemism regarding ‘death’ is:

Fleance his son…….

…..must embrace the fate of that dark hour.

Here the phrase, the fate of dark hour refers to ‘death’.

About ‘sex’ we have such words: mistress, hussy, harlot etc. Originally the word mistress meant “a female head of a household”. But now the word has degenerated in meaning and come to mean “a woman having illicit intercourse with a man”. Thus the word “harlot” originally meant “vagabond”, but in course of time, it has changed its meaning and come to be used as a euphemism for the word ‘whore’ or ‘prostitute’.

The word ‘lie’ or ‘liar’ is an outstanding example of word used as a euphemism. For example-

(i) He was telling me a fairy tale.

(ii) He is an imaginative person.

Here the phrase “fairy tale” in the first sentence refers to ‘a lie’ and the phrase ‘imaginative’ person refers to a ‘liar’.

Thus the word ‘insane’ plays a good role as a euphemism. Originally it meant ‘unhealthy’ but now it acquires a general meaning for “mental disorder”.

Thus we see that the euphemistic use of words or phrases as a figure of speech enhances the poetic beauty of a language. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

5. Note on Malapropism

‘Malapropism’ is a term that means ludicrous misuse of words, especially in mistake for one resembling it. The term has been derived from Mrs. Malaprop, a ludicrous character of Sheridan’s well-known drama, The Rivals. In this play Mrs. Malaprop provides great amusement by confusing words and inventing new ungrammatical and illogical words that have little likeness to the actual words. The outstanding example that has been found in what Mrs. Malaprop says in the drama, as:

‘Sure if I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue and a nice detangement of epitaph’.

Almost in every play of Shakespeare, there is an abundant use of malapropism. Dogberry, a character of Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ plays a Malapropic role when he says, as:

Most senseless and fitman for the constable of the water.

In Mid-summer Night’s Dream Bottom, a character says:

There we may rehearse must obscenely and courageously. 

In Merchant of Venice Old Gobbo says:

That is the very defect of the matter, sir.

In these sentences, the words: senseless, obscenely and defect plays a malapropic role because they are used ungrammatically.

Malapropism is generally a misuse of words due to grammatical ignorance. Thus in our day-to-day speaking we fall often into word-confusion, as we use ‘ceremonial’ for ‘ceremonious’, ‘contemptible’ for ‘contemptuous’, ‘acception’ for ‘acceptation’ which are malapropic in character. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

6. Note on Haplology

‘Haplology’ means pronouncing the same sound once instead of twice. It is concerned with what we call apostrophe‘s’ (’s). Thus we say: she works in the writers’ workshop instead of she works in the writers’s workshop.  In this sentence, the ‘s’ sound of the word writers’s is pronounced once instead of twice, because of haplology. Thus we make abundant use of haplology in the possessive case with the noun that ends in ‘s’. As for example– ‘It is princess’ broken chair’.

The Elizabethan writers used ample haplology in their writings. Let us take some examples from Shakespeare:

(i) That other princess’ can.

(ii) His mistress’ eyebrow.

The genitive of the plural always haplologized as: the employee’s union, the boys’ school, sisters’ assembly etc.

But there is an exception in some dialects the genitive of the plural is not haplologized as for example-

(i) The brains’s clease. (Murray)

(ii) Other folks’s children. (George Eliot)

Except these, a haplological phenomenon is also seen in the omission of the genitive sign before a word beginning with‘s’. As for example: For fashion sake instead of ‘fashion’s sake’. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English Language

7. Note on Slang

The vulgar use of language in a new sense always with a particular meaning is called ‘Slang’. Slang belongs to any language of the world. In the English language, there is an abundant use of slang; but the systematic and scientific study of slang began in the nineteenth century. There are some outstanding characteristics of slang which are going to be discussed below:

First of all, slang rises up as a language (not independent) in the mouth of the vulgar masses. The vulgar masses invent some words at their will with a view to characterize something or to secure privacy to their speech and meaning within some particular class of people.

The second feature of slang is that it differs from place to place, region to region. The general masses of a particular place or society use some words which the general masses of another place do not know. But the slang used by a particular society consists of the nature and characteristics of the works and the mentality of the place.

The third characteristic of slang is that it always tries to say something worse or bad in a pleasing manner. For example, slang saying: Ram has passed away instead of plain saying: Ram has died.

The fourth characteristic of slang is that slang is fickle and changeable or short-lived. Slang rises up in a particular period of time and becomes popular, but soon it loses the title of slang while is it adopted by everybody as common a saying.

The fifth characteristic of slang is that it bears abundant synonymous words in meaning and sense. The most used words having the synonymous meaning are ‘money’, ‘drinking’, ‘drunkenness’ and ‘sexual organs’. We have twenty synonyms for the word ‘sea’; one hundred and thirty for the word ‘money’. It shows that slang is very resourceful in itself.

The sixth and most glorified characteristic of slang is that slang is not slang for a long time. They rise in contempt but find their way into the standard language of humour. The slang of one generation becomes standard and legitimate words of the next. As for example- there are a lot of verbal phrases, idioms, and compound words which were originated as slang in the mouth of the vulgar, but nowadays they have become legitimate words. Some of such words and phrases are– higgledy-piggledy, by fair means or foul, by hook or by crook, sink or swim, etc.

Such many words and phrases have taken place in modern standard languages which have enriched the English vocabulary considerably. Hence it may be said that slang is not a curse but bliss in disguise from the viewpoint of linguistic phenomena.

From the viewpoint of the meaning of slang-words, there have been met two kinds of slangs: some are standard having good and real definite meanings and some are bad slang having no good or definite meaning at all. The standard slangs are those which are picturesque, witty and humorous. But it is to say that it is not a bad slang but the standard one which is recognized as legitimate slang very soon and adopted by all. 0 0 0

A Brief History of the English LanguageA Brief History of the English Language

The End



  1. Barber C.: The Story of Language.
  2. Baugh A. C.: The History of the English Language.
  3. Bolton & Crystal: The English Language.
  4. Bradley H.: The Making of English.
  5. Brook G. L.: A History of the English Language.
  6. Fowler, H.: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
  7. Jespersen, Otto : (i) Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin
  8. : (ii) Growth and Structure of the English Language.
  9. McKnight G. H.: Modern English in the Making.
  10. Potter, S.: Our Language.
  11. Smith L. P.: (i) The English Language,
  12. Sinha, Manindranath: A Handbook of English Philology.

Books of Composition by M. Menonimus:

  1. Advertisement Writing
  2. Amplification Writing
  3. Note Making
  4. Paragraph Writing
  5. Notice Writing
  6. Passage Comprehension
  7. The Art of Poster Writing
  8. The Art of Letter Writing
  9. Report Writing
  10. Story Writing
  11. Substance Writing
  12. School Essays Part-I
  13. School Essays Part-II
  14. School English Grammar Part-I
  15. School English Grammar Part-II..

Related Searches:

  1. A Short Notes on Old English
  2. A Short Notes on Modern English
  3. Masculinity of the English Language
  4. Influences of Foreign Languages on English
  5. Latin Influences  in the English Language
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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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