Introduction to Linguistics
  26.10.06 History of English

26. 10. 2006 Development of English

Influences on English

  • 1000 BCE - 1st century CE

    - Celts ( Celtic)

    - Romans ( Latin)

  • Old English ( 5th century - 11th century) ( cf. Bede)

    - Angles, Saxons (North Germany), Jutes, Danes, Frisians (Anglo- Saxon, Danish)

    - Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton, Manx

    - Vikings ( Old Norse)

  • Middle English ( 11th century - 15th century) (cf. Chaucer)

    - Normans ( Norman French)

  • Modern English ( 15th century - ?) (cf. Shakespeare

    - Rennaissance (Latin, French, Greek, Italian)

    - Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hindi, Malay

  • 17th century

    - American English ( Spanish, American Indian)

    - Canadian English

    - Australian English

    - British English

    - Irish English

    - Scottish

    - Indian

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Ethymology- The history of words

  • Historical changes over time

  • sound change

  • Grimm's Law

    - 2000 years ago the Grimm brother collected fairytales in order to compare different dialects in Germanic languages to find the „ mother language“

    - invented the tree theory

  • Verner's Law

    - 19th century

    - only Danish languages

  • High German Sound Shift

    - 1000 years ago

    - reason why German is pronunced differently from English

  • Great Vowel Shift

    - distinguishes „Chauncer's English“ from the  Modern English

  • Semantic Changes

  • Generalization

  • Spezialization

  • Metaphors

  • Grimm's Law

  • Diaspiration (fagus- beech- Buche)

    *bh *dh *gh

    *b *d *g

  • Devoicing ( decem- ten)

    *b *d *g

    *p *t *k

  • Fricativation ( pitár, pater – father, Vater)

    *p *t *k

    *f *θ *h

  • High German Sound Shift

  • P: /pf/ /p/

  • T: /ts/ /s/

  • K: /kx/ /x/ /ç/

example: path- Pfad

  • Great Vowel Shift

  • make - machen /k/ -> /x/, /ei/ -> /a/

  • beak, break - Schnabel, Bremse /ei/ -> /a/, /e/

  • feet - Füße /i:/ -> /ü/

  • mice- Mäuse /ai/ -> /äu/

  • mouse – Maus ou -> au

  • boat – Boot oa -> oo

  • Semantic changes

  • Mechanisms

    - Generalization

    - Spezialization

    - Metaphor

  • Word Formation- Word Creation

  • derivation

  • compounding

  • abbreviation

  • sound simbolism, onomatopoeia, synaesthesia

  • Borrowing- Copying


  • Similarities between languages

  • Reasons for similarities:

    - Historical relationship

    - Language contact, borrowing

    - Typological similarity

    - Chance

  • Different dimensions of similarity:

    - history

    - typological universals

Learner's diary

Today's lecture was about the beginning of the development of English.

At the beginning of today's lecture we discussed some details of our homework, which was to find information on the different stages of the English language, and we saw a very interesting colourful graphic which was a big help for me to understand and remember the history of English. We talked about the different influeces ( Romans, Normans,...) on English and also mentioned some examples of famous authors for the later stages. Further we spoke about the difference between German and English, which is due to the high german soundshift and the differences beween old and middle english, which are due to the great vowel shift. We also mentioned Grimm's law, which was discouvered by the Grimm brothers who collected fairy tales in order to compare germanic dialects and to find out the mother language, and Verner's law, but that is less important for us. We spoke about some interesting examples which make the meaning of the great vowel and the high german shoundshift quite clear. But language do not only change in their orthography, also their meaning might change. There might be semantic changes, generalizations or specialisations. The English word "deer" used to mean "animal" (Tier in German) in general, now "deer" is only one special kind of animal.  

I really liked today's lecture, is was quite interesting and well structured. The slides helped me to understand everything even more and they were especially usefull for revising the lecture at home. What I did not like about today's lecture was the way the different soundshifts were illustrated on the slides because it was not quite clear to me only by looking at the slides to find out which sound was changed into which.  


  • Find further examples and dates of

    - borrowing / copying in English and German

    - Norman French, Latin, Greek, Hindu, Arabic, ...

  • sound change

  • semantic change

  • Find the etymologies of

    - Eng. “husband”

    - Ger. “geil”

  • Find examples of

    - Old English / Old High German

Borrowing/ Copying

Old English

  • Celtic borrowing

  • binn- bin

  • rice- rule

  • place/ river names Thames, Wye, Dover, Bray...

  • Latin loans (from Continental Roman armies and Romano- British)

  • plants, animals, food, drink, household

  • pise- pea

  • plante- plant

  • win- wine

  • cyse- cheese

  • catte- cat

  • cetel- kettle

  • dise- dish

  • candel- candle

  • clothing

  • belt- belt

  • Buildings and settlement

  • tigle- tile

  • weall- wall

  • ceaster- city

  • military and legal institutions

  • wic- camp

  • commerce

  • pund- pound

  • religion

  • masse- mass

  • early latin loans (before 1000)

  • nonnus> nonne „monk“

  • calendae> calend „month“

  • ...

  • late latin loans (after 1000)

  • bibliotheca> bibliopeca „library“

  • delphinus> delfin „dolphin“

  • the effect of Norse

  • langind, score, beck, fellow, take, husting, steersman

  • [sk] skirt, sky, skin

  • both, same, get, give

  • they, them, their

  • to be sindom- are

  • French before 1066

  • capun- capon

  • servian- to serve

  • bacun- bacon

  • prisun- prison

  • castel- castle

  • cancelere- chancellor

Middle English

  • Norman French

  • administration (authority,...)

  • law (accuse,...)

  • religion ( abbey,...)

  • military ( army, ...)

  • food and drinks ( beef,...)

  • fashion (boots, ...)

  • leisure and the arts ( beauty, ...)

  • science and learning (anatomy, ...)

  • the home ( blanket, ...)

  • general nouns (adventure, ...)

  • general adjectives ( blue, ...)

  • general verbs ( arrange, ...)

  • turns of phrase (by heart, ...)

  • Latin

  • client

  • comet

  • immortal

  • combine

  • ...

Early Modern English

  • Renaissance

  • Latin and Greek

  • absurdity

  • extinguish

  • ...

  • French

  • battery

  • passport

  • ...

  • Italian

  • balcony

  • macaroni

  • ...

  • Spanish and Portuguese

  • alligator

  • cocoa

  • ...

  • Persian

  • bazaar

  • caravan

  • Hindu

  • guru

  • Malay

  • ketchup

( „ The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language“, David Crystal)

Sound Changes : Grimm's Law



Germanic (shifted) examples

Non-Germanic (unshifted) cognates



English: foot, Dutch: voet, German: Fuß, Gothic: fōtus, Icelandic: fótur, Danish: fod, Norwegian, Swedish: fot

Ancient Greek: πούς (pūs), Latin: pēs, Sanskrit: pāda Lithuanian: pėda


English: third, Old High German: thritto, Gothic: þridja, Icelandic: þriðji

Ancient Greek: τρίτος (tritos), Latin: tertius, Gaelic treas, Sanskrit: tri, Lithuanian: trys


English: hound, Dutch: hond, German: Hund, Gothic: hunds, Icelandic, Faroese: hundur, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: hund

Ancient Greek: κύων (kýōn), Latin: canis, Gaelic


English: what, Gothic: ƕa ("hwa"), Dutch: wat, Icelandic hvað, Danish hvad

Latin: quod, Gaelic ciod, Sanskrit ka-, kiṃ



English: peg

Latin: baculum


English: ten, Dutch: tien, Gothic: taíhun, Icelandic: tíu, Danish, Norwegian: ti, Swedish: tio

Latin: decem, Gaelic deich, Lithuanian: dešim, Sanskrit: daśan


English: cold, Dutch: koud, German: kalt, Icelandic: kaldur, Danish: kold, Swedish: kall

Latin: gelū


English: quick, Gothic: qius, Icelandic: kvikur, Swedish: kvick

Latin: vivus 'alive', Greek: βίος (bios) 'life', Gaelic beò 'alive', Lithuanian: gyvas, guvus



English: brother, Dutch: broeder, German: Bruder, Gothic: broþar, Icelandic: bróðir, Danish, Swedish: broder

Ancient Greek: φρατήρ (phrātēr), Sanskrit: (bhrātā) Lithuanian: brolis Old Church Slavonic bratru


English: door, Frisian: doar, Dutch: deur, Gothic: daúr, Icelandic: dyr, Danish, Norwegian: dør, Swedish: dörr

Ancient Greek: θύρα (thýra), Sanskrit: dwār, Lithuanian: durys


English: goose, Frisian: goes, Dutch: gans, German: Gans, Icelandic: gæs, Faroese: gás, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: gås

Ancient Greek: χήν (khēn)


English: wife, Proto-Germanic: wiban (from former gwiban), Old Saxon, Old Frisian: wif, Old Norse: vif, Danish, Swedish: viv, Dutch: wijf, Old High German: wib, German: Weib

Tocharian B: kwípe, Tocharian A: kip

( )

High German Consonant Shift



High German Shift

Examples (Modern German)


Geographical Extent


G: *b→*p



schlafen, Schiff
cf. sleep, ship


Upper and Central German




Pflug, Apfel, Kopf,1 scharf 2
cf. plough, apple, cup, sharp


Upper German


G: *d→*t



essen, dass, aus 3
cf. eat, that, out


Upper and Central German




Zeit "time", Katze
cf. tide, cat


Upper German


G: *g→*k



machen, ich
cf. make, Dutch ik "I" 4


Upper and Central German




Bavarian: Kchind, Alemannic: Stokch
cf. German Kind "child", Stock "stick"


Southernmost Austro-Bavarian
and High Alemannic


G: *bʰ→*b
V: *p→*b



Bavarian: perg, pist
cf. German Berg "hill", bist "(you) are"


Parts of Bavarian/Alemanic


G: *dʰ→*d
V: *t→*d



Tag, Vater
cf. day, Dutch vader "father" 5


Upper German


G: *gʰ→*g
V: *k→*g



Bavarian: Kot
cf. German Gott "God"


Parts of Bavarian/Alemanic


G: *t→þ



Dorn, Distel, durch, drei, Bruder
cf. thorn, thistle, through, three, brother


Throughout German and Dutch


( )

Semantic Changes

The four most widely recognised types of semantic change are extension, narrowing, amelioration, and pejoration. The first two represent changes in a word's scope, while the second pair can also cover changes in a word's individual meanings.

Extension is the widening of a word's range of meanings, often by analogy or simplification. For example, virtue was initially a quality that could only be applied to men, like our modern word manliness, but in contemporary society, it can equally be applied to women as well. Maverick used to be a rancher's term for an unbranded cow but can now mean a person who doesn't conform to the conventions of a group (Jeffers & Lehiste).
Narrowing is the reduction in a word's range of meanings, often limiting a generic word to a more specialised or technical use. For example, broadcast originally meant "to cast seeds out;" with the advent of radio and television, the word was extended to indicate the transmission of audio and video signals. Today, because of narrowing, very few people outside of agricultural circles use broadcast in the earlier sense (Jeffers & Lehiste).
Amelioration occurs as a word loses negative connotations or gains positive ones. For example, mischievous used to mean "disastrous", where it now only means "playfully annoying".
Pejoration occurs as a word develops negative connotations or loses positive ones. For example, notorious initially meant "widely known". Yet it has gone through the process of extension to now mean "widely and unfavourably known". A much more famous example is of the word gay, which can mean happy or colorful and was used commonly until it became a reference to homosexuals. While this may or may not have been a euphemisation in itself, the word in the original sense is avoided. Gay is also extended in certain slang vocabularies as a pejorative adjective. See also euphemism treadmill.
Semantic shift 
Semantic shift occurs as a word moves from one set of circumstances to another, resulting in an extension of the range of meanings. An example of this is navigator, which once applied only to ships but, with the development of planes and cars, now applies to multiple forms of travel. Another example is Old English, meat, (or rather mete), which referred to all forms of solid food while flesh (flæsc) referred to animal tissue, and food (foda) referred to animal fodder. Meat was eventually restricted to flesh of animals, then flesh restricted to the tissue of humans and food was generalized to refer to all forms of solid food (Jeffers & Lehiste).
Semantic drift 
Semantic drift is the movement of the entire meaning of a lexeme to a new meaning, and is particularly evidenced by semantic differences between cognates.
For instance, the English word to starve is cognate with the German sterben ("to die") and in some parts of England, the word can mean "be cold" (since it evolved through the meaning "to die of cold"). Though both words arose from a common West Germanic root *sterb-a- ("to die"), and their meanings are still somewhat related, semantic drift has caused their specific meanings to differ. The same may occur language-internally, especially when one form is specifically agglutinated. For example, English to hurdle is cognate to hard and is agglutinated with the -le frequentative suffix.
  • A more extreme example is with the English word black, which is cognate with Slavic words for white (Russian белый); the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root for both is *bhel. English black derives from Germanic *blakaz, a past participle of a verb meaning "to blaze." As an adjective, the word would indicate something that has burned and since what is burnt is generally black, the shift in meaning makes more sense. ( )



O.E. husbonda "male head of a household," probably from O.N. husbondi "master of the house," from hus "house" + bondi "householder, dweller, freeholder, peasant," from buandi, prp. of bua "to dwell" The sense of "peasant farmer" (c.1220) is preserved in husbandry (first attested c.1380 in this sense). Beginning c.1290, replaced O.E. wer as "married man," companion of wif, a sad loss for Eng. poetry. The verb "manage thriftily" is 1440, from the noun in the obsolete sense of "steward" (c.1450). Slang shortening hubby first attested 1688.


Das Adjektiv "geil" und das davon abgeleitete Substantiv "Geilheit" gehen wahrscheinlich auf eine indogermanische Wurzel mit der Bedeutung "aufschäumend", "heftig", "übermütig", "ausgelassen" und "lustig" zurück. Im Althochdeutschen (seit dem 8. Jh.) wurde geil im Sinne von "übermütig", "überheblich" verwendet. Im Mittelhochdeutschen (seit dem 12. Jh.) kann es für "kraftvoll", "mutwillig", "üppig", "lustig", "froh", "fröhlich" und "schön" stehen.

Heute wird "Geilheit" vorrangig synonym für oder als Anspielung auf Lüsternheit oder sexuelle Begierde verwendet, "Geilheit" und mehr noch die Adjektivform "geil" stellen in diesem Zusammenhang populäre umgangssprachliche Begriffe dar, deren Gebrauch in offiziellen Zusammenhängen allerdings als vulgär gilt.


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