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character yielded to the analytic, and the new social and political circumstances in which England was placed by the Norman conquest exactly coincided with this great revolution in the language.
(A.D. 1250–1350).' 19. By the end of the thirteenth century the work of disintegration may be considered as over. It was succeeded by one of stagnation, in which no distinct tendency was visible. The old system was evidently broken up, but it was by no means clear what would take its place. English literature had for nearly two centuries been discountenanced, disparaged, and superseded, and the machinery of the English language deranged and partially destroyed. The spirit, however, of both still survived, and from this time reasserted itself, until at length it became itself the master, and took its captor captive. The Normans had by this time given up the attempt to make their subjects adopt their language, and were beginning, on the contrary, themselves generally to speak and write English; using it not only in common discourse, but in literature and in the promulgation of the laws of the kingdom.
20. This, however, was only one feature of a vast system which was now in process of development. The severance of England from Normandy, which had been brought about by the follies and vices of King John, led directly to the social and political amalgamation of the Norman and English races, while the concession of Magna Charta brought the interests of the different ranks of the people into one common field, and bound them together by a common interest. It is, as Macaulay 3 remarks, in the annals of the thirteenth century that we must seek for the origin of our freedom, our prosperity, and our glory.”
(1) See specimens of the Third Stage in the text, pp. 19–24. (2) Some of the peculiarities were, that (1) A few words did not at once adopt the term.-s in the gen.-sing. : e.g. we find huerte luve, heart's love; our levedi even,
ly's eve; hence even now we say Lady-day, for Lady's day. (2) The term. e of the dat.-sing. is seen in in londe, on land; though we also (3) The old pl. term. of the pres, tense -eth begins to be superseded by -en; hence though we find we weneth, we think ; hi heveth, they have; we also have we riden, we ride. (4) We aren or are begins to be used along with we beth and we ben, for we are.
(3) “ History of England," vol. i. p. 17.
Our most characteristic political institutions, our House of Commons, courts of law, universities,' literature (as distinguished from language), may be said to have begun their effective life from this remarkable period. The principles, indeed, on which all these institutions were founded had been co-existent with the English name, but the infusion of new blood into the constitution now quickened them into unwonted activity.
FOURTH STAGE. MIDDLE ENGLISH.—PERIOD OF REVIVAL. (A.D. 1350—1550).2
21. It is not wonderful, then, that the English language, too, after a period of transformation, should enter on a new phase of existence. In the fierce strife between the two races, and their respective languages, it has been remarked, that the English spirit, though compelled for a while to bow, remained unsubdued. It was the conquerors who ultimately yielded. Though collision with the Normans had damaged the old machinery of the English speech, it still could boast that the conqueror had been unable to engraft upon its grammatical system any feature of his own. The framework—the idiosyncrasy-stiil remained untouched. It was still the English language, and nothing else.*
22. Under the fostering hand of Henry III. and his court it began to recover its former position as the language of all England, and with its advancement exhibited new powers. These powers, however, were more specially manifested after its SECOND GREAT REVOLUTION, that of the vocabulary, which we are now to describe. The first revolution destroyed its synthetic, the second its homogeneous, character. There was,
(1) Henry III. granted charters to Cambridge in 1230, and to Oxford in 1248. (2) See specimens of the Fourth Stage in the text, pp. 24--81.
(3) The main feature of the Fourth Stage is the introduction of Norman words; but we may also notice that (1) The term. -en of the pl. pres., of the pl. pret., and of the inf. began to lose the n, so that for they loven, they loveden, to loven, we find they love, they lovede, to love, gradually introduced ; and in strong serbs, I cam, I spak, became in the pl. we came, we spake. (2) That she takes the place of heo and scheo, and they or thei of hi, while hem is still generally used as the acc. pl., and not them, which is more modern.
(4) "Not a single drop of foreign blood has entered into the organic system of the English language. The grammar, the blood and soul of the language, is as pure and unmixed in English as spoken in the British Isles, as it was when spoken orr the shores of the German Ocean by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes of the Continent."--Max Müller's “ Lectures on the Science of Language,” Ist Series, p. 72.
however, this difference in the conditions, that the first arose from constraint imposed upon it from without; the second was rather the result of its own spontaneous action. As long as the Normans looked with scorn on the native subjects, and attempted to silence the native tongue, the English writers appear to have almost ignored the existence of the Norman language, even though it must have been in use all around them.i They proudly refused to clothe themselves in the trappings of the conqueror. Nor until after the Normans had begun themselves to adopt the English language, and to use it for French in the grammar-schools in the construing of Latin (which took place about the middle of the fourteenth century), did they cordially avail themselves vf contributions from that source. When they did, however, they compensated themselves by seizing and assimilating whatever in the Norman vocabulary, phraseology, literary matter, and versification seemed adapted to aid them in their own literary career.
23. The language, once synthetic and homogeneous, was now become analytic and composite, from this time forward allowing itself more and more freedom of manner, and incorporating from every quarter new stores of matter. The two great changes which without destroying its spirit had materially altered its outward aspect, and which some look upon as proofs of degradation, were in fact preparing it more effectually for its ultimate prosperity. The loss of the artificial machinery of inflections, and the intimate mingling of Norman life-blood with its own, were both great advantages, and made the language more free, flowing, harmonious, and forcible than it had ever been before. The simplicity of its structure, and the opulence of its vocabulary, were rendering it a flexible medium for the representation of those graces and felicities of style which distinguish literature from the mere utterance of words. It was preparing to become the fit vehicle for the noble conceptions of Shakspeare and Milton. Its preparation, however, for these highest displays of power and beauty occupied nearly three centuries, and during this long period (including the green and luminous period of Chaucer), it was ever assimilating to itself materials from without, till at length the language and the literature formed the grand union of which all Englishmen have a right to be proud.
(1) “The Brut,” a long poem in Semi-Saxon, translated about A.D. 1200 by Layamon, an English priest, from the Norman French, and consequently perpetually suggesting, as it were, the incorporation of Norman words with his own English, contains in its 30,000 lines only about fifty such words.
(A.D. 1550—1867). 24. The English of the last three centuries is, by general consent, treated as Modern. This epithet is considered quite in harmony with the fact that the language in the course of that period has undergone great changes, and that the English of Tennyson and Carlyle is in many respects —not merely personal -very different from that of Lylie, Hooker, and Shakspeare. All its most important grammatical features were finally impressed upon it in the sixteenth century (the introduction of to its” in the seventeenth century being nearly the only important exception); and although we have adopted many words which were formerly unknown, and invested many
old ones with fresh meanings, yet the great bulk of the vocabulary remains the same. Neither the slight grammatical changes, nor the accession of new words, nor the loss of old ones, has had the slightest tendency to disturb the essential character of the language, which is, indeed, growing into greater simplicity and freedom still by the obliteration of distinctions which have no practical advantage, as well as by the occasional recovery from the buried, but not forgotten, stores of “Original English, of words, and even idioms which may come to be permanently re-adopted. Not only many of Tennyson's poems, but some works that have been very recently published—as Morris's “ Life and Death of Jason,” a poem of singular power and beauty-indicate this latter tendency very strongly, and seem to show that whatever vicissitudes our language may be destined to undergo, the essentially English part of it will ever hold its supremacy and appeal most powerfully to the affections, the taste, the heart, and home of the Englishman.
(1) These points, amongst others, may be noted-(1) The distinction between the present tenses of the indic. and subj. moods is becoming obsolete. “If I be,'' “if thou be," &c., will soon find no place in the English grammars of the nineteenth century. The pret.-subj., however, still holds its ground. (2) Poetical writers, freely and unreproved, use such preterites as clomb,"
." “dr ve," "spake;" and such old words as “natheless," and all more freely use “therefrom," " thereat," &c. (3) The crime of separating the preposition from its object is no longer shunned. We say, “the conclusion they had arrived at was no longer,” &c., instead of " at which they,” &c. (4) The rel. pron, thut is superseding both who and which; and whose is used for of which, as well as for of whom.
Essentials of Anglo-Saxon Grammar.'
Tue original English alphabet did not contain the letters ), k, 9, v, or z. It had,
however, three letters which the modern has not, b: 8, and æ.
in tone; a =
in sheep; e =
in hound ; U =
in sky; y =
i in pit.
ea, eo es
(1) The few paradigms given here are in no sense to be considered as an AngloSaxon grammar. They will, however, aid the pupil in reading the extracts from Ælfred and Ælfric, and thus serve to illustrate the original stage of the English language.
(2) The subject of A.S. pronunciation is so difficult, every point being open to discussion, that very plausible objections may be taken against the above-or, indeed, any other-scheme. Its adoption, however, in reading, will be found of great assistance in frequently revealing something which the form of the word had concealed, e.g. pronounce húnd, hound, and wif, wive, and we see at once the close connection between the ancient and modern words, and see in the latter case why the plural is wives, and not wifes.