“English is now ours. We have colonized it, too.” Gemino Abad
As lovers of literature, from Tierra Trivium we pay a homage to the vehicles which make it possible: languages. This article focuses its attention on the current lingua franca: our dear English. But what happened to this original Germanic language so that today it is so different from its sister German?
What was the trigger which turned English into the hybrid language it is nowadays? One event answers this question: The Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. It is worth mentioning that this historical point began the transition from Old to Middle English since the effect which this socio-political change brought about was the subjugation of the English language under the France prominence during the Norman-ruled period. This Conquest could be pointed as the reason why English speakers have both a quite fixed word order to express themselves and a hybrid vocabulary which provides them with the opportunity to say: wish and desire, ask and demand and help and aid (among others).
“We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” Booker T. Washington
Let’s take a look at the story of English narrated by the language itself.
“This is the story of my life, a story which proves that languages are closer to a living entity than a finished book; since as long as we have speakers who use us, there is always a place for a new chapter in our lives. A chapter in which speakers write mediated by the socio-political context which surrounds them. My story begins as follows: I was born in the fifth century from the Germanic Angles, Jutes and Saxons tribes. These “parents” provided me with a strong and determined character so that I never gave up; while taught me to be hospitable with visitors either friendly or belligerent; hence I was prepared when foreign invaders came to “visit” me. First, Old Norse, my distant relative, appeared and although at the beginning we had some misunderstandings we both managed to get rid of all of that which jeopardized our good relationship and we had a successful long-lasting “partnership”. Besides, my relative was really generous and gave me some incommensurable presents which I have used ever since, among others: my dear third plural personal pronoun, and some verbs which have been really productive over the years such as get, take or give.
Later, in the eleventh century a fierce stranger showed up, and it sidelined me inside its enormous castles; even kings in my own land gave up on knowing me. This enemy was not familiar, some called it Norman-French others only French, in addition, it had come accompanied by its mother, Latin, an old acquaintance of mine. They demoted and degraded me for centuries, but far from becoming intimidated, I made the most of that time to enrich myself, to absorb from the invaders all the features I found beneficial for me; I made mine lots of their words and this way my speakers can among other many things: hide and conceal or smell a stench and an aroma. At the same time, due to the fact that my old “teacher” West Saxon was no longer in charge, I enjoyed a great freedom, or the way these strangers said a great “liberty”, thus as I had no standard to hold me back I decided to threw away some features I had inherited from my forefathers which were a burden rather than an advantage for my lower class speakers; and that is why I regularized my inflectional endings, and in doing so I also got rid of that grammatical gender which made my speakers so confused when they have to think of a ‘woman’ as masculine, or the ‘sun’ as feminine. And this is how I abandoned my former synthetic typology and embraced the analytic one. With this change, I became more strict with my word order while gave prepositions an opportunity to prove themselves. Eventually, when my speakers realized that it was about time to chase out those foreigners and give me a new chance, I rose from my ashes like the Phoenix. Yet this time I was stronger and willing to prove to the world that I would never be the conquered again and that one day I would conquer the world and become: the global lingua franca.
“The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.” Derek Walcott
(The images contained in this article are not a property of Tierra Trivium).