Filología Inglesa

Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

Introducción a la diacronía del inglés.


  • Old English. 5- mid 12th centuries (1150). German tribes arrive to England (Angles, Saxons, Jutes). The Celts also influenced English language. Then Romans came. Influence of Latin. Full inflections, with four cases: Nom., Acc., Gen., Dat.

  • Middle English. 1150 - 1500. Battle of Hastings (1066). Death of Anglo - Saxons. Feudalism. Norman invasion. Three languages live together: English, French and Latin. In 1476 printing press is invented by William Caxton. Levelled inflections, full inflections gradually disappear.

  • Early Modern English (1476 - 1756). Renaissance. Lost inflections, only a few endings survive. The grammar becomes far simpler. Different spelling live together for the same word. There are no authoritative dictionaries or voices.

  • Late modern English (1756 - nowadays). First authoritative dictionary of the English language, by Samuel Johnson, which provided spellings, sounds and ethimology. It was decided not to establish an Academy of English.

Importance of the English language.

A language lives only when it is spoken by anyone. Its importance depends on the importance or influence of the people who speak it. English is spoken by 340 million people as a mother tongue. It is the language of Western languages. Political, economical and scientific reasons are related to the importance of a language. But English is also very broadly spoken as second language (communication, commerce).

The growth of the Spanish language goes with the growth of Latin American countries.

It is also probable that pidgin and Creole varieties of English are more and more widespread spoken where English is not the first language.

Will English ever become the world language?

Many people are strongly opposed to an artificial language (like Esperanto). Perhaps the most representative languages in the world are spoken in united nations (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic). It is possible that speakers of these countries don't want to substitute their own languages for another one. Over a century ago, French was considered the educated classes language, a polite and elegant language. Along the 19th century, the importance of French declines due to the influence of a serious rival, German. Germany became influential in scientific research and scholar activity. But it has been replaced in 20th century by English in the same fields and also in commerce. If we add to this the importance of mass media, we obtain a great expansion of English all over the world.

Functions of English today.

It is spoken by several hundred million people as mother tongue, as second language, as a vehicle of education, in science, in business… in a word, as lingua franca. It has become a symbol of social mobility, of people who wants to climb up in the social scale.

English has lots of influences depending on the areas where it is spoken. It may vary enormously. Many colonies obtained their independence in the 20th century. Their new governments had to choose a national language in order to be different to their neighbours. The choice was often a problem. Today, many problems are still unresolved (not enough education, superpower politics, etc). Many times a local language has been chosen, but if there are many local languages, the problem remains unresolved. Other governments have chosen a language spoken for all. In many former colonies, for reasons of commerce and development, the language chosen has been English. E.g. the official language in India is Hindi, but English works as a very important second language in schools, TV, newspapers… Children have to learn English, Hindi and the local language, and even more.

In Africa, English is used extensively (160 million people). Many nations have chosen English, as Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, etc.

Pros and cons of English.

English present a very mixed vocabulary. It is a Germanic language, but it has borrowed many words from Latin. More than a half of its vocabulary is Latin, directly or through Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese).

It presents also inflectional simplicity. English has gone further than other European languages in this aspect. Noun inflections have been reduced. The -s remains as plural mark, though other plural forms exist. The different cases have also disappeared, remaining the Saxon Genitive only (`s).

The verb has been also simplified; it has lost most of its endings. The subjunctive mood is also about to disappear.

Another advantage of English is that it has natural gender. All nouns referring to living creatures are masculine or feminine, depending on their sex. All other nouns are neuter.

But the great handicap of English is the absolute lack of correlation between spelling and pronunciation.

Pidgins and Creoles.

The origin of pidgin languages is the coincidence of groups of people without a common language, usually for business' sake. The vocabulary and syntax is basic.

A pidgin is nobody's natal language, but a Creole arises when there is a community that learns a pidgin language as natal tongue. This situation is more complex, because this people have to use this language in a more complex way, for daily life and to express all circumstances of human existence. For this reason, syntax and vocabulary become more and more complex.

The study of pidgins started in the 60's; until that time it was considered to be spoken by non-intelligent people.

Tok Pisin.

Pronoun system:




















This reduction of grammar use to take problems of misunderstanding. The English language lost dual number much time ago, but in Tok Pisin still survives.

The grammar is very simple: “papa bilong mi” would mean “my father”, and “bilong would be the equivalent of “of”. However, there are rules. The vocabulary is mixed with the local language. It has fewer words and sounds. E.g. there is no distinction between [p] and [f] or between [s] and [ ]. Due to the simplicity of its vocabulary it takes a word and combines it with others to produce new words and meanings. E.g. “pikini meri” “Mary's daughter” (“pikini” ”small”); “haus sik” “hospital”.

It has only three prepositions: “bilong” (“of”), long (lots of meanings) and “wantaim” (“with”). Subordination does not exist. They convert the complex sentence into two simple sentences.

Synchronic vs. diachronic linguistics.

Language is the way by which people express themselves. Its existence gives people a social, historical and intellectual dimension. Language connects people to the rest of the world.

Language is that interpretative system which enables its users to make understandable utterances (speech) and to interpret properly these utterances by other speakers.

There are many different ways in which we can study a language: synchronic linguistics and diachronic linguistics..

Synchronic linguistics only analyses a language in a given period of time. Diachronic linguistics studies the evolution of a language. To achieve a good understanding of a language we must consider its autonomy, but without forgetting its history and evolution. Synchronic and diachronic methods complement each other.

Synchronic linguistics has been always considered more important, but since the 1970's diachronic linguistics has also been paid attention.

There are three main sources of variation in a language

  • Regional variations. The language spoken has variations depending on the zone it is spoken.

  • Social variations. Not all the social groups speak in the same way (young people, workers, businessmen, etc).

  • Style variations. The English used in a reunion with friends is not the same that we use when searching our first job.

These variations were taken into account especially by William Labov.

There are some reasons for studying the history of a language. For example, for the same reason we study History. It is also useful to know the story of our country, society, etc. Nowadays language is the product of what have previously happened in a society. E.g. we find words from other societies we consider superior in certain aspects (i.e. most of words referred to music come from Italian. Even sounds may be affected by this situation. I.e. `garage' /gærid / (“English” pronunciation), /g ra / “French” pronunciation). “Garage” is a French word. If we use the French pronunciation we will seem more “distinguished” or more snob. French was considered a more “elegant” language.

It is also useful to read an old document in the original language.

The rules of a language are not fixed. What is correct today may be incorrect tomorrow, and vice versa. The study of the history of a language helps us to broaden our minds with regard to the use of our language or other.

It also helps us to understand where irregularities and anomalies come from.

The discovery of Sanskrit.

It was fundamental for the establishment of an origin of the English language and the Indo-European language.

We find correspondences like:

Old English Germanic

bän bein

stän stein

When these correspondences were found, Scholars came to the conclusion that these words had to come from the same parent language. They saw that Old English (OE) ä corresponds to modern German ei.

English Latin

father pater

nephew nepos

So Latin t, p correspond to English th, ph. These different languages also seem to come from the same origin. Linguistic reconstruction was done also. It helped to get the earliest forms possible.

The proto-Germanic was the previous stage. In the case of Romance languages we have much more information than in the case of Germanic languages. We know that Latin is the origin of Romance languages.

Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
Those languages (and others) were the same in older times. They would be only dialects of a Germanic language. Old High German is the proto-Germanic language spoken by the Germanic inhabitants of Austria, Switzerland and Central and Southern Germany. Old English could be said to be proto-Germanic as spoken in 8th - 11th century by Anglo-Saxons.

The normal process of linguistic change tends to splint up languages. When a group separate from the greater one becomes isolated, his language evolves independently, because in those times were no way to maintain constant contact with the great group.

In the lathe 18th century the family relationship of European and Western Asia had not been properly worked out. It was known that there were basic differences between English, Dutch and German. Also that there was some relationship between Hebrew and Arabic and also among Romance languages. Scholars had taken a lot of time to establish relationships between languages, but the concept of an Indo-European language had not been grasped out. What led to this conclusion was the discovery of Sanskrit by Western scholars. Sir William Jones learned Sanskrit and realised that there were resemblances between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek. In 1786 he said that these languages were dissembled from a common ancestor. He went further saying that there were Celtic and Germanic languages, which came from the same source.

English Gothic Old Norse German Latin

father fadar faðir Vater pater

English Dutch Greek German Sanskrit

brother broeder  Bouder Bräthär

Sanskrit, a language of Ancient India, was one of the group. India's literature reaches back much further than Latin and Greek. Sanskrit preserved features of a primary language than those of Greek and Latin. It also preserved a full system of declensions and conjugations. It became clearer that the inflections of these languages could also be traced to a common origin.

Grimm's Law.

In making comparison among several languages that showed similarities, Rasmus Rask, a Dane, and Jacob Grimm, German, discovered in early 19th century the set of phonological correspondences now known as Grimm's Law. There was a regular system of parallel sound changes from all the European and West-Asiatic languages. The discovery of the pattern was made through the close examination of a number of words, basic vocabularies of Indo-European languages. The family of languages that Jones postulated came be known as Indo-European (IE).




Voiceless plosive

Voiceless fricative




/f/ ph

// th

/h/, [x] *

Latin English

pes foot

piscis fish */p/ /f/

plenus full

tres three

tennis thin */t/ //

centum hundred

caput head */k//h/
* /h/ initial position

[x] no initial position




Voiced aspirated

Voiced plosive







Sanskrit English

bhärati bear

bhräthär brother

mädhu mead


hostis guest

hortus garden




Voiced plosive

Voiceless plosive







Lithuanian English

Dubus deep


labium lip

dens tooth

duo two

decem ten

granum corn

genos kin

It must have taken place about 5th century BC with contact with non-Germanic population. Perhaps the contact was product of migration of Germanic peoples or due to the penetration of these peoples in Germanic territories.

Verner's Law.

Some words in IE don't fit the Grimm's law path (this affects only the first set). This anomaly was explained by Carl Verner in 1875:

Latin OE

pater fæder (d sounds /ð/, not //)

“Voiceless Indo-European in English became voiced fricative in German unless they were prevented by one of these three conditions:

  • Being the first sound in a word,

  • Being next to another voiceless sound,

  • Having the IE stress on the immediately preceding syllable.

In proto-Germanic, voiceless fricatives became voiced when they were in a voiced environment and if the IE stress did not fell on the immediately preceding syllable”. Verner's law was obscured because after it had operated there was a stress shift to the first syllable of the root, disguising one of these three conditions:

IE Grimm's Verner's then

p' > /f/ > // > `//

t' > // > /ð/ > `/ð/ West - Germanic /d/

k' > [x], [h] > // > `//

s' > [s]' > [z]' > /r/ Rhotacism

Where does English come from?

The IE family of languages.

There was a language which is no longer in use, which developed in different languages in various parts of the world. This language was given the name of proto-Indo-European or, simply, Indo-European (IE). It was spoken in Europe and in West Asia. It is the ancestor of many nowadays languages, and the descendents make up the IE family. The members are very different, they show different degrees of similarity from one to another depending on their geographical distribution. All the languages fall into 10 branches:


It seems that oldest literary texts preserved in any IE languages are the Vedas, the sacred books of India, about 1500 BC.


In the NW of India. It covers the great plateau of Iran. One group decided to settle there, while other continued to Russia and China, carrying its languages with them.


This is a small branch in the NW of Greece.


In the South Caucasus, Eastern end of the Black Sea.


In Greece.


Italy. Here was Latin and the romance languages born.


A vast area in Eastern Europe. There were two great groups:

  • Baltic.

  • Slavic.

Their similarities are more important than their differences.


These languages form part of the most extensive languages at first time. In the beginning of the Christian era were found in Spain, the north of Italy, Great Britain and Gaul. The language of the Celts in Gaul which was conquered By Julius Caesar was called Gallic, but it was soon replaced by Latin. Nowadays we know very little about this language. Some scholars claim that the first Celts that come to Britain should have be driven to Ireland and from there to Scotland and the isle of Man by invaders. Their language has survived as Irish (Ireland), Scottish Gaelic Erse, Scotland), Manx (I. Of Man, extinguished in the 20th century).

A second group of Celts were called Cymbric or Britannic. They were driven westwards from what is now England by the Teutons (Anglo - Saxons, Jutes) in the 5th century BC. Some of them crossed to Britany, others stayed in Wales or went to the SW, to Cornwall. Cornish, spoken in Cornwall, was extinguished in 18th century. In Britany, their language was called Briton, and Welsh in Wales.


Germanic family has been subdivided into 3 different branches

North Germanic languages.

Scandinavia and Denmark. The earliest traces of these languages are in runic inscriptions from the 3rd century BC. In this earlier form, the common Scandinavian language is called Old Norse. From 11th century, dialectal differences became more and more important, so they were divided into two groups:

Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

Iceland was conquered by Norwegians in the 9th century. It has preserved an important body of literature: Elder or Poetic Edda (poems 10 - 11th century) and Younger or prose Eddas, and also 40 sagas.

East Germanic languages.


The main document in Gothic is a tranlation of part of the Bible, by bishop Uifilas, in standard Gothic of that time, in the 4th century. It is preserved in the Carolina Rediviva library, in Uppsala.

Burgundian and Vandalic.

Only a Few fragments are preserved

West Germanic languages.

This group is divides into two branches:

Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

The languages of the High Germanic Branch suffered the 2nd sound shift about 600 AD. Old High German covers until 12th century, Middle High German until 14th Century and Modern until 16th century.

General features of English.

It is the fusion of three languages, corresponding to peoples who invaded England: Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Those languages were probably very similar. It shares some characteristics from other Teutonic languages:

  • Shifting of consonants (see Grimm's Law)

  • Weak and strong declensions in adjectives

  • Weak and strong conjugations of verbs. There are weak and strong verbs. Weak verbs presented de -ed ending, as today's regular verbs. Strong verbs present a change in the root vowel such as swim, swam swam.

  • Adoption of a strong stress on the root syllable of most words. This have been obscured later by Romance languages. English took a lot of words from French, and it surely made that the stress change.

  • Doubling of consonants due to phonetic languages, especially from the West Germanic branch.

  • English, together with the rest of the languages of the Low Germanic branch, did not suffer the 2nd sound shift.

English German

water Wasser

pound Pfund

gate Gasse

(OE) tunge>

tongue Zunge

Periods in history of English

Old English (450 - 1150). Full infections.

Four cases.

Middle English (1150 - 1500). Levelled Inflections.

Simplification in morphology and syntax, case endings are reduced. There is a greater use of prepositions and a more rigid word order. The printing press was a revolution for language.

Modern English

Early Modern English (1500 - 1750) Lost inflections.

Only a few traces of the previous complexity in syntax and morphology survive.

Late Modern English (1750 - today).

The first serious dictionary of the English language was written in 1750 by Samuel Johnson. For this reason they decided not to establish an Academy Of English Language, Johnson's dictionary was enough.

The Old English period.

England before the Romans.

In the beginning of the Christian era, Celts were found in a very large area of Europe: Spain, France, Germany, England, etc. Later on, there was a retreat of Celtic towns before the advance of Latin language. Celtic tongues are found today only in remote parts.

Celts are the first people in England about whose language we have a certain knowledge. As it is usually assumed, the coming of Celts coincides with the introduction of bronze in England.

Celtic was the first tongue to be spoken in England, but another language came later, Latin, when the isle became part of the Roman Empire.

Consequences of the presence of Celts in England.

The number of Celtic words in Modern English is not very large. The British Celts were subjugated by Germanic tribes. The linguistic exchanges were unusual. None of the 2 sides wanted to learn the language of the other one. E.g. bratt (`cloak'), torr (`peak'), cumb (`valley'), Holcombe, Duncombe and many other place names such as Carlisle, London, Devon, Canterbury, etc. In Scotland loch (`lake'), whisky, Tory, Whig.

The Romans in England.

One of the most invasions is the landing of Julius Caesar (55 BC). The first expedition was a disaster. Caesar had to face a terrible storm, what left him without cavalry. To this was added that the fact that, when they arrived, they found a strong opposition from the Celts. They had to return to Rome with a loss of prestige, although they tried again.

The following summer the Romans invaded the island. They settled in the SE and they asked for tribute from the natives. Romans did not plan any invasion for a century.

In 43 AD, emperor Claudius decided to conquest they island. He prepared a 40000 men army. They were successful to conquest the central and the SE territories. In 61 the Romans had to face a strong resistance of the Celts. There was a serious uprising. After this encounter, 70000 people were killed. Little later (early 80's) governor Agricola advised the northern border between Solway and Tyne was protected, and it was done with a stonewall. Some years later (143) the wall was moved to the north.

Britain was a roman province during 300 years. The end came in the year 410. Emperor Honorius retired the legions from Britain, and the Celts had to defend themselves.

The Romanization. Latin in Britain.

There are many remnants of the Roman presence. The Romans built many roads, starting in London and to the NW and the SW. There are also a great number of houses, objects, buildings, etc.

Latin soon became the official language, and new varieties of it were born then. It was used as lingua franca, carried by the soldiers, and presented influences from the natal tongue of every soldier.

Celtic society was tribal and their language undeveloped. Under the Roman pressure, Celtic must have been a low language. Latin was more frequent in cities than in villages. In some areas a bilingual situation should have occurred. In the S and the E, Latin surely displaced Celtic. By the 5th century, both languages felt the barbaric invasions.

There were 4 periods in the influence of Latin:

The continental period.

Borrowings from the tongue of the continent. The Germanic tribes were not used to use the long words of Latin. They only took the words they needed, and many were shortened, e.g. cupa > cup, discus > dish, vinum > wine. Many of these words represented new objects for Germanic peoples: caseus > cheese, molina > mill, coquina > kitchen, caupo > cheap, strata > street, vallum > wall. Only about 50 of these words could be traced from this period.

Latin through the Celts.

There were no direct contact between Germans and Romans, so the Latin influence was through Celts. Only a few words survived: castra > -ceaster (Manchester, Leicester, Winchester, etc).

/k/ + /a/ North

/k/ + [ a] (1st stage) > [t ]Midlands, South

Another word was introduced, which still remains today: portus > port, vicus > wïc (`village') ( Greenwich, Norwich, etc).

The Latin influence is slighter: candela > candle, magister > mægester, psalmus > sealm (`psalm').

The Germanic conquest.

The Germanic invasion.

Around 449 AD the Germanic invasion started, and it lasted more than 100 years. Most of them were Dane settlers who migrated from their continental homes. They came from the region of Denmark and the Low Countries, and tried to establish in the south. They gradually extended this area, until they occupied all the island, except the Highlands and the West, where the Celts resisted. The old prose work written in any Germanic language is The Anglo - Saxon Chronicle. Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (771) is another source.

The Picts and the Scots had to be stopped. The Romans had to defend themselves from them but, when they left the island, the Celts had to do without the Romans. Then, the Celts asked for help to the Jutes, offering in exchange the isle of Thanet. The problem was solved, but the Jutes tried to conquest the rest of England. That soil was much more fertile, so they decided to stay, although they had to do it by force. The Celts were gradually put to the West and the North. The other continental tribes acted in a similar way, and the Saxons arrived in 477 in the SE coast. They established in an area called Sussex (`Saxons of the South'). Later, other bands of Saxons established themselves more to the West, in Wessex (`Saxons of the West'). In the 6th century other Saxons established in the east coast, in Essex (`Saxons of the East').

The process of pushing the Celts to the `Celtic Fringe' wasn't easy. A Celtic leader, Artorius, resisted and set a peaceful period that lasted one generation.

The Anglo - Saxon Heptarchy.

The Angles settled 7 kingdoms in what is today England. For the Celts, All invaders were Saxons, but the term Angel and Anglia remained in the language. In 601 the king of Kent, Æthelbert was Rex Anglorum. A century later the people was known as Anglecynn (Angle - kin) and their language was called Englisc. In the beginning of the 11th century, that land was called Engaland.

In some areas, specially where the invaders were few, the inhabitants lived peacefully. Roman towns were destroyed, because town life was not attractive to them, and their occupations were based on agriculture. Words such as work, ox, sheep, plough belong to this field, and other referring to the celebration and parties (merry, laughter), although some of these words have changed their meaning today.

The Anglo- Saxon society was organised in clans. There were two levels in society eorls (aristocrats) and ceorls (freemen). Different tribes allied between them to obtain more power. Those groups were not stable, but some of them were the most important. The kingdom of Northumbria had the supremacy in the 7th century, culturally and politically. This importance passed through kingdoms: Mercia (8th century) and Wessex (9th century), under the leadership of Egbert. In 830 he was acknowledged as King of England and Wales. Other kings wanted the same title. In that century lived one of the most important kings Of England, Alfred The Great.

The christianisation of England.

Christianity brought a huge vocabulary to England. The process started at the end of the 6th century. The impact is reported in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Here he talks about the linguistic collision between English and Latin, and the spread of Christianity. According to the tradition, this mission was inspired by a man who would become Pope, Gregory the Great. He had the idea of chtistianising England. He intended to lead an expedition himself, but later he wanted somebody to go for him. Saint Augustine stayed there for 50 weeks (?). They had to face the English, who resisted. 51 of them landed in Kent. It was a little Kingdom with a small Christian community. King Æthelbert married princess Bertha, who was Franc and also Christian. In 604 the kingdom of Kent was already Christian.

The Christianisation process was gradual and peaceful. The mission started in the south and a charismatic preacher, Aidan, founded in 635 the Celtic Church. He started the conversion of the north of England. Within 100 years of the landing of St. Augustine in Kent, all England was Christian.

With the coming of Christianity also came the building of monasteries, the cornerstones of Anglo - Saxon culture. They provided education in many subjects. Bede studied in Jarrow, and he wrote the chronicles that remained until today. Arithmetics, music or astronomy were taught. The new monasteries wrote in English.

English benefited in a very large extent. It was enriched and powered with new words. Christianity gave English the capacity to express subtle ideas and more abstract thoughts. At this time, words from Latin and Greek were introduced, such as angel, psalm, disciple, etc. These words allowed to express more complex things. Christianity affected English mainly in 2 ways:

  • It gave English a large church vocabulary. It also introduced ideas from far away countries. It also stimulated the Anglo - Saxons to apply existing words to new concepts. Words like preost, biscop,munuc, psalter or Sabbath were introduced.

  • English reinvented itself, giving old words new meanings:

  • Latin Old English English

    spiritus sanctus > halig gast > holy ghost

    evangelium > göd spell > gospel

    feond > enemy > devil

    This marked a new era for English. There were more flexibility and two ways of speaking: using Germanic or Latin words.

    By the end of 8th century the impact of Christianity made evolve culture and literature. The English faced the second great influence on the development of the English language: the coming of the Vikings.

    The Viking era.

    Near the end of the OE period, English suffered another foreign influence, the influence of Scandinavian peoples between 750 - 1050. This period was one of great migrations in the history of Europe. These migrations started with plunder raids. People from Sweden established a kingdom in part of the European Russia. People from Norway settled in part of the British isles. Some of them continued to the Færoes. Others went until Iceland and even Greenland and the Coast of Labrador. The Danes also migrated. They occupied part of France, Normandy (`Land of the North Men'), and also moved on to the British Isles. All those peoples were known as Vikings. Ethimology:

    • From Norse `vik' (`bay').

    • From Old English `wic' (`village,settlement')

    They gained fame of being violent and also very good sailors. The very last researches emphasized the peaceful benefits of Scandinavian landings.

    The Viking raids in England began seriously in 793. In this year, the monasteries of Lindisfarne were sacked in different seasons and plundered of gold and silver.. By the mid 9th century almost half of the country was in Viking hands, the eastern part was Dane. Once they settled there, they paid attention to Wessex. The attacks started jus before the accession of king Alfred the Great to the throne. He was one of the greatest kings of England. He had to resist all Viking attacks. After 7 years he took refuge in the marshes of Somerset. He formed an army with countrymen and defeated the Danes in the battle of Ethandune. The Danes capitulated and a treaty was signed by both parts , the treaty of Wedmore between king Alfred and Guthrum, according to which the Danes should withdraw from Alfred's territory. The terms were not enough good for the Danes and did not like this. The limits of English territory were defined with a line from London to Chester. The Danes agree to accept Christianity, and Guthrum was baptised. This fact influenced in the eventual fusion of both peoples.

    Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

    Ilustración 1. The Danelaw. originally the body of law that prevailed in the part of England occupied by the Danes after the treaty of King ALFRED with Guthrum in 886. It soon came to mean also the area in which Danish law obtained. The Danelaw had four main regions: NORTHUMBRIA; the areas around and including Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Stamford; EAST ANGLIA; and the SE Midlands.

    After Alfred was the sovereign of the SW of England he centred on Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. The capital was Winchester. The problem was that King Alfred had no power over the Dane territories. He felt that he needed the support of people living in other countries in the Danelaw district. He had to retain control over territories which were not him. He appealed the feeling of “Englishness”, using the English language as means of creating a national identity. He restored his kingdom and rebuilt the churches and schools. He used English and not Latin as the basis for education. He learned Latin to take part in the translations of some important texts. He describes his English language campaign in the preface to Cura Pastoralis. After the treaty, Guthrum went back to his own religion. Besides that, there were more invasions.

    Under the reign of Alfred's son, Edward the Elder, Danes were attacked and defeated (battle of Brunanburh). Most of the island was under English control. The next important battle was the battle of Maldon (991). The English lose their leader and the Danish forces marched again to England. In 1014 Svein and Knut drove the English king Æthelbert into exile. After that, he wae known as the Unready. The Danes got the throne. Eventually, Knut Became the king and England was controlled in the next years by Danish kings, Harald I and Hardicanute.

    The consequences of the Danish reign were that 1400 place names presented Scandinavian names. More than 600 presented the -by ending ( -by: `farm')Grimsby, Whitley, Rugby, Derby, etc; 300 of them had -thorpe (`village'): Linthorpe, Scanthorpe; 300 had -thwaite (`isolated place'): Satterthwaite; 100 presented -toft (`piece of ground'): Eastoft, Lowestoft. These Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
    names are not uniformly distributed. English names present the patronymic -son (Danish -sen, e.g. Nielsen): Stevenson, Richardson.

    We must take into account that this civilization was very similar to the Anglo - Saxon culture. Apart from battles, they got on well most of the time. Both languages were much interlinked.

    Words from Scandinavian: egg (OE æg), skin, sky, skull, skir, window, sister, fellowt; sk- is typically Scandinavian. Adjectives: awkward, meek, odd, rotten, weak. Verbs: call, give, take, die, thrust.

    The borrowing of words was not limited to the exchange of words, but it extended to pronouns, prepositions or conjunctions, what is unusual. Pronouns: they, them, their (OE him, he, hiera). Other words: same, both, at, to(+infinitive), seemly, aloft, hence, are (3rd V. `to be').

    Old English General features.

    The English language has undergone a great change and we are not able to understand Old English if we don't have into account the knowledge of its structure in the old days.


    OE today

    bän bone

    räp rope

    hälig holy

    föt foot

    fÿr fire

    hüs house

    Most of the vocabulary of OE is Germanic. A huge part of it has disappeared, as a consequence of the Norman conquest. In many cases it was replaced by Latin or French words. 85% of OE words are no longer in use, and the words that survived are basic words such as prepositions, auxiliary verbs and pronouns, i.e. cïld, man(n), wïf, etan (`eat') drincan, etc.


    Old English is a synthetic language, that is, it indicates the relation of words in the sentence by means of inflections. In modern English, the subject and the object have no case endings (analytic), but it happened in Old English.

    The night killed the prince.

    There are no case endings. The functions of the words are given by position, by word order. If we change this, the meaning is different:

    The prince killed the night.

    Prepositions were not much used in Old English. As case endings disappeared, prepositions and auxiliary verbs were more used.


    We have to differentiate two types of spellings: the runes and the Roman symbols. The runes were brought to England by the Germanic tribes. The system is quite simple. Some of the Germanic tribes already had their own alphabet, and the runes were made to decorate in the earliest stages of Germanic languages. The first runes are from the 2nd century AD. They were not designed for writing, but to engrave or to inscribe. The earliest forms of reading or writing imply to interpret the incised runes. The first system was incised on wood, but they are also found in metal, stone or bone. The material on which the runes were inscribed determined their shape. They are formed, basically, for a vertical stroke and additional arms: Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

    The original Germanic rune row had 24 symbols, the futhark. We don't know the origin of these runes, but wherever they were created, in the 6th century they spread throughout many counties of Europe. The Germanic tribes may need the runes for commercial and political uses. Their social structure was so simple that they didn't need to send messages or doing things that required writing.

    The runes were a ritual or magic set of characters (run = `mystery'). Runes had magical properties. The rune masters gave each rune a magical value, and they were used to predict the future, taking decisions, etc. Every rune had a name and represented a concept and a sound

    Out of Scandinavia, runes disappeared quickly. In Britain the Roman alphabet replaced them about 11th century. In Scandinavia they were used even after the middle Ages.

    The futhark was not the only rune row used in England, they used other similar system called futhork, which had 31 symbols.

    The Dream of the Rood is a poem written in runes in the Northumbrian dialect. This poem was found in a cross, which seem to be the author of the poem and tells the story of a crucifixion from its point of view.

    When runes were replaced by the Roman alphabet, they developed they own variation, the Roman Hand. It was a variation used until the Norman conquest. The Insular Hand was used in Irish Gaelic, and the modifications were done by the Irish.

    Stress in Old English.

    Polysyllabic words were usually stressed in the first (root) syllable, but there are some exceptions:

    • When the verb is preceded by a prefix, it produces a change of meaning in the verb.


    The stress is placed after the prefix, in the first syllable of the verb itself.

    fëohtan = fight

    wið-fëohtan = fight against

    • Compounds have the Germanic stress in the first syllable with a secondary accent in the first syllable of the second element:

    `hilde,dëor (='brave in the battle')

    This heavy stressing of the first syllable has had a very deep influence in the development of English. Because of it, the vowels of final syllables (unstressed) began to be pronounced as a uniform sound that was something like a schwa. As a consequence of this a lot of misunderstandings will follow:

    • The case endings disappear,

    • Appearance of more and more prepositions, and

    • More and more rigid word order.

    In general, the stress of Modern English is quite different. This difference lies mainly in the fact that Modern English has a lot of borrowings from foreign countries which still have the stress in the syllable established by the language they come from:

    Ma'ternal, ta'boo, phi'losophy

    The vowels.

    Old English vowels are very easy to pronounce, although the spelling is not fixed. There are 7 vowels, which may be short or long, and 3 diphthongs.




    æ /æ/





    y /ü/








    Vowels in unstressed syllables were pronounced clearly in order to be able to differentiate the different cases.

    eorles nominative

    eorlas accusative


    ëo / eo

    ëa / ea

    ïe / ie


    All consonants were pronounced. Nowadays this doesn't happen. In Old English there are no silent consonants, and even g and k before consonant are pronounced. Also the double consonants are pronounced as double consonants.

    However, there are some exceptions:

    • The h has three different pronunciations:

      • Initial: aspirated /h/.

      • h + e, i: as ch in al. möchten.

      • h + a, o, u; + consonant; + diphthong:/x/.

    • Other variations affects to digraphs f, s and þ:

    • F, S, Þ

      /f/, /s/ //


      Always in initial and final position and when in contact with a voiceless consonant.

      /v/, /z/, /ð/

      Between voiced sounds. The doubling of a consonant implies a voiced sound.

      • c and g:

      • C, G

        + a, o, u

        /k/, /g/

        + e, i

        as c in it. Cesare.

        • sc is pronounced as sh in should. Exception: the verb ascian, /'askjan/.

        • cg is pronounced as dg in edge.

        Vocabulary in Old English.

        An average of 85% of the words found in Old English texts are no longer in use, they have disappeared for several reasons, although the most important was the Norman conquest, which brought a remarkable number of words.

        A small percentage of words is still present in Modern English but, after all, they are basic elements present in everyday English such as prepositions, conjunctions, etc. These words changed their sound, their spelling and in some cases, the meaning. This small percentage is much more used than 60% of words that came from Latin.

        Old English made an extensive use of compounds, whereas Modern English prefers borrowing words from foreign languages instead of creating new ones. In Old English the phenomenon of borrowing didn't exist so they built new words by joining two or three already existing. Old English was a self-sufficient language just because of this fact, but some borrowings were needed. In the 11th century there were loans from Latin, Greek (through Latin), Scandinavian, French (before the Norman conquest) and Celtic. In any case, Old English preferred its own words. It had two main ways of building words:

        New words by joining previous ones.

        We find compounds of nouns and of adjectives. There were different formulae for building compounds:









        ship rape

        chief officer

        wide sea

        (`early day') dawn










        (`alms eager') generous

        high rank (social scale)

        (`forth eager') intentious


        In the compounds, the case ending goes at the end of the second element. Sometimes there can be found a compound of three elements. In this case, the case ending is present in the last element of the compound.

        We often find in Modern English a compound in which the elements of the compound are borrowings from Latin or Greek, such as microphone or television. This kind of words is usually linked to Medicine, Biology or Chemistry. This is a different kind of English called English for Science and Technology -EST-. Here, most of the words are formed by non-English terms, but by Latin or Greek ones.

        A compound contains a metaphor or an image. Old English is very rich in metaphors and images. E.g.:

        båþ - weg (`bath way', instead of `sea')



        The adding of elements before the original word is a very useful resource, particularly in the formation of new verbs. Some common prefixes:

        • wiþ- : its meaning depends on the context. It has two main meanings: `against' or `away'.

        wiþceösan: `to choose against' (cëosan: `to choose'): reject.

        wiþsprecan: `to speak against' (sprecan: to speak): contradict.

        • åg-: Attached to a pronoun or an adverb., it generalizes the meaning of the word. Its meaning is `every':

        æghwä: `everybody' (hwä: `now')

        æghwår: `everywhere' (hwår: `what')

        • ge-: `together'. It is found also in past participles of verbs and it expresses the perfective aspect of the action.

        • on- / an-: negative sense.

        onbindan: `to unbind' (bindan: `to bind').


        Adding elements at the end of the word.

        • -end: Found in nouns to express the agent of the action.

        • -häd: Forms masculine nouns.

        • -ig: It creates adjectives, like -y in Modern English.

        • -lic: Firstly it was used as a noun, meaning `body', but later on it started to be used as a suffix, so it lost its original meaning. Like -ly in Mod English.

        • -lice: Like -ly in Mod English.

        • -sum: Sometimes like `some'.

        • -an: `coming from'.

        Nocþan: from the North.

        Hrædlice: `quickly' (hræd: quick'.

        Number in OE.

        In OE we find a third category for number, apart from singular and plural, that is the dual. We only suspect that this category must have been used throughout the language but the truth is that, in the texts studied there is only a remain of the dual form in the 2nd and 3rd person singular, so we don't know it for sure. OE speakers distinguished between one thing (singular), two things (dual), and more than two things(plural). The dual form disappeared in the Middle English period, although it is still present in poetry in forms like thou or thee.

        Gender .

        OE presents grammatical gender, that is, nouns are masculine, feminine or neuter, without a necessary concordance with the natural gender the noun presents. Eg: wïf is grammatically neuter in OE, although its natural gender is feminine (`woman'). Grammatical gender disappeared in the Middle English period and turned natural gender.

        We must take grammatical gender into account when translating OE. Adjectives and nouns must agree in gender, number and case:

        Së möna... hë is göd

        The moon… he* is good *it

        It is difficult to get to know the gender of each noun in OE. We can use a dictionary or searching clues in the text. We can also consult a list of suffixes

        • Adult male humans or animals use to be masculine:

          • -a

          • -oþ

          • -döm

          • -els

          • -ere

          • -häd

          • -scipe

        sëo möna, se cynedöm, se gebeorscipe

        • Adult female humans or animals use to be feminine:

        Sëo mödor, sëo cü

          • -u

          • -ung

          • -nes(s)

          • -en(n)

          • -ett

          • -estre

          • -rædem

        sëo byrþenn

        • Young livings are neuter:

        þæt cild, þæt cycen (chicken)

          • -lac

          • -en

        þæt wïtelac (punishment), þæt mægden (maiden)



        It works as subject, Subject complement (atributo) and in direct speech (vocative).

        Cynewulf benan Sygebriht his rices

        Subj (nom) V Oi Genit.

        He is ordfrume and ende

        Sub. V Cs (Nomin)



        As Direct Object, object of preposition, adverbial of time and subject of infinitive.

        And wunodon þår ealne þone winter

        Adv Adv (acc)

        …And stayed there all the winter.


        Possesion, adverbials of time, partitive genitive, number + gen. pl.

        Be his hläfordes håse


        …by his Lord's _____

        XXX scilinga

        Gen. p.

        30 schellings

        Some verbs have Od in genitive (rigen genitivo):

        • beniman (deprive)

        • brücan (enjoy)

        • neösian (visit)

        • þurfan

        • wënan (expect)


        It indicates the instrumental function, the means by which an action is performed. Is also object of the preposition.


        At times

        Some adjectives require the dative case:

        • õeliç (similar)

        • hold (loyal)

        • lëof (dear)

        • nëah (near)

        and also some verbs:

        • andswarian (answer)

        • õelifan (believe)

        • helpan (help)

        • hiersumian (obey)

        • lïcian (please)

        • þyncan (think)

        The dative of possession is used sometimes when expecting genitive.

        The noun.

        Its inflections distinguish between singular and plural. The case system ia far more simple than eg. Greek or Latin (no Ablative, no Locative, no Vocative, no Instrumental).

        There are two groups of declensions: vowel declensions or strong, whose stem ends in vowel, and consonant declensions, or weak, whose stem ends in consonant.

        Strong declensions.

        A-stem (temas en -a).

        Masculine hund-






























        /a/ is the sound of the stem in proto-germanic. The name has some historical significance, because we do not find this sound in OE.

        Germanic OE

        Nom. *wulfaz


        Acc. *wulfan

        This declension was extended to other nouns. This one is the most extended. Some declensions adopted their endings from this one. In present day English, it only remains the possesive (genitive singular, -es). The -s ending for plural comes from the Nom. Pl (-as). These two endings (-as, -es) merged in /Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
        / when people became to forget case endings and used more and more prepositions. The apostrophy (`) helped to differentiate, in ME, whether the ending /Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
        s was the old -es (Gen. sing)ending or -as (Nom. pl.). The apostrophy indicated Gen. sing.

        Z-stem (Temas en -z)

        Neuter cild-















        They add -r in the plural, before the ending:

        IE Germanic | | OE

        /s/ /s/ /z/ /z/ /r/

        G. Law V. Law stress rhotacism

        voicing shift

        N-stem (Temas en -n)

        Masculine, feminine, neuter ox-















        -n and -s were used as indicators of plural. E.g. eyen, shoen (South).

        Weak declensions.

        Root consonant-stem (Temas en consonante)

        Masculine föt-















        Feminine böc-















        There is a change in the root vowel in Nom. pl. and Dat. sing.

        Dat. sing.: * föti > fëti > fët.

        Nom. pl. : * fötiz > fétiz > fët.

        The front vowel -i has fronted the root vowel. This phenomenon is called front mutation or umlaut. The rest of Germanic languages also suffered this change. German does something different, indicating the umlaut with the dieresis: Mann, Männer, Fuß, Füße. Feminine nouns present this mutation also in gen. sing. This phenomenon is NOT a mark of plurality.

        Ö-stem (Temas en -ö)

        Feminine luf-















        In Nom. sing. There is no ending after long syllables. We find no ending after short vowel followed by a consonant.

        The personal pronoun.

        It is inflective. We differentiate gender, number and case.

        1ST PERSON

















        2ND PERSON



















        3RD PERSON




















        hira, heora

        him, heom

        The demonstratives.











        së, se




        þÿ, þon, þë










        þÿ, þon, þë






        They work as definite articles (the), but also as demonstratives (this, that). There is also instrumental case.

        There are two main patterns of demonstratives:

        1) së, sëo, þæt. It is fully inflected. The plural has no differentiation among genders. The original Nom. masc. and fem. were originally þe, þeo. This form survived until today as the. The þæt form evolved to that nowadays. It originally was neuter only, but later it was used with every gender.

        2) þes, þëos, þis. This paradigm was less important. The neuter form þis survived until today as this. As in the previous model, the neuter form was widened.

        The adjective.

        It agreed with the noun in gender, number and case. They adopted the weak declension when after þës, þëos, þis (dem) and after a possessive. They added a -an in every cases except in the nominative. In the fem. except Nom. and Acc. The plural had no instrumental case.

        The strong declension was used when the demonstrative was NOT preceded by any demonstrative or possessive. The -an ending is NOT used, there is an ending for each case. The plural forms are common for the three genders. In Gen. and Dat. There is no Instr. in plural.

        The possessive adjectives.

        They derive from the genitive form of the pronoun. They are always declined weak.







        þïn / (dïn)

        hise, hire, his



        his, …












        üre / üser


        hira, heora, hiera




        Comparatives and superlatives.

        Always declined weak.

        • Comparative: -ra. lëof > lëofra.

        • Superlative: -est (most frequent), -ost, -ast (rare).

        A few adjectives mutate the vowel in comparative and superlative:






        ealdra > ieldra

        ealdest> ieldest


        îeongra > îingra

        geongest > gingest


        langra > lengra

        langest > longest


        strangra > strengra

        strangest > strengest


        heahra > hierra

        heahest > hïehst

        Others change their stem:






        bet(t)era, betra

        best, bettest




        wier(e)st, wyrst










        The Verb.

        There are distinctions of number, tense and person. Numbers: singular and plural; tenses: present, past (preterit), no future, because the present tense covers the present and future. The preterit tense covers some fields today occupied by different tenses.

        OE verbs are classified in 2 conjugations: weak and strong. Not all weak verbs are regular. Weak and strong verbs differ in the preterit form. If a -t or -d ending (dental) is found, then the path will be weak. Strong verbs form their past tense by varying the vowel of the stem (gradation).

        There is also mood distinction: indicative, subjunctive and imperative. In the present system there is also infinitive and participle.

        Present system.


        WEAK: cëpan

        STRONG: helpan



        hë, hëo, hit

        wë / gë / hï



























        to cëpenne


        to helpenne

        Present Participle



        Preterit system


        WEAK: cëpan

        STRONG: helpan



        hë, hëo, hit

        wë / gë / hï
















        Past Participle



        Weak verbs have 3 main parts on which the rest are built (strong verbs present 4):

        • Infinitive: cep-, help-

        • 1st, 2nd, 3rd p.s. of the preterit indicative: cept-, healp. In weak verbs, the whole preterit system is built on the stem of this part.

        • (Strong verbs only) Preterit plural: hulp- . The rest of the preterit system was built taking this as the basis.

        • Past participle: gecëped, geholpen.

        We find on the 2nd p.s. pres. ind. (þü) the ending -est. The -t is not part of the original ending. The usual way to use it was cëpes þü > cepesþu > cepestu > cepest. The -thas remained as a kind of enclitic form of þü.

        The subjunctive may be found also in main and subordinate clauses. If found on main clauses, it expresses wishes and commands:

        God helpes üs (may God help us)

        Ne hëo hundas cëpe (She does not keep the dogs).

        • Infinitive endings:


          • -an

          • -ian

          • -n


        A relic from when the infinitives were declined. Used when the infinitive had a noun function, as today's gerund. It expressed gerund:

        Is bliðe tö helpenne (Helping is joyful)

        inf (infl)

        • Participle endings:





        ge-_____-en (strong verbs) geholpen

        ge-_____-d, -t (weak verbs) gecëped

        (OE) gë- > gi- > ii > i > (Mod. E) Ø.

        Most of the OE verbs were weak. They formed the preterit and past participles, containing a-t (after a voiced sound) or a -d (after a voiceless one).

        • Gradation.

        • Class


          Preterit singular

          Preterit plural

          Past Participle

          Class I





          Class II





          Class III





          Class IV





          Class V










          Class VII





          STRONG VERBS. There are 7 classes of strong verbs, attending on the particular vowel alternations in the root.

          The verb to be is the only that has kept the distinction between preterit sing. and preterit pl.: was / were. Many dialects of English do not use de form were, bu this is non-standard English.

          Some verbs, specially bëon, present many irregularities:

          Present Indicative

          ic ëon / bëo

          þü eart / bist

          hë, hëo, hit is / bið

          wë sindan / beoð

          gë sint / beoð

          hï sind / veo


          Differences between OE and today's English.

          Nouns, adjectives and most pronouns had fuller inflections than their modal developments did, so we find a lot of case endings. They serve to indicate the function in a sentence.

          Adjectives agree in gender, number and case with the noun they modify. Adjectives were also inflected in the so-called weak and strong declensions. OE uses the genitive case in many circumstances that would present an “of phrase”:

          Ðas iglandes micel dæl A great deal of the island.

          Old English had no articles properly speaking. they used demonstratives. Likewise, when we use an indefinite article (a, an), OE shows a numeral which means `one' (än) or sum (`a certain').

          the së

          a(n) än, sum

          OE could form verb phrases just as we do by combining the verbs have and be with participles, e.g. is running. These combinations were less frequent in OE, they are hardly mentioned. Other combinations like she has been running could not be conceived in OE. Those are more complex structures that only appear in Mod. English.

          OE uses the passive voice. They were built in a different way: using the simple infinitive with a passive sense:

          Hëo hëht hine lårean

          Subj V Acc Inf She ordered him to teach /to be taught (passive sense).

          She ordered that he should be taught

          There is another alternative for the passive voice, using the indefinite pronoun man:

          Hine man hëng One hanged he was hanged

          Negation in Old English.

          We find the negative particle placed before the verb. The form is ne:




          Word order in OE.

          It is less fixed than today's English. In general, in OE declarative sentences, the sentence order uses to be S V O, even when the subject does not need to go at the beginning. We find some cases in which this order is not observed, when the sentence starts by þä, ne:

          Þä sealed se cyning himsweord

          Adv V S Oi Od

          Then, the king gave him a sword

          Ne can ic noht singan Double negation: negation

          no can I nothing sing

          I cannot sing

          In subordinate clauses, the verb gets lost:

          God geseah þä þåt hit göd wæs

          S V Adv | S Od V |

          Sub. clause: Od

          In OE, we find very often parataxis. It involves the joining of sentences by means of coordinating conjunctions The surface structure is very simple. Sometimes we find yuxtaposed sentences, what is not so frequent in today's English.

          Main dialectal areas in Old English.

          Kentish (SE) Jutes.

          West Saxon (S of the river Thames).

          Mercian (Mercia).

          Northumbrian (Northumbria).

          (see map on page 12)

          As Mercian and Northumbrian were similar, we find references to both as Anglian dialect. The records we have are very few: some character, some runic inscriptions, fragments of verse and no much more. The same has also happened with Kentish.

          But the rests of West Saxon are much more numerous. All information we have about OE is from this variety.

          King Alfred had a lot to do with the encouragement of England. He promoted arts and the learning in Winchester.

          London, at that time, was a very commercial city, but it had not come to be the capital then.

          The Lordsprayer in Old English.

          Fæder üre þü þe eart on heofnum

          Sï þin nama gehälgod

          Tö becume þïn rïce

          Gewurþë ðïn willa opn eorðan

          Swä swä on heofnum

          Urne gedæghwämlican half syle üs to dæg

          And forgyf üs üre gyltas

          Swä swä wë forgyfað ürum gyltendum

          And ne gelåd þü üs on costnunge

          Ac älÿs üs of yfele. Söþlice.

          The Middle English period.

          External history.

          [falta: The Norman conquest: the Normans. England at the time of the conquest. The battle of Hastings. The Norman settlement.]

          Linguistic communication in England 1066 - 1204.

          Normans imposed French in England, although not all the people spoke this, only the high classes, because they were French. The lower classes kept on speaking English, due to the fact that they were mostly illiterate.

          The loss of Normandy.

          About 150 years after the battle of Hastings, French became a very practical and useful language for the upper classes. But in the 13th century, maintaining French in England was more and more difficult. The loss of Normandy influenced in this fact. If England had kept control over 2/3 of France and if the nobility had kept their possessions there, the continuous use of French in the upper classes would have been justified. But the English lose their possessions in France, so they did not need French.

          The loss of Normandy was the result of a love affair. King John of England was the younger brother of Richard Lionheart. King John fell in love with Lady Isabella of Angoûleme. He wanted to marry her in the moment, but she already was engaged with Hugh of Lusignan, from a powerful and ambitious family. Kin John achieved his aim. Then, he attacked the Lusignan's family in order to avoid an attack from them. The King of France, Philippe, summoned both parties and asked king John to tell the charges against Hugh of Lusignan. King John never went to the French court, because he had not to be submitted to France. Philippe thought that king John was only the duke of Normandy. The French court declared Normandy confiscated and Normandy was invaded by the French. After a number of invasions, Normandy was lost.

          That happened in 1204. After this, the English nobility concentrate their power in England. However, the English still had huge territories in France, in the South. Theselands were not much interesting, because they were far away and it was really difficult to maintain some control over them. At that time, a large part of the nobility also had lands both in England and France. This was not a great problem, but after the loss of Normandy, King Philippe said that he would confiscate also the lands of the most important barons. This happened in 1204 - 05.

          These nobles were forced to leave one or the other country. In 1244 a new incident put an end to the few cases of double allegiance that remained. The king of France, Louis, told the vassals who had lands in both parts to serve one king or the other. The king of England, as a reaction, send the French to France to dispossess them of their lands.

          Around the mid 13th century all nobility of England was English.

          French reinforcements and the reactions against the foreigners.

          For a long time, the English real family was still connected to the French court by means of marriages. King John married a French lady, and this wedding was the reason for many people to move to England. King John's son, Henry, was French and, moreover, he marriage another French lady, Eleanor of Provence. Again, a lot of people moved to England.

          In 1233, the king of England dismissed his English officers, appointing the French. In 1236, Henry III married Eleanor. In 1246 Henry's mother died and more people came to England. During Henry III's reign, lots of French people came to England.

          Reactions against the foreigners.

          During Henry III's minority, the chancellor of England defended the policy of “England for the English”. A great patriotic feeling arose. When the first migration occurred, in 1233, this antagonism was evident, and some bishops wanted the king to be advised of this, although they were not successful.

          The barons' war was a revolt in which both the barons and the middle classes joined and complaint against the French power. The leader of this revolt was Simon de Monfort. Some of their reasons were that they did not know to speak English.

          The progressive re-establishment of English.

          The mid 13th century is considered the turning point in the use of French in England. English started to be used generally among the upper classes. More French words were introduced from now, although this was not a new phenomenon. Literature started to be translated into English and more people had access to it.

          During this century the upper classes continued using French because it was considered the language of cultivated people. In those years, French had to be taught to children, and it was still the language of laws and the Parliament. At the end of the 13th century French declined. Some institutions tried to maintain French at any price, as monasteries or the University of Oxford.

          Henry III's son, Edward I, made uan unexpected change: he spoke English as his natal tongue. In some literary circles the use of French was criticized. There were three factors which influenced the decline of French:

        • The French spoken in England was called “Anglo-French”, a mixture of Northern French dialects. The linguistic contact played its role. The higher in society we go, more widely was French spoken, but strongly influenced by English. They did not feel comfortable talking in French..

        • The 100 years war. This war was the consequence of a number of conflicts between England and France. The king o0f England, Edward III, claimed the throne of France, and tried to invade the country. The use of French in England was not welcomed.

        • The rise of the middle classes. The middle class language was English. At that time, the rural population was the majority, but little by little some people became to me more and more powerful and richer. The free tenants and this rising was accelerated by the black death (1348), which killed 9/10 of the total population. Many of them were from the lower classes, and many of them were parish clergy, in constant contact with ill people.

        • With this situation, the shortage of workers was huge, and salaries rose, which provoked a migration from rural population to the cities-. These people founded a better paid job and ascended in the social scale.

          General adoption of English in the 14th century.

          English was at that time used by everybody. People in the court spoke English, although they had to use French in writing and reading. In the Parliament, French was still used, but in 1362, the Lord Chancellor opened the session in English, and from that moment onwards, English became the mother tongue of English people.

          English encountered 2 strong rivals: Latin and French. Latin was the international language for many years. Ot was used as lingua franca throughout all Europe. It was also a dead language, so Latin did not change.

          French was established as the official language England and considered an elegant language then. It survived more time written than spoken. The earliest wills in English date from the beginning of the 15th century. The earliest letters in English, from the 14th century.

          General features of Middle English.

          The `limit' between Old English and Middle English could be placed about 1120 - 1150, although this is a controversial issue. It is ridiculous to say that Middle English started in a particular year, due to the fact that languages change very slowly. However, we need to establish some limit, and we can consider the features of the texts preserved as Middle English from that time onwards. The Lindisfarne Gloss (10th century) belongs to the Old English period, but it present `modern' features.

          Establishing the end of ME period is not so difficult, it can be placed when the printing press was introduced in England, in 1476, by William Caxton. Thanks to this invention, books were cheaper and were accessible for more people.


          Vowels at the end of a word were levelled to e. The sound was a very relaxed vowel, [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

          `stanas > ME `stänes > `stones [`stonIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          This was provoked by the situation of the stress in the root vowel, which made that the ending was weakened.

          The consequence was a great simplification of inflections. From this levelling also resulted the tendency to use analytic constructions, using prepositions instead of case endings. There was also a more strict word order, in order to indicate the functions of the words:

          OE hë folgode änum burg-sittendum menn ðæs rices

          ME hë clevede tö oon of þe citizens of þat contrë.

          The vocabulary is full of French words, as a result of the Norman invasion and the permanent links with France. However, there kept on being many Scandinavian words.

          The handwriting.

          In OE there were 2 types of writing, the runes and the Roman alphabet, the insular hand. The insular hand was replaced by a new type of writing, around 1150, the Carolingian minuscule. the letters were more angular and differentiated. Around 1430 was established another handwriting, the Chancery hand, which started in London and became the official system. The manuscripts written in this new type were the Early Chancery Proceedings.

          The alphabet.

          After the Norman conquest the scribes continued using the previous alphabet:

          a æ b c d e f õ h i k l m n o p r s t þ ð u $ (winn) x y

          By the end of the 14th century there were additions and modifications to this alphabet:

          a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t þ u v w x y z


          It was based on the Anglo-Saxon tradition. French and Latin traditions were introduced by Anglo-Norman migrations. All influences combined gave as a result a large lack of regularity in the spelling. After 14th century a kind of normalization was introduced. Manuscripts were copied by scribes whose dialect was different and they introduced their own dialectal forms:

          • The æ was replaced by ea, e, a.

          • The ð was replaced by þ.

          • The winn $ was replaced by u, uu, or w.

          • The õ was replaced by g if plosive. In the North õ can also be found at the end of words instead of a mark of plural (-s).

          • - The clusters ght, ht (cht in the North) did not suffered changes in pronunciation, although they come from the OE tradition.

          • The letter k was an innovation, it was very rare in English. It was preferred before e, i, n, l because writing a c was more difficult to read:

          cniht knight

          • eo, ea were pronounced [ö], [e] (open).

          French tradition in ME manuscripts: innovations.

          Anglo-Norman scribes introduced some of their spelling practices:

          u [ü]

          y i, y (when there were many `curves' in writing: minister mynyster; then only i.

          o [u] (mid 13th century): OE lufu ME love /'luvIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          A little later, we find a French spelling, ou or ow for the sound [u]:

          OE hüs ME house /'hu:sIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          ie [e:] in French loanwords:

          ME fieble /'fe:blIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          And then to all English words: field /'fe:ld/

          `Continental' practises imposed the use of the digraph ch for the sound of c in OE cild in order to imitate the French models. The sound of sc in OE scip was written s, ss or sch, and then sh.

          qu was imported from France:

          cweðan queðen

          hw became wh by metasthesis:

          hwæt what

          Latin influences.

          i for j in initial position: justice iustice

          u for v in any position: love loue [luvIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          v for u in initial position.

          Middle English Phonology.

          Devices for quantity.

          The length of vowels was infrequently expressed. To indicate it, reduplication was used. From the middle of the 14th century onwards, reduplication affected specially e and o in closed syllables, and it happened in Oxford and London first:

          OE fët ME feet

          OE good ME good

          It was only a change in spelling.

          Other devices were, in open syllables, the weak and final -e indicating the length of the preceding vowel:

          OE nam ME name (macron is not necessary). The final - e is not ethimological.

          The doubling of consonants was used to show the shortness of the preceding vowel:

          OE mëte ME mètte.

          This device is still present in Modern English..

          In the North, the length of the vowel was indicated in [ai], [oi] and [ui] by reducing them to [a:], [o:] and [u:]. The spelling was conserved, but not the writing:

          guid /'gu:d/

          In the South and the West Midlands the [ui] spelling was used to indicate the [ü] sound.


          There were two kinds of words in ME: Germanic (Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian) and Latin words (Latin and French).

          The type of stress in Germanic words did not differ away words. It was in the root syllable. Words of French origin had to adapt themselves to the Germanic stress. French words use to have the stress at the end of the word.





          `X (X)








          no changes






          * The vowel in the middle used to drop.

          Changes which affected vowels.

          Short stressed vowels maintained their pronunciation:

          OE `sinkan ME `sinken

          The OE æ was retracted to a in the 11th century. This phonological change took place earlier than the written one

          Long stressed vowels did not change their sound, but their spelling:

          OE wïn /'wi:n/ ME wine /'wi:n/

          OE hüs /hu:s/ ME house /hu:s/

          Except the /a:/ sound. In the North, long a remained unchanged, although in the rest of England we observe a rounding process:

          OE stän /sta:n/ ME stone /stIntroducción a la diacronía del inglés

          The OE å suffered a complex evolution. In most of the dialects of the Midlands we see 2 different vowels of different openings:

          [e:] < *West Germanic [a] written e Mod. E. ee

          [open e:] < * West Germanic [ai] written e Mod E. ea

          The OE y [ü] also changed, depending on the dialect:

        • West Midlands and South West: u, ui [ü].

        • North and East Midlands: unrounding of [ü] > [i] written i, y.

        • South East (Kentish dialect): lowering into [e], written e.

        • OE cynn 1. cunn, kunn [ü]

          2. kin(n) [i]

          3. ken(n) [e]

          Most of today's standard English come from the East Midlands dialect.


          From the 10th century, the diphthongs ea, eo were reduced to æ [open e:] and e [ö]. There was also a reversed process, which created new diphthongs:

        • Vocalization of palatal g after æ, e, i: OE dæî > dai, day; OE weî > wei, wey.

        • Development of a vowel before [x], [ç]:

        • u[x] u-glide

        • i[ç] i-glide

        • Creation of the diphthongs au, ou, ei before[x], [ç]: OE dohtor douhter.

        • Vocalization of the velar g after a, o in the middle of the word.

        • ag au; dragan drauen

        • [a:]g ou; ägan ouen

        • [o:]g ou, ow; böga boue, bowe

        • Vowels in Scandinavian words.

          From 8th century onwards there were contacts between English speakers and Norse speakers. Only in the ME period we see Scandinavian words written.

          The vocalic system of Norse was similar to English, so many vowels suffered no changes:

        • ON ai > ei ME ai, ei; ON þeir ME their

        • ON au ME au, ou, ö: ON vindauga ME windoõe

        • ON ei ME ei, ai; ON treista treisten

        • Vowels in French Loanwords.

          • The vowels a, e, i, ö, u were similar to English, so they did not suffered changes.

          • The vowel [ü] gave [u] [ü] > [u:] > [ju:].

          • Nasality was replaced by oral vowels:

        • [ã]n aun

        • [ã]m aum.

        • This u dissapeared later, axcept in some words (e.g. aunt, to differentiate it from ant)

          • The diphthong [oi] is French origin.

          • The triphthong [eau] evolved > [eu] > [iu] > [ju:]: OF `beaute Mod. E. beauty [`bju:ti]

          Unstressed syllables

          Unstressed vowels are all weakened. The transformation involves 2 stages:

        • Levelling to - e of final vowels: OE tungan > tungen

        • From the 12th century the final -e became /Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
          / and then dropped in the spelling. Depending on the words, changer come sooner or later: OE whanne > whan.

        • Along the 13th century (North) or 14th (rest) the - e was dropped in two- and three-syllable words. the first in being affected were disyllables with a short radical vowel.

          Middle English morphology.

          Noun declensions.

          There is a decadence of inflexional endings. There were 3 types of declensions at the beginning of the ME period:

          Type I

          Type II

          Type III

          root: stön-


          root: end-


          root: näm-





































          Uses of the cases:

          The Norman dialects tended to use Type I; he Midlands, types II and III; the South of the Thames, types I, II and III. Southern speakers tended to be more conservative. As time went by, type III merged with type II, tending to disappear. A little bit later Type II merged with type I, by silencing the final -e:

          Nom. stön

          Acc. stön Plural: stone(s)

          Gen. stone(s)

          Dat. stön

          The personal pronouns.

          First person

          Second person




          ich, ic, ik, I, y




          þü, thöu, töu, töw

          þë, thee, të













          üs, öus




          õë, yë

          eu, oü, õöu, õöw, you *.


          • ich was used in the South, and ik in the North.

          • The forms þü, þë are older than thou and thee.

          • õë is older that yë.

          • toü, töw, andte are eclitic, used after a word ending.

          • * This form you IS NOT the origin of the modern you.

          • Third person







            hë, hee, ha, a

            Acc. hine, hin


          • heo, hue, ho, ha, hi

          • õhö, chö, schö

          • schë, shë, sçæ

          • hire, hir, hure

            hit, it, a

            Acc. hit, it

            Dat. him







            þai, þay, thai

            þaim, thaim, thane

            þei, þeõ

            heom, hem

            hy, heo, ho, he, ha, a

            Acc. hi, hise, his, hes, hies, es

            Dat. heom, hem, höm, ham

            `Singular' notes:

            • a, it and ha are the unstressed forms.

            • In fem. sing., 2 are the forms of the Northern and Scots' dialects and the North Midlands'.

            • In fem. sing., 3 are the East Midlands' forms. schë is older than shë. sçæ disappeared.

            `Plural' notes:

            • These forms are the Scandinavian ones, and these other forms the native ones.

            • þaim, and thaim came from Old Norse. All the native forms disappeared.

            The Modern English period.

            General features

            Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

            The printing press helped many people could read. The first economic consequence was that the books were cheaper, so many more could afford buying books. Up until those days only the privileged classes could afford buying books, which were handwritten and very expensive. There also were more schools along England, and many people learned to read their mother tongue. Learned people could read and understand books in Latin and Greek, but many people wanted to know more about everything, so many translations appeared.

            [faltan apuntes 22 - marzo - 2001]

            Modern English spelling.


            The chaotic position of English spelling.

            In the Renaissance an h used to be added after t in words of foreign origin:

            lat. thronus > fr. trone > eng. throne

            This h provoked an alteration in pronunciation: /t/ > //. This change is also observed in intermediate position.

            Some scholars made serious attempts in order to organize this chaos. Sir John Cheke made some suggestions, like dropping the final -e if silent, substituting the final -y by an -i or eliminating the letters which were not pronounced.

            Other attempts occurred, like the one of Thomas Smith, John Hart, etc, but none of them prospered. However, the numerous variants were reduced little by little to one in the mid 17th century.

            Some questions were not solved. Still in this age there were no difference between I and j. But even after this questions was solved, some people broke rule. Samuel Johnson made his great dictionary. Due to this dictionary, in 1755, any Academy of English was established, because Dr. Johnson was enough. However, Dr. Johnson missed I and j.

            A similar case are u and v, which were usually interchanged. This problem was solved by the mid 17th century.

            Modern English Phonology. The Great Vowel Shift.

            Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
            It affected long tense ME vowels. These vowels were raised and fronted in their point of articulation. ï and ü could not be raised, because they already were up, so they were diphthonguised.

            • ME ä [a:] fronted [æ:] raised [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              :] closed [e:] diphthong. [ei]

            • ME ö [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              :] closed [o:] diphthong. [ou] / [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés

            • ME ö [o:] raised [u:]. There are some exceptions in which the vowel is shortened and centered. e.g. flood, blood.

            • ME open ë [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              :] raised and closed [e:] raised [i]. There are some exceptions, very few, in which [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              ] has been diphthongised to [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              i]: great, steak.

            • ME ë [e:] raised and closed [i:].

            • ME ü [u:] diphthong. [ou] fronted [eu] lowered [au].

            • ME ï diphthong. [ei]: central. and relaxed [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              i] lowered [ai]

            [falta …]


            There was the necessity to have a homogeneous language to communicate and keep written records. The Government tried to establish a standards language. The phonological changes were the most important (The Great Vowel Shift). But these changes involved also morphological changes.

            The Noun.

            By the end of the ME period, the -es ending extended to all nouns as a mark of a caseless plural suffix and also as a mark of genitive. As a result of this, most of the nouns had two forms, with or without - s (- es):

            sister, sisters.

            The use of the apostrophy for the genitive appeared a bit later (17th century):

            Gen: sister's, sisters'

            But there were several nouns which did not use the - s as a p`lural form, the irregular plurals:

          • The umlaut plurals (vowel mutated plurals): foot, feet; man, men.

          • -n plurals: ox, oxen, child, children, brother, brethren. These plurals were more spread in the South, as - s ones were in the North. Some authors did not avoided plurals like eye, eyen, today disappeared and written with - s.

          • Uninflected plural forms. Some of them come from the OE period: deer, sheep, swine, kind (today kinds), etc. The names of a number of animals with - s became uninflected by analogy with the others: fish, fowl. These plurals were also applied to `non - English' animals: buffalo, antelope.

          • Genitive constructions.

          • 'His' genitive: Augustus his daughter; Art not thou Poines his brother. The origin of this genitive is the belief that the - s was a variant for the possessive `his' (whisch was wrong).This is because the possessive drops the h in pronunciation. They were so convinced that they even applied `his' to female: Mrs. Sand his maid. There were some variants like - is and - ys. This genitive is the more usual with proper names, specially ending in sibilant.

          • Group genitive: The Wife of Bath's Tale. the mark of genitive is attached to the last word, Baugh and Cable's book.

          • Uninflected genitive. In Early Mod. English occurred in a number of special cases. In words ending in - s or preceding words ending in - s or [s]: for conscience sake, for God sake. There are a very limited number of words in today's English with this genitive: The Lady Day, the Lady Chapel. In some forms of Black English we find constructions like my brother car.

          • Adjectives and adverbs.

            In OE there used to be a distinction between strong and weak adjectives. In ME, with the levelling process, - n and - [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
            ] were lost, and this eliminated the differences between singular and plural forms in adjectives.

            The Mod. English adjective came to be invariable. the only words which agree in number with the noun are the demonstratives.

            Adjectives and adverbs formed comparatives and superlatives with - er and - est since the OE days. In early Mod. English the forms mo(e), more and most were introduced. It was possible to find things like eminenter and impudenter or more poor and more far. There was no rule for using this, even with both forms: more fairer. This was used to emphasize the adjective, and it still survives in forms of Black English: `More Better Blues'.

            In early Mod. English, adverbs had not to end in - ly. There are lots of examples in Shakespeare's works: indifferent cold (`indifferently cold'). this tendence is still used in American English: a real good time (`a really good time').

            Personal pronouns.

            This system uses to be more conservative than nouns or adjectives:

            1st person

            2nd person

            3rd person













            he, a




            hit, it

            hit, it












            The possessives.

            1st person

            2nd person

            3rd person

















            his, it

            his, its












            From the 18th century English grammar demands different forms for nominal and attributive uses. His is the exception, used for both purposes.

            When the distinction between the forms my / mine, etc, was phonological, there was a confusion about where the [i] belonged to: mine uncle my nuncle.

            The loss of the 2nd p.s. ( thou, thee, thy, thine ) created a gap, not repaired. The loss started with the change in the use of the thou / ye forms in the 13th century. From this time, ye / you forms started to be used with a singular meaning in circumstances of politeness, by French influence, specially from the tu / vous forms. English aristocracy imported the use of the French forms to English.

            English has now lost these differences, these th- forms were decreasingly in use. Shakespeare is the exception:

            Queen.- Hamlet, thou hast thy Father much offended.

            Hamlet.- Mother, you have my father much offended.

            The yeform died in Early Modern English. The -th forms became more rare and disappeared definitely in the 18th century. However, these forms still survive in poetry or in religious writings (e.g. in the Lords prayer). A third possibility are the dialects (e.g. in Yorkshire), specially the form thee.

            The neuter has two forms, hit, and it. Hit was the stressed form and it the unstressed one.

            His was the neuter form for the possessive in the early years of Mod. English:

            But value dwels not in
            particular will,
            it holds his estime and dignite
            William Shakespeare

            This created ambiguity and his was replaced by of it, thereof or it. Lately the form it's was created, and then the apostrophe disappeared.

            Since the th- forms were lost, English has lost alittle of capadity to differentiate between singular and plural. The form youse is used in Irish English for the plural among the lower classes. The form you uns (`you ones') is used in Scottish English to express plurality. The form you all seem to have been created in the southern states of the US. This one is more respectable than the others.

            From the17th century many speakers differentiated between you was and you were. Now, the form you was is considered archaic or non-standard.

            The 3rd has no native English forms. These forms are Scandinavian. the only native form which survives is hem, with the form 'em unstressed. this form does NOT come from them, but from a native English form.

            Uses of relative and interrogative pronouns.

            • Which for human or non-human antecedent. It could be preceded by the (French influence).

            • Who came to be also a relative, for human antecedent. Before this time, it was an indefinite article (Subject _who, Object whom).

            • Which did not need anything: He which nath your Noble Father slaine (Shakespeare).

            The Verb.

            The number of strong verbs decreased. They became weak or disappeared. The verb to be was an exception. The difference between regular and irregular is not the same difference than between weak and strong.

            The final -e was dropped:

            ich sitte I sit

            sitten sitte sit



            I sit

            thou sittest, sitst

            he / she / it sitteth, sits

            we, you, they sit

            I sat

            thou sat, sattest, satst

            he / she / it sat

            we, you, they sat

            The Early Mod. English maintained a number of personal endings:

            We may find the different alternatives simultaneously, but from the 17th century onwards the rest disappeared. Some verbs retained the -th ending: doth, hath.

            The ending -s seems to be of northern origin. We can find this ending even in 1st or 2nd person, or even in 3rd, although this is colloquial non-standard usage.

            The -est, -st endings in 2nd p.s. preterit were dropped in the 16th century.

            The verb to be.

            present preterite

            I am I was

            thou art thou wast, werst, wert were (you were, was, sing.)

            he / she / it is he, she, it was

            we, you, they are, be we, you, they were

            The preterit 2nd was were, until the 16th century. The rest of the forms were more modern.

            The contracted forms

            Most of the contracted negative forms first occurred in written form in the 17th century., but they were already used before in spoken language.

            • an't: am, is, are not. Late 17th century. ain't is a variant. Today occurs in colloquial English

            • aren't: are not.

            • `tis: it is ( it's).

            • `twas: it was (not in use today).

            • `twill: it will ( it'll).

            • `ld: would > `d (also had in 18th century onwards).

            • `ve: have. I would have [Introducción a la diacronía del inglés
              v] done it > I would of done it (illiterate).

            The progressive forms.

            to be + present participle ( I am walking ). These forms were very strange until 16th century. They started to be used in the late 18th century: he is safe arrived (be and not have).

            The auxiliary do.

            In early Mod. English it was optional in any sentence that had no other auxiliary:

            Forbid them not or do not forbid them

            Comes he? or Does he come?

            He fell or he did fall

            The forms with do were not emphatic.


            [k] [kx]

            [t] [ts]

            [p] [pf]

            Þ, þ thorn as th in thorn

            Ð, ð eth as th in the

            Æ, æ /æ/

            c (a, o, u) /k/

            c (e, i) as c in Cesare (it.)

            sc as sh in should

    Enviado por:Miguel Ángel Tejadas
    Idioma: inglés
    País: España

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