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The aims of studying the history of the English language.

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The aims of studying the history of the English language. Synchronic and diachronic approaches to studying the language. The concept of ‘language change’

A language can be considered from different angles. In studying Modern English we regard the language as fixed in time and describe each linguistic level – phonetics, grammar or lexis – synchronically, taking no account of the origin of present-day features. When considered diachronically, every linguistic fact is interpreted as a stage or step in the never-ending evolution of language. In practice, however, the contrast between diachronic and synchronic study is not so marked as in theory.

Through learning the history of the English language the student achieves a variety of aims, both theoretical and practical. So, one of the aims is to provide the student with a knowledge of linguistic history sufficient to account for the principal features of present-day English. For example, through centuries writing and spelling was changing in English. At the time when Latin letters were first used in Britain (7th c.) writing was phonetic: the letters stood for the same sound. After the introduction of printing (15th c.) the written form of the word became fixed, while the sounds continued to change (knight was [knix’t]). Another important aim of this course is of a more theoretical nature. While tracing the evolution of the English language through time, the student will be confronted with a number of theoretical questions such as the relationship between statics and dynamics in language, the role of linguistic and extralinguistic factors and so on. These problems may be considered on a theoretical plane within the scope of general linguistics. In describing the evolution of English, they will be discussed in respect of concrete linguistic facts, which will ensure a better understanding of these facts and will demonstrate the application of general principles to language material. One more aim of this course is to provide the student of English with a wider philological outlook. The history of the English language shows the place of English in the linguistic world.

Concept of ‘language change’.

One can distinguish three main types of difference in language: geographical, social and temporal. Language changes imply temporal differences, which become apparent if the same elements or parts of the language are compared at successive historical stages; they are transformations of the same units in time which can be registered as distinct steps in their evolution. For example, the OE form of the Past tense pl Ind. Mood of the verb to find – fundon became founden [fu:ndən] in the 12th -13th c. and found in Mod E. All these changes can be defined as structural or intralinguistic as they belong to the language system. The concept of language change is not limited to internal, structural changes. It also includes temporal differences in the position of the given unit in language space, that is the extent of its spread in the functional varieties of the language. A new feature – a word, a form, a sound – can be recognized as a linguistic change only after it has been accepted for general use in most varieties of the language or in its main variety – the Literary Standard. Most linguistic changes involve some kind of substitution and can therefore be called replacements. They are subdivided into different types or patterns. A simple replacement occurs when a new unit merely takes the place of the old one, e.g. in the word but, feet the vowels [u] and [e:] have been replaced by [л] and [i:]. Replacements can also be found in the plane of content; they are shifts of meaning in words which have survived from the early periods of history, e.g. feoh [feox] had the meaning ‘cattle’, ‘property’, its modern descendant is fee. Most linguistic changes, however, both in the language system and language space, have a more complicated pattern. Two or more units may fall together and thus may be replaced by one unit, or, vice versa, two distinct units may take the place of one. These types of replacement are defined as merging and splitting. The modern Common case of nouns is the result of the merging of three OE cases – Nom., Gen. and Acc. Many instances of splitting can be found in the history of English sounds, e.g. the consonant [k] has split into two phonemes [k] and [tS]. Linguistic changes are usually slow and gradual. They proceed in imperceptible steps unnoticed by the speakers. The slow rate of linguistic change is seen in the gradual spread of new features in language space. It is important to note that different parts or levels of language develop at different rates. It is often said that vocabulary of a language can change very rapidly. This is true only if we compare lexical changes with changes at other linguistic levels, e.g. grammatical. Lexical changes are quite conspicuous and easy to observe, since new items spring into being before our very eyes, though, as a matter of fact, they rarely amount to more than isolated words or groups of words. The system of phonemes cannot be subjected to sudden or rapid changes since it must preserve the oppositions between the phonemes required for the distinction of morphemes. Likewise, the grammatical system is very slow to change. Being the most abstract of linguistic levels it must provide stable formal devices for arranging words into classes and for connecting them into phrases and sentences.

The causes of language change. Different schools have different answers. In the 19th c. the representatives of the romantic trend thought that the history of I-E and esp. of Germanic languages shows their degradation and corruption. Most of Germanic languages lost their inflections, declensions and others. Naturalists thought that any language is a living organism. It is developed just like the human body (Schleicher). Psychologists attributed changes to psychology of people. Sociologists thought that linguistic changes are caused by social conditions and historical events (Meillet). Young-Grammarian school representatives thought that phonetic changes destroy the grammatical system.

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Дата: 02.01.2011 16:43
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its very useful information thanks

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