full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Claire Bowern: Where did English come from?

Unscramble the Blue Letters

When we talk about English, we often think of it as a single language but what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common with each other, or with the writings of Chaucer? And how are any of them related to the strange words in Beowulf? The answer is that like most languages, English has eoevvld through generations of speakers, undergoing maojr changes over time. By undoing these changes, we can trace the language from the present day back to its ancient roots. While modern English shares many similar words with Latin-derived romance languages, like French and Spanish, most of those words were not originally part of it. Instead, they started coming into the language with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. When the French-speaking Normans ceequrond England and became its ruling class, they brought their speech with them, andidg a massive anmuot of French and Latin vocabulary to the English language previously spoken there. Today, we call that language Old English. This is the language of Beowulf. It probably doesn't look very familiar, but it might be more rgaboceizlne if you know some German. That's because Old English bnelogs to the Germanic language family, first brought to the btsirih ielss in the 5th and 6th centuries by the Angles, saxnos, and Jutes. The Germanic dialects they spoke would become known as Anglo-Saxon. Viking invaders in the 8th to 11th centuries added more borrowings from Old Norse into the mix. It may be hard to see the rotos of modern English underneath all the words borrowed from French, Latin, Old Norse and other languages. But comparative linguistics can help us by focusing on gatciamarml structure, patterns of sound changes, and certain core vaabuoclry. For example, after the 6th century, gmeran words starting with "p," systematically seihftd to a "pf" sound while their Old English counterparts kept the "p" unchanged. In another split, words that have "sk" sounds in Swedish developed an "sh" snuod in English. There are still some English words with "sk," like "skirt," and "skull," but they're dreict borrowings from Old Norse that came after the "sk" to "sh" shift. These examples show us that just as the various raocnme languages descended from Latin, English, siedwsh, German, and many other languages descended from their own coommn ancestor known as Proto-Germanic spoken around 500 B.C.E. Because this haitoircsl language was never written down, we can only reconstruct it by comparing its descendants, which is possible thanks to the consistency of the changes. We can even use the same process to go back one step further, and trace the oirngis of Proto-Germanic to a language called Proto-Indo-European, spoken about 6000 years ago on the Pontic steppe in modern day uanrike and rsiusa. This is the reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European family that includes nearly all languages historically spoken in epoure, as well as large parts of Southern and Western Asia. And though it requires a bit more work, we can find the same systematic similarities, or cepodencsrorens, between related wrdos in different Indo-European branches. Comparing English with Latin, we see that English has "t" where Latin has "d", and "f" where latin has "p" at the start of words. Some of English's more dastint relatives include Hindi, Persian and the Celtic languages it displaced in what is now Britain. Proto-Indo-European itself ddseneced from an even more ancient language, but unfortunately, this is as far back as historical and archeological evcnidee will allow us to go. Many miryetses rieamn just out of reach, such as whether there might be a link between Indo-European and other major language families, and the nature of the languages sokepn in Europe prior to its arrival. But the amazing fact rmnieas that nearly 3 billion people around the world, many of whom cannot understand each other, are nevertheless siekpnag the same words shaped by 6000 years of history.

Open Cloze

When we talk about English, we often think of it as a single language but what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common with each other, or with the writings of Chaucer? And how are any of them related to the strange words in Beowulf? The answer is that like most languages, English has _______ through generations of speakers, undergoing _____ changes over time. By undoing these changes, we can trace the language from the present day back to its ancient roots. While modern English shares many similar words with Latin-derived romance languages, like French and Spanish, most of those words were not originally part of it. Instead, they started coming into the language with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. When the French-speaking Normans _________ England and became its ruling class, they brought their speech with them, ______ a massive ______ of French and Latin vocabulary to the English language previously spoken there. Today, we call that language Old English. This is the language of Beowulf. It probably doesn't look very familiar, but it might be more ____________ if you know some German. That's because Old English _______ to the Germanic language family, first brought to the _______ _____ in the 5th and 6th centuries by the Angles, ______, and Jutes. The Germanic dialects they spoke would become known as Anglo-Saxon. Viking invaders in the 8th to 11th centuries added more borrowings from Old Norse into the mix. It may be hard to see the _____ of modern English underneath all the words borrowed from French, Latin, Old Norse and other languages. But comparative linguistics can help us by focusing on ___________ structure, patterns of sound changes, and certain core __________. For example, after the 6th century, ______ words starting with "p," systematically _______ to a "pf" sound while their Old English counterparts kept the "p" unchanged. In another split, words that have "sk" sounds in Swedish developed an "sh" _____ in English. There are still some English words with "sk," like "skirt," and "skull," but they're ______ borrowings from Old Norse that came after the "sk" to "sh" shift. These examples show us that just as the various _______ languages descended from Latin, English, _______, German, and many other languages descended from their own ______ ancestor known as Proto-Germanic spoken around 500 B.C.E. Because this __________ language was never written down, we can only reconstruct it by comparing its descendants, which is possible thanks to the consistency of the changes. We can even use the same process to go back one step further, and trace the _______ of Proto-Germanic to a language called Proto-Indo-European, spoken about 6000 years ago on the Pontic steppe in modern day _______ and ______. This is the reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European family that includes nearly all languages historically spoken in ______, as well as large parts of Southern and Western Asia. And though it requires a bit more work, we can find the same systematic similarities, or _______________, between related _____ in different Indo-European branches. Comparing English with Latin, we see that English has "t" where Latin has "d", and "f" where latin has "p" at the start of words. Some of English's more _______ relatives include Hindi, Persian and the Celtic languages it displaced in what is now Britain. Proto-Indo-European itself _________ from an even more ancient language, but unfortunately, this is as far back as historical and archeological ________ will allow us to go. Many _________ ______ just out of reach, such as whether there might be a link between Indo-European and other major language families, and the nature of the languages ______ in Europe prior to its arrival. But the amazing fact _______ that nearly 3 billion people around the world, many of whom cannot understand each other, are nevertheless ________ the same words shaped by 6000 years of history.

Solution

  1. europe
  2. sound
  3. adding
  4. isles
  5. speaking
  6. ukraine
  7. roots
  8. historical
  9. common
  10. mysteries
  11. vocabulary
  12. descended
  13. romance
  14. german
  15. evidence
  16. evolved
  17. conquered
  18. origins
  19. russia
  20. grammatical
  21. spoken
  22. words
  23. remains
  24. saxons
  25. recognizable
  26. british
  27. major
  28. belongs
  29. amount
  30. direct
  31. correspondences
  32. shifted
  33. remain
  34. swedish
  35. distant

Original Text

When we talk about English, we often think of it as a single language but what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common with each other, or with the writings of Chaucer? And how are any of them related to the strange words in Beowulf? The answer is that like most languages, English has evolved through generations of speakers, undergoing major changes over time. By undoing these changes, we can trace the language from the present day back to its ancient roots. While modern English shares many similar words with Latin-derived romance languages, like French and Spanish, most of those words were not originally part of it. Instead, they started coming into the language with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. When the French-speaking Normans conquered England and became its ruling class, they brought their speech with them, adding a massive amount of French and Latin vocabulary to the English language previously spoken there. Today, we call that language Old English. This is the language of Beowulf. It probably doesn't look very familiar, but it might be more recognizable if you know some German. That's because Old English belongs to the Germanic language family, first brought to the British Isles in the 5th and 6th centuries by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. The Germanic dialects they spoke would become known as Anglo-Saxon. Viking invaders in the 8th to 11th centuries added more borrowings from Old Norse into the mix. It may be hard to see the roots of modern English underneath all the words borrowed from French, Latin, Old Norse and other languages. But comparative linguistics can help us by focusing on grammatical structure, patterns of sound changes, and certain core vocabulary. For example, after the 6th century, German words starting with "p," systematically shifted to a "pf" sound while their Old English counterparts kept the "p" unchanged. In another split, words that have "sk" sounds in Swedish developed an "sh" sound in English. There are still some English words with "sk," like "skirt," and "skull," but they're direct borrowings from Old Norse that came after the "sk" to "sh" shift. These examples show us that just as the various Romance languages descended from Latin, English, Swedish, German, and many other languages descended from their own common ancestor known as Proto-Germanic spoken around 500 B.C.E. Because this historical language was never written down, we can only reconstruct it by comparing its descendants, which is possible thanks to the consistency of the changes. We can even use the same process to go back one step further, and trace the origins of Proto-Germanic to a language called Proto-Indo-European, spoken about 6000 years ago on the Pontic steppe in modern day Ukraine and Russia. This is the reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European family that includes nearly all languages historically spoken in Europe, as well as large parts of Southern and Western Asia. And though it requires a bit more work, we can find the same systematic similarities, or correspondences, between related words in different Indo-European branches. Comparing English with Latin, we see that English has "t" where Latin has "d", and "f" where latin has "p" at the start of words. Some of English's more distant relatives include Hindi, Persian and the Celtic languages it displaced in what is now Britain. Proto-Indo-European itself descended from an even more ancient language, but unfortunately, this is as far back as historical and archeological evidence will allow us to go. Many mysteries remain just out of reach, such as whether there might be a link between Indo-European and other major language families, and the nature of the languages spoken in Europe prior to its arrival. But the amazing fact remains that nearly 3 billion people around the world, many of whom cannot understand each other, are nevertheless speaking the same words shaped by 6000 years of history.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
modern english 2
languages descended 2

Important Words

  1. added
  2. adding
  3. amazing
  4. amount
  5. ancestor
  6. ancient
  7. angles
  8. answer
  9. archeological
  10. arrival
  11. asia
  12. belongs
  13. beowulf
  14. billion
  15. bit
  16. borrowed
  17. borrowings
  18. branches
  19. britain
  20. british
  21. brought
  22. call
  23. called
  24. celtic
  25. centuries
  26. century
  27. chaucer
  28. class
  29. coming
  30. common
  31. comparative
  32. comparing
  33. conquered
  34. consistency
  35. core
  36. correspondences
  37. counterparts
  38. countries
  39. day
  40. descendants
  41. descended
  42. developed
  43. dialects
  44. direct
  45. displaced
  46. distant
  47. dozens
  48. england
  49. english
  50. europe
  51. evidence
  52. evolved
  53. examples
  54. fact
  55. familiar
  56. families
  57. family
  58. find
  59. focusing
  60. french
  61. generations
  62. german
  63. germanic
  64. grammatical
  65. hard
  66. hindi
  67. historical
  68. historically
  69. history
  70. include
  71. includes
  72. invaders
  73. invasion
  74. isles
  75. jutes
  76. language
  77. languages
  78. large
  79. latin
  80. linguistics
  81. link
  82. major
  83. massive
  84. mix
  85. modern
  86. mysteries
  87. nature
  88. norman
  89. normans
  90. norse
  91. originally
  92. origins
  93. part
  94. parts
  95. patterns
  96. people
  97. persian
  98. pontic
  99. present
  100. previously
  101. prior
  102. process
  103. reach
  104. recognizable
  105. reconstruct
  106. reconstructed
  107. related
  108. relatives
  109. remain
  110. remains
  111. requires
  112. romance
  113. roots
  114. ruling
  115. russia
  116. saxons
  117. shaped
  118. shares
  119. shift
  120. shifted
  121. show
  122. similar
  123. similarities
  124. single
  125. sound
  126. sounds
  127. southern
  128. spanish
  129. speakers
  130. speaking
  131. speech
  132. split
  133. spoke
  134. spoken
  135. start
  136. started
  137. starting
  138. step
  139. steppe
  140. strange
  141. structure
  142. swedish
  143. systematic
  144. systematically
  145. talk
  146. time
  147. today
  148. trace
  149. ukraine
  150. unchanged
  151. undergoing
  152. understand
  153. viking
  154. vocabulary
  155. western
  156. words
  157. work
  158. world
  159. writings
  160. written
  161. years