The Evolution of the English Language

December 21, 2010 at 11:01 am  •  Posted in Writing by  •  0 Comments

'Pathways of Knowledge' by Colin Wilbourn, University of Sunderland (Geograph)A brief survey of the English language from its earliest days to today. Watch as it grows and evolves.

Of course, as with biological evolution there is no “ideal” form, just ideal forms for the “current” environment. I have no doubt that the English language will keep evolving, but the question is, how many of you will be left behind as you cling to antiquated styles?

AD 900 – Unknown, Beowulf
Hwæt! Wē Gār-Dena in geārdagum
(translated as: Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings)

14th century AD – Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

~1600 – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my magination it is! My gorge rises at it.

1776 – Thomas Jefferson, et. al, Declaration of Independence
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

1843 – Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.  It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.

1916 – James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….

1923 – E.E. Cummings – r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

  a)s w(e loo)k
S                                                         a
  rIvInG                         .gRrEaPsPhOs)

1986 – Allen Ginsberg – Sphincter
I hope my good old asshole holds out
60 years it’s been mostly OK
Tho in Bolivia a fissure operation
survived the altiplano hospital–

2004 – George W. Bush – speech in Washington, D.C.
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

2010 – Sarah Palin – Twitter message
‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!’

2010 – Anonymous – Twitter message
Ware r u @?, @MediaBistro chilin, Y? C u lata K? Wats ur fave #Beatles song?
(translated as, I think: Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings)

Photo: ‘Pathways of Knowledge’ by Colin Wilbourn, University of Sunderland. © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

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