Languages Interact More Than You Think

This past semester, I took a course called “Historical Development of the English Language.” I absolutely love knowing how and why a modern word exists as it does, and I have been working on a fictional language for about a year and a half. Learning about how our language formed was important to creating my own language.

I learned a lot of interesting facts about English during that class, which may or may not come as later articles, but the main thing I learned is how interconnected languages are. We hear all the time about how English has influenced other languages by being so dominant, which is true, but past influences aren’t mentioned nearly as often.

For example, did you know there was a point in English’s history where roughly 60% of the vocabulary was French? It’s true!

When the Normans conquered the land we know as England, Frenchmen were put in charge. They only needed to know enough English to order their servants around. They may have picked up some other English, but at this time English was considered for the low-class. Otherwise, the Frenchmen were free to bring in their own words for various sections of life—such as law, business, and cuisine—to better suit their needs.

Being bilingual in French and English came early for many, especially those that were higher in the social hierarchy. Even if two French nobles had a French child, that child was raised by English servants. It isn’t hard to see how those children became bilingual.

Apart from the fact that France controlled the land of England for centuries and permanently shaped our language, there are some words that English has borrowed twice from the same language.

These words have different meanings in English because of the way a word’s meaning and pronunciation change over time. I don’t plan on going in-depth with Grimm’s Law, The Great Vowel Shift, and other such major changes in English, but if you’re interested I highly recommend looking into them.

Instead, let’s take the words disc and dish. Did you know they are both thought to have come from Latin? The only reason they’re differentiated in modern English is because of when they came into the language. The pronunciation is different because of shifts in the spoken (and therefore written) English, and the meaning is different because (again) word meanings change overtime.

There’s honestly a lot I could talk about concerning language, and I may write more on it in future articles. For now though, start looking into how languages you know interact. If you know of any interesting connections, feel free to comment! I love learning about language interactions, even if they’re outside of my only language.

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