It was amazing to wander around the beautiful cities of Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb, Budapest, Belgrade and Bucharest and see how their architecture and culture have evolved from the ancient Greek and Roman times to modern day. This picture of our modern hotel in Bucharest, framed by the old buildings illustrates this evolution.
It made me think of our English language and how it, too, has evolved from the ancient Greek and Roman times to what we now consider ‘proper English’.
These alphabet charts illustrate the roots of our modern alphabet – I’m sure this is why, to this day, people still focus on the upper case letters!
Around the 5th century, Old English became the ‘proper English’ of the day, as illustrated by this passage from Beowulf, believed to have been written around the 11th century.
Hwät! we Gâr-Dena in geâr-dagum
þeód-cyninga þrym gefrunon,
hû þâ äðelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scêfing sceaðena þreátum.
By the 14th century, Middle English was considered the ‘proper English’. As we see in this excerpt from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, there are now some similarities to our Modern English:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne;
A century later, Shakespearean English showed even more similarities – this became known as Early Modern English:
When daffodils begin to peer,
With heigh! the doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year;
For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.
Things have certainly changed!! I’m sure the author of Beowulf would have cringed with disgust upon reading Chaucer. Likewise, Chaucer would not be pleased with the language of Shakespeare and Shakespeare would not be happy with the ‘proper English’ of today. However, whether we like it or not, our language has evolved over many centuries.
This brings me to the future of our language – what do the upcoming centuries hold for our grandchildren’s grandchildren? As someone who takes pride in using today’s ‘proper English’, I can’t help but cringe at what we are now seeing in written language. With email and texting, many of the formalities of our language are going by the wayside. This sample email from a former student of mine exemplifies the shift in our written language:
hello!nice 2 here from u! i no how much u hate msn write but 2 bad i do. i miss u soooo much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the move went great and i alredy made friends in school and on our street school is great but my teacher is harsh 2 bad kids (and i mean HARSH) we are in a enrichment program that does math and english. we havent really done anything yet though. how r u? r u bored yet? miss us yet? wat u been up 2? tell me bout u! bye!
If history is any indication, more changes are on the way! Will this become the ‘proper English’ of the 22nd century? Or will things like voice recognition technology, auto correct (which isn’t always correct!) and spelling suggestions keep our formalized English somewhat intact? Is the handwriting controversy part of this? Will upper case letters become a thing of the past? Will we communicate in phrases rather than complete sentences? So many questions . . . and no crystal ball! Send me your thoughts!