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History of the English Language Podcast

January 17, 2018
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Cold winter’s day.

January 17, 2018

Last night at about one, or so, I was awake, so I listened to History of the English Language podcast by Kevin Stroud.  He has 106 episodes and he tracks the development of English from its Indo-European roots on the steppes of Asia perhaps 5000 years ago.  Our language has some ancient words in amongst the modern.  Sure, many of our words were borrowed from other languages, but a number have been passed along from the earliest tribal days on the steppes after the last ice age.  Old words tend to pertain, of course, to matters we have in common with our ancestors, such as “oxen,” “yoke,” and “mother” and “father.”  The newest words often pertain to technology, such as “fax” and “google.”  Mr. Stroud helps us stop and examine words, and for that I recommend his podcast.

English is a Germanic language that owes a lot to Latin.  One cannot understand the history of the language without knowledge of the social and political climate from which it sprung.  Think of all the anomalies in spelling.  Many of these were contrivances of ancient scribes who were adept at using the alphabet to approximate the sounds of words in olden times.  Mr. Stroud notes that Old English, such as in Beowulf, would be unintelligible to a modern English speaker, but Middle English, such in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, while strange-sounding, can pretty much be understood, though perhaps not completely.  He poses the question, what kind of English did William Shakespeare write in?  Answer:  Modern.  Granted, Mr. Shakespeare used words we might find quaint, but his work can be easily understood today.

I found it interesting the notion that not all written languages have alphabets.  Chinese, for example, employs hundreds, if not thousands, of characters that are, in effect, pictures, while English gets by with a few more than two dozen letters.  He notes that languages that employ phonetic alphabets, like English, are much easier to learn to read and write.  The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics had scores of characters that only specially educated scribes could read and write.  Those who study linguistics may not learn anything new here, but the rest of us might.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest.  Just google the above podcast and give it a try.

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