As we keep moving back in time, the language keeps growing steadily more different from our own – or, to put it more sensibly, the English of later times has been growing steadily more different from earlier English.
It is always changing in every possible way: in pronunciation, in vocabulary, in grammar.
will the language still be ‘English’?
Once upon a time, in the days of King Alfred the Great, there was a language that looked like this: He cwæð, Soðlice sum man hæfde twegen suna. Þa cwæð se gingra to his fæder, Fæder, syle me minne dæl minre æhte þe me to gebyreð. And its speakers called it ‘English’. Centuries later, the language had changed substantially, and the same sentence now looked like this: And he seide, A man hadde twei sones; and the ʒonger of hem seide to the fadir, Fadir, ʒyue me the porcioun of catel, that fallith to me. The speakers of this variety also called their language ‘English’. Today, cen- turies later again, the same sentence looks like this: And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.
Are we still looking at the ‘same’ language? How can we tell?
he Germanic variety of Scotland – Scots – is considered to be a variety separate from Modern English by a great many people in that country.
Scots is presently dialectalised under Standard English
English is descended from a group of Germanic dialects we call North Sea Germanic, which in turn was descended from an unrecorded language we call Proto-Germanic, which in turn was descended from a much earlier unrecorded language we call Proto-Indo- European, which in turn was descended from ... a language we know nothing about and do not even have a name for.
Some people would therefore say that English is a ‘mixed language’. But linguists do not use the term in such a broad way.
The problem with this broad use is that there are practically no languages which have not been strongly affected by other lan- guages, and therefore, in this broad sense, there are practically no ‘unmixed languages’.
For linguists, a mixed language is a language which is constructed by combining large chunks of material from two (or more) quite distinct languages, in such a way that we cannot reasonably say that any one language is the direct ancestor of the resulting mixture.
English does not qualify as a mixed language, because, in spite of the high levels of borrowed vocabulary, we can easily trace the ancestry of English in a continuous line back through Middle English, Old English, North Sea Germanic, Proto-Germanic and so on, all the way back to Proto-Indo-European.
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