Get Excited About English

So I’m teaching the spelling rule: English words do not end in I,U,V, or J; and my 9 year old says, “What about the word ‘you’? It ends in ‘U’.” To which I automatically responded, “It must not be of English origins.”

Her question stayed with me though, to the tune of me ordering the following books through inter-library-loan.

Robert McCrum opens his second chapter with this paragraph:

The making of English is the story of three invasions and a cultural revolution. In the simplest terms, the language was brought to Britain by Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, influenced by Latin and Greek when St. Augustine and his followers converted England to Christianity, subtly enriched by the Danes, and finally transformed by the French-speaking Normans.

Fascinating stuff to say the least…that our language is the result of three invasions to Britain in the 400’s, 800’s and in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. That last Battle resulted in the use of English being banned in Britain for almost 300 years! This is an exciting concept to present to young ones, from the perspective of what if? What if another country conquored America and said we could no longer speak our native tongue? For hundreds of years, French was the mandated language. Society became two-tiered: Norman nobility spoke French and illiterate peasants continued to speak English.

Knowing that the majority of English was preserved thanks to the lower class, consider the following breakdown in Bryson’s book on pages 54-55:

First the more humble trades tended to have Anglo-Saxon names (baker, miller, shoemaker), while the more skilled trades adopted French names (mason, tailor, painter). At the same time, animals in the field usually were called by English names (sheep, cow, ox) but once cooked and brought to the table, they were generally given French names (beef, mutton, veal, bacon).

According to Bryson, we adopted 10,000 French words as a result of this siege, and three-fourths of them are still in use today. Words such as: justice, jury, felony, traitor, petty, damage, prison, countess, duchess, duke and baron… He points out that nearly all of our words relating to government and ranks of aristocracy are of French origin.

Back to the word, “You.” All our pronouns have germanic roots (Anglo-saxon). In original English, “I” was spelled “ich” and “you” was spelled “euw” which falls right in line with our English standards of pronunciation. During the rule of the Normans (French), they changed what they considered our awkward spelling of “euw” to “you”…so we kept the Anglo-saxon pronunciation, but adopted the Norman-French spelling.

“ich” became “ic” by the Middle Ages, and then “i” by the 1400s. William Caxton brought the printing press over to England in 1476 and he had to choose a version of English to print that would find favor with a huge region with many different dialects. He decided to print “London English”. He decided to capitalize “i”…”I” to make it distinguishable when printing.

Those old printing presses were far from perfect, in fact, a & o and g & q were confused so often from the printing stamp not coming down evenly, that the fix decided upon was to add the fancier swirls: a & g. From printing presses we also get our “upper and lower case” letters. The capitals were stored in the “upper case”, and the others in the “lower case”.

Our English language contains more than 500,000 words, with new ones being added each year. One begins to see the importance of breaking them down into 70 phonograms and 26 spelling rules! And knowing the history and word origins is not only key to winning spelling bees, it’s stimulating!

The above info is just another reason why I love our Spell to Write and Read curriculum by Wanda Sanseri! English doesn’t have to be difficult, it’s something you and yours can get excited about!

Newest book on my wish-list: The Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto

10 thoughts on “Get Excited About English”

  1. I still love spelling, grammar and punctuation. English was my life.

    This is rather sad to share, however, but I must share this funny little tidbit about myself. I was failing or getting low grades in most of my classes in high school, but I was in honors English! lol! Go figure?

    Anyhoo, there is one word that irks me to no end and I hate the fact it can now be found in the dictionary…ain’t!! Arghh…NO! NO! NO!

  2. The last sin eater was great, i took my hubby and son and even my 13 yo loved it!
    Its done well, its a little edgy/scary, enough to keep you awake and the message is awesome and i love Francine rivers books. I think its kept pretty close to the book, but i read the book a few years ago.
    krislinatin
    Have a blessed day!

  3. I keep hearing about Francine’s movie on the radio. I missed the last Christian film in the theatres because it didn’t run very long. guess I have to get there faster next time!

  4. I keep hearing about Francine’s movie on the radio. I missed the last Christian film in the theatres because it didn’t run very long. guess I have to get there faster next time!

  5. Krislinatin, thanks for the review! I wonder when it will be out on DVD! I just wish they’d make a movie of either Atonement Child or The Scarlet Thread by F.Rivers…now that I’d LOVE!

    Ann…not sure yet if hubby and I will get to go…February is plenty busy–weekend-wise, but we’re talking about it.

    Deborah, we keep meaning to get the Nate Saint movie also! Thanks for reminding me…

    Gina, I know what you mean…so many times the Christian movies don’t get any ads…we didn’t even know about the End of the Spear being in theaters until it was on its last weekend…

    Georgiana, why don’t you go to once in a while with your dh and let your teen watch the tots? I can’t wait till my oldest is babysitting age! :O)

  6. Thanks so much for the recommendation, Kaye! It comes at a great time for me, fascination-wise! I’m also looking for more children-friendly books on it, if anyone has any titles in that department! :O)

  7. Language is a fascinating subject. I love finding out where all these words come from.

    A bit of additional information about you: The second person pronoun has its roots in prot-indoeuropean – the language from which nearly all european and many indian languages are derived. In PIE, the second person plural article is ju. This ends in ‘u’ of course, and you are right – it is not actually English that the word comes from!

    In Anglo Saxon, “eow” is the plural form and “dhu” (which later became “thou”). An oddity of English is that the singular form has dropped right out of the language (except in Yorkshire), and this is probably because of similarities with the French “vous” which led to “you” being used formally even when talking to just one person.

    Indeed, Welsh shows this same pattern, although the informal singular form has not dropped out of the language. In Welsh, you is “chi” but thou (singular of you) is “ti”

    But if you are talking to someone politely who is older than you, you should always use “chi” to be polite. Thus:

    Sut y’ch chi? (How are you)

    If you are talking to family, children or to God, you use the familiar form:

    Sut wyt ti? (How are you)

    Regards,
    Stephen

  8. Stephen, I was hoping you, a certified Englishman, would comment on this post! Thanks for the great insight and clarification! So, we Americans are alone in using “you” as a “singular” pronoun? I know we use it interchangeably (both plural and singular), but many times change it to “you all” or “y’all”–if you’re from Texas! (I was!)

    So do you speak in Welsh mostly?

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