The History of the English Language in 100 Places
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (27 October 2013): p18. A project tells the story of the English language through 100 locations, starting in Suffolk and ending in Vienna - with stops in Hastings, Beijing and the moon along the way.
From a piece of farmland in Suffolk, to Vienna, via Hastings, Beijing and even the moon – it may sound like an unusual journey. But these are the places, identified in a new study, which have helped to create, shape and spread the English language around the globe – and beyond.
They have all been included in a new project which aims to tell the story of the language through 100 locations. It has been conducted by the English Project, a charity devoted to study of the subject.
The scheme was launched in 2010, with a request for the public to help, by providing suggested locations. That phase has now been completed and the first 100 locations are described in a new book, A History Of The English Language In 100 Places.
It starts in Undley Common at Lakenheath, Suffolk, in 475 where arguably the first use of English was found on a bracteate – a thin piece of metal worn as jewellery – unearthed by a farmer, and ends in the Austrian capital, in 2012, where the University of Vienna is assembling a database of recordings of more than one million words of English, spoken by people for whom it is not their first language, in order to analyse trends.
Between the two, the book tells how English developed on these shores, before spreading around the world in countries like America, India, and Australia, and was then taken up in other parts of the globe where it is not a first language.
Some time in the last decade, the number of people speaking English as a second language is thought to have overtaken those who speak it as a first language.
Stops along the way include Hastings, in 1066, when the Norman Conquest led to French influence on the language, and Helsinki, in 1993, where text messaging was developed. Other locations have been chosen to signify a range of historical figures, such as William Shakespeare and William Caxton, movements of people and emerging technology which have helped to shape the language.
Bill Lucas, a professor at the University of Winchester, said: “The language has developed and continuously evolved since its beginnings, some time in the early fifth century. And we are very keen to explore just how significant a role geography has had in these changes,"
“What began as the language of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes on a small island has become a global property. It is owned and shaped by almost two billion English speakers across the Earth. Through an extraordinary combination of accidents, conquests and technological advances, English is now the language of the world.”
The project is ongoing and more locations are being encouraged. To submit a suggestion, visit the charity’s website, www.englishproject.org
Norse-speaking Danes occupy the city and establish settlements across the east of the country, bringing with them words which enter the language. There are at least nine hundred words of Norse origin in standard modern English, among them ‘egg’, ‘husband’, and ‘leg’. Only the French have had such a profound influence on English as the Danes.
Chancery Street, London, c1419
A letter from King Henry V, on campaign in France, is sent back to his government in England updating them on the latest intelligence he had received about fears of an attack from Scotland. It is thought to have been read out to nobles in the Lord Chancellor’s office, increasingly known as the Chancery. Unlike correspondence from previous kings, written in Latin or French, this one was written in English.
The site of the printing of the first book in English, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. William Caxton, who had translated it himself from French, later returned to England where he set up a printing press in Westminster.
John Hart wrote The Opening of the Unreasonable Writing of our Inglish Toung. Never published in his life time, it was about English spelling, and it is thought to be the first systematic study of the subject. He suggested spelling should be phonologically based. Thirty five years later, in Chichester, a schoolmaster published a pamphlet by William Bullokar: Or rather too be saied hiz abbreuiation of hiz grammar for English, extracted out-of hiz grammar at-larg. More generally known as Pamphlet for Grammar, it was the first guide of its kind.
Hard-wearing cotton fabrics produced in the French town, “serge de Nimes”, entered the English language in around 1695 as “denim”. The town has been included in the list to show how place names have been used to create new words. Other toponyms, as they are known, include: bungalow, a corruption of ‘Bengal’, describing the kind of cottages built by European settlers in that part of India; hamburger – minced beef from the German city of Hamburg in the nineteenth century; and magenta, the distinctive crimson colour discovered at the time of the battle of Magenta in Italy, in 1859.
St Martin-le-Grand, London, 1840
The Uniform Penny Post was introduced, covering the whole of Britain, precipitating the growth of letter writing across the country. On the first day after its introduction, 112,000 letters were posted – three times the number of letters posted on the same date the previous year.
The Royal Museum and Public Library opened in Salford, with 10,000 books. Considered the first public library, it had more than 1,200 visitors a day in its first year. The same year, the Public Libraries Act was passed in England, enabling boroughs to levy a tax to provide free public libraries. The institutions are credited with massively increasing access to reading.
New York, 1913
The first crossword appears in the New York World. The first in Britain followed in 1922, in Pearson’s Magazine. It is included to show the popularity of written word puzzles, which date back to Roman times.
The Empire State Building, 1941
The first television advertisements - for Bulova watches - are broadcast by WX2XBS – later NBC – from its transmitter on the building, during a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. Several trade names have themselves become words, including Hoover, Sellotape, Thermos, and, more recently, Google.
Sea of Tranquillity, 1969
English is spoken on the moon as Neil Armstrong reported the landing of Apollo 11’s lunar module. Once safely touched down, he spoke to those back in Cape Kennedy saying ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed finally’. His more famous words – still the subject of debate – came a few hours later, when he climbed onto the surface of the moon. The space age has contributed many words to the language, among them booster seats, for children, lift off, unmanned, soft landing, and shuttle.
Beverly Hills, USA, 2008
Included to show the influence of “teen speak”, popularised by television shows such as 90210 – which started in this year – set in the area of California and starring AnnaLynne McCord. The language is marked by the rapidity with which it changes and the speed with which it spreads. One characteristic is the use of exclamations, such as: Deezam!, Oh Snap!, Shut up!, That Bites!, Yo!, Who’s Your Daddy!, OMG!. ‘Shut up!’ is not an insult but an affirmation.
The article by Jasper Copping appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 27 Oct 2013 but may be read on-line here