Archive for August 2011

What is the position of the English language among other languages?

If one compares a number of languages, it probably soon appears that some of them have some sort of relationship to one another, while others may seem quite isolated. If we are able to trace a group of these apparently related forms in several languages to a common ancestor by means of older writings, it may sometimes become almost certain that these forms must be branches, as it were, from a common root.

By going further back, we may sometimes be able to compare a number of early forms each of which is the ancestor of later developments in the different languages, so as to establish a strong probability that they in their turn must all be descended from a common prehistoric original.

This supposed original will be much older than the earliest written languages, so that it can never be verified with absolute certainty, but must remain only a strongly supported hypothesis. But if other qualities in the languages we are comparing corroborate the relationship and common ancestry which we have arrived at by the above method, we may find ourselves well on the way to being able to contrast genealogy of our languages - in other words to classify them into families.

For example, if we take the words 'is' in some of the better known European and Asiatic languages, we may reconstruct with fair probability the ancestral prehistoric word from which all must be descended: and this relationship will be found to be confirmed by other evidence. Latin EST, Greek ESTI, Sanskrit ASTI, Russian ЕСТЬ, German 1ST, Italian E, etc.

Now by studying the earliest forms and the later history of each of these languages, we can be pretty sure that the ancestral form from which all descend was ESTI.

We know for instance that in Sanskrit an original e-sound became a-, and that the Italian pronunciation reduced the earlier Latin EST to a form indicated by the modern spelling e.

English is but one of 132 languages comprising the Indo-European linguistic family. But other linguistic families (of which there are 17 to 26 depending on the system of classification) have many more members. For example, the North-American Indian group embraces 351 separate languages.

The vast Indo-European family of languages, to which most of the languages spoken in Europe belong, consists of several branches, of which the Germanic languages are one. Nowadays Germanic languages are spoken in many countries: German (in Germany, Austria and partly in Switzerland), Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and English (spoken, besides Great Britain, in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and partly elsewhere). In India English is considered a second official language. English belongs to the West-Germanic group of Indo-European family of languages, together with German and Dutch.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 by MA
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