About 6000 years ago in southern Russia lived a tribe of people whose language is known as Indo-European. This language is now extinct, but it was the ancestor of many modern languages.
We don not know when the Indo-Europeans left their homeland. But we know, that they traveled both to the north-west into Europe and to the south-east into Iran and India. In modern times, the languages of Europe have been taken across the oceans to America, Australia and Africa.
The Indo-European family of languages has nine branches: Indo-Iranian, Celtic, Romance, Germanic, Slavonic, Greek, Albanian, Armenian and Baltic. Some of these groups contain many languages. For example, the Romance group contains seven languages, including Portuguese, Italian, French and Spanish. These are all descendent from Latin, which is now dead. The Germanic group contains two branches: the Scandinavian languages (Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish), and the German languages (German, Dutch and English).
The importance of these languages has changed a lot through history. In Roman times, the Celtic languages were spoken from Greece to Scotland. Today, there are only a few speakers in Britain (Welsh and Gaelic), in Ireland (Irish) and in France (Breton). In contrast, Old English was spoken by only a few tribes in northern Germany, but today English is the most widely spoken language in the world.
The original language spoken in England was a form of Celtic. English began to develop in about A.D. 450, when the Anglo-Saxon invaders came from Germany. Most of the ordinary words of English come from German (such as ‘man’, ‘house’, ‘summer’). By A.D. 700 the Anglo-Saxon tribes had occupied almost all of England and their language dominated. Old English was more like modern Dutch than modern English. It was affected by the languages of their invaders, such as the Vikings and the Normans. The Vikings came from Scandinavia in the ninth century and brought many Norwegian words into the English language (the verb ‘get’ and words beginning with ‘sk’). The Normans, who came from France in the eleventh century, used Latin for official business, but spoke French in daily life. Some common words from Latin which have come into English include the prefixes ‘multi’, ‘super’, ‘sub’. The words borrowed from French are for example ‘language’, ‘parliament’, ‘hotel’, ‘example’.
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English and Me
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