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Patrick LockerbyRSS Feed of this column.

Retired engineer, 73 years young. Computer builder and programmer. Linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics. Interested in every human endeavour except the scrooge... Read More »

A Brief History of the English Language Part 3

The historical development of English is an excellent model of how a grammar naturally develops.  I am trying to capture some of that history in this short series.  Part of the problem of understanding how language works evaporates completely if one can see the beauty in a flow of words, the magic in a few blots of ink.

Part 1 briefly covered the period from the 5th century CE to the 14th century.
Part 2 describes Chaucer's influence on the development of English.
A Brief History of the English Language Part 2

Part 1 of this Brief History of English  describes the suppression of the English language under  the Normans who imposed Norman French as a national language.   As French declined and English revived there were briefly two languages in the one nation.
"Before Chaucer wrote, there were two tongues in England, keeping alive the feuds and resentments of cruel centuries; when he laid down his pen, there was practically but one speech -- there was, and ever since has been, but one people."
D. Laing Purves
This is part 1 of 6 in a brief series describing the history of English and its grammar.

What is Grammar?

A grammar is a set of rules for the communal use of a language. A language can never become a truly national language unless all users of that language share common rules for how words are invented, used and strung together in sentences.  When by some means the users of a language no longer share these rules, the language fragments into dialects and eventually, new languages.  It is useful to think of dialects as not being quite so large an obstacle as different languages are to trade, commerce and exchange of ideas between regions.
Best-Sellers of a Bygone Era

In times gone by, if a book sold fifty copies, the author was celebrated as a 'best-seller'. Some of the best-selling authors of that era led their readers to the discovery of amazing new facts about the cosmos.  These truly were giants.

Thanks to the devoted work of a few scholars, and the generosity of academic institutes, some of these books can now reach the global audience that they so richly deserve.

From the Vienna University web site:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
 "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

On the day that Martin Luther King said those words, I was moved. 

Whenever I read these words or hear them, I am moved.
People with empathy do not speak face to face, but heart to heart, soul to soul.

The message is clear: Do not judge any person by physical appearance.

But we do.  It is a battle between the personal ethic, the personal aesthetic and the 'not-my-tribe' avoidance mechanisms that seem to be rooted in our psyches from birth.
Part 1, which begins our examination of the question 'what is time?' can be viewed here.
Part 2 Some travels through time can be viewed  here.
Part 3 discussing language, sequence and order, can be viewed  here.
Part 4 a brief discussion of clocks, Steno, Foucault and Allais, can be viewed here.