Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Dialects and Accents in Britain

There are three general types of British accents in England: Northern English, Southern English, and the Midlands accent. One of the most obvious features is whether "bath" is pronounced like the a in "cat" (as it is in the US and in Northern English dialects) or like the a in "father" (as it is in Southern English dialects). The generic British accent, meanwhile, is known as "Received Pronunciation," which is basically a Southern English accent used among the elite that erases regional differences. Here's a video of one woman doing 17 British accents, most of which are shown on the map.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Great Vowel Shift

Credits: Olaf Simons @ English Wikipedia
If you think English spelling is confusing — why "head" sounds nothing like "heat," or why "steak" doesn't rhyme with "streak," and "some" doesn't rhyme with "home" — you can blame the Great Vowel Shift. Between roughly 1400 and 1700, the pronunciation of long vowels changed. "Mice" stopped being pronounced "meese." "House" stopped being prounounced like "hoose." Some words, particularly words with "ea," kept their old pronounciation. (And Northern English dialects were less affected, one reason they still have a distinctive accent.) This shift is how Middle English became modern English. No one is sure why this dramatic shift occurred. But it's a lot less dramatic when you consider it took 300 years. Shakespeare was as distant from Chaucer as we are from Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Anglo-Saxon Migration or how English started


Here's how the English language got started. After Roman troops withdrew from Britain in the early 5th century, three Germanic peoples — the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes — moved in and established kingdoms. They brought with them the Anglo-Saxon language, which combined with some Celtic and Latin words to create Old English. Old English was first spoken in the 5th century, and it looks incomprehensible to today's English-speakers. To give you an idea of just how different it was, the language the Angles brought with them had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neutral). Still, though the gender of nouns has fallen away in English, 4,500 Anglo-Saxon words survive today. They make up only about 1 percent of the comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary, but nearly all of the most commonly used words that are the backbone of English. They include nouns like "day" and "year," body parts such as "chest," arm," and "heart," and some of the most basic verbs: "eat," "kiss," "love," "think," "become." FDR's sentence "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" uses only words of Anglo-Saxon origin.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Where English comes from

Credits: Stand Still. Stay Silent. Blog
English, like more than 400 other languages, is part of the Indo-European language family, sharing common roots not just with German and French but with Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, and Persian. This beautiful chart by Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish comic artist, shows some of English's closest cousins, like French and German, but also its more distant relationships with languages originally spoken far from the British Isles such as Farsi and Greek.