Page images

Other languages.

changes of
Saxon to

English does to Anglo-Saxon; so do modern French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Wallachian to the Latin.

As the disuse of Saxon forms crept in by degrees, it is difficult, except by an arbitrary line, to define the successive stages by which English has grown out of Anglo-Saxon. How

ever, for convenience in treating the history of English literature, the following division has been made:

A.D. 550—1150


Old English.
Middle English.
Modern English.

The chief characteristics of Anglo-Saxon

AngloSaxon, 550 to 1150 A.D.


The article had three genders and five cases.

The noun had six declensions, and five cases of each. The gender of the nouns was marked in every case.

Adjectives had genders and cases like the


The infinitives of verbs ended in -an or -en, and the past participle in -en. They also had gerunds; and their participles -ende and -ande were declined like adjectives. The three persons plural of the indicative ended in -ath ; and the verbs of the strong conjugation were more numerous than afterwards.

The chief characteristics of Semi-Saxon

SemiSaxon, 1150 to 1250 A.D.


The declension of the article and nouns was


less marked, and the ablative case was disused. Semi-
There was less difference in the plural termi-
nations of the nouns and adjectives. The
dual number of the pronouns gradually disap-

The infinitives of the verbs ended in -e; and the termination of the past participle was dropped. The gerundial form of the infinitive was also changed.

The chief characteristics of Old English Old English,

were :


The article had lost all inflections, and was indeclinable as now.

The adjectives had lost all inflections, and were invariable as now.

The gender of the nouns was less artificially marked, and most of the cases disappeared, their place being supplied by prepositions and the objective case. Many of the plural terminations were dropped.

The preposition to was used with the infinitive in en and the gerundial form. Many strong verbs became weak, and the present participle dropped all its declensions, and terminated in -ing. The

pronouns were pretty much the same as at present, except in the spelling of the possessive case.

The genitive case of nouns ended in -es ; so did the plural.

The plural number of verbs ended in -en ; the second person plural of the imperative ended in -eth.


Most of the auxiliary verbs were prefixed to infinitives in -en.

A large number of French words, chiefly nouns, adjectives, verbs, and participles, had been introduced, and were inflected according to the same rules as the Saxon words, the French verbs laying aside all differences of conjugation.

The chief characteristics of Middle English

Middle English, 1550 to 1650 A.D.


Modern English, 1650 to present time.

The article remains invariable. The nouns remain the same, except that their plurals and genitive cases end in -s. The adjectives remain invariable. The silent e is omitted in spelling. The infinitive of the verb assumed its present form, and the inflections for the plural number were dropped ; -s took the place of -eth in the ending of the third person singular of the verb. A large number of Latin derivatives were introduced.

The chief characteristics of Modern English are:

The article is invariable. The noun has only two cases. The adjective has no inflections for case, gender, or number. Prepositions are of frequent use, and supply the place of inflections for cases. The spelling is much improved, and words are shortened in form. The -eth of the third person singular of verbs is entirely disused, and the auxiliary verbs are more frequently employed. The subjunctive mood is disappearing, and a general simplification going on in all words; and a considerable number of words from other European lan- Modern

English. guages are introduced, as well as from the Latin and Greek.

Note. For a list of writers of the different periods see

page 180.



After the Conquest till the reign of Edward Use of NorIII., the language of the people was Anglo- French. Saxon; that of the priests, etc., Latin; and Court

language. that of the king, nobles, and their retainers, Norman.

All letters, even those of a private nature, In letters. were written in Latin till the beginning of the reign of Edward I., soon after 1270 A.D., when a sudden change brought in the use of French.

In grammar schools, boys were made to In schools.' construe their Latin into French ; and in the statutes of Oriel College, Oxford, is found a Universities regulation so late as 1328 A.D., that students shall converse together, if not in Latin, at least in French.

The minutes of the Corporation of London, Minutes. recorded in the Town Clerk's Office, were in French, as well as the proceedings in parlia- Parliament. ment, and in the courts of justice.

Hence English was seldom written, and hardly ever employed in prose till after the middle of the fourteenth century.

Sir John Mandeville's “ Travels” were writ- First prose ten in 1356 A.D.; and this is our first English English.

Law courts.

works in

prose book.

Wicliffe's Translation of the Bible, a great

English prose works.

Introduction English.


work that enriched the language very much, is
referred to 1383 A.D.

Trevisa's version of the “Polychronicon of
Higden” was in 1385 A.D.; and the “ Astrolabe
of Chaucer” in 1392 A.D.
A few public instruments were drawn up

in English under Richard II. (1377–1399 A.D.);

and about the same time, probably, English In letters. began to be employed in epistolary correspond

Trevisa says, that when he wrote (1385

A.D.) even gentlemen had much left off having In schools. their children taught French; and names the

schoolmaster, John Cornwall, who, soon after 1350 A.D., brought in so great an innovation as the making his boys translate their Latin into English.

The disuse of French in the upper ranks of society seems to have taken place very rapidly ; as, by a statute of Edward III. in 1362 A.D., all pleas in the courts of justice are directed to be pleaded and judged in English, on account of French being so much unknown. Notwithstanding this, the proceedings in parliament, with very few exceptions, appear to have been all in French for sixty years longer, till the accession of Henry VI. in 1422 A.D.; and the statutes continued to be published in the same language for above 120 years after the passing of Edward III.'s statute, till the accession of Richard III. in 1483 A.D.

At court.

In the courts of law.

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