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THIS BOOK does not pretend to be a history of the English tongue; I attempt nothing more than to trace the way in which one special dialect took the lead in our island ; I also try to point out the earliest instances of corruptions in our speech. Hence attention must be given to the North rather than to the South; we must think more of the first appearance of the New in the Northumbrian Versions of the Bible, than of the last traces of the Old in the Ayenbite of Inwyt and works still more modern. We must look to York rather than to Canterbury. I may mention that, until I began to study English with thoroughness, I had no idea how much of our Standard speech is due to Northern shires; how much influence the Norsemen have had in our land ;'
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1 When weighing the corruptions of the Old English, we shall find that two-thirds of these are due to the shires held by the Norsemen ; the remaining one-third is due to the Lower Severn and to the sbires lying south of the Thames.
how many of our idioms, seemingly modern, date from long before the Norman Conquest; and how many hundreds of our Romance words were used so far back as the Thirteenth Century.
With the help of our old writers, I mark the advance of our tongue; much as the changes in English Architecture for four hundred and fifty years may be traced by the man who visits in succession the Cathedrals of Durham, Lincoln, Exeter, and Winchester; or as the improvements in the English Constitution may be traced, from the woods of Germany to the Convention Parliament in 1689, by the documents printed in the small work of Professor Stubbs.
It is always well to begin from the beginning ; I have therefore started from a point, that would have astonished the most keen-sighted of philologers. seventy years ago. Mighty indeed were the results wrought by the great discovery as to the true use of Sanscrit. Of these results the best idea may be formed by any one who compares the writings of Garnett with those of Horne Tooke. The two men were for many years contemporary; yet, thanks to the great discovery, the philological knowledge of
1 We have lately naturalized the German word umlaut, thus marking the nation which has most claim on Philologers. A less peaceful age than our own naturalized plunder, which came from the same land.