About This Page
Not only is language-learning a passion of mine, but it is critically informative to and helpful for learning more about philosophy, history, theology, and a number of other disciplines. For example, if you want to know what Kierkegaard meant by "Tungsindighed" (literally "heavy-mindedness," but sometimes translated as "depression"), you would need to know a little about the Danish language, as well as a little about its 19th-century historical context, perhaps even searching for other 19th-century Danish synonyms that Kierkegaard might have known (cf. sks.dk to search his works), to make sense of why he used this word rather than another.
You could begin exploring this with the Danish-language resources in the Quick Links below. They, along with several other historical language resources, are there to help guide research in etymology, philology, and historical contextual word usage. Just above that, this page begins with a brief history of the English language, to offer some guidance and rationale as to which languages to begin one's search for original meanings of or histories behind specific English words. Next, there are Language Learning Resources for the budding polyglot. Finally, towards the middle to bottom of this page, you'll find some fun "just-because" information, including a recording of the Lord's Prayer in Old Norse(!), some information on different versions of Runes (the precursor to the English Latin alphabet), and some examples of different Writing Systems past and present from around the world.
Believe it or not, modern English is the product of contributions from dozens of other languages, whether by conquest or via simple borrowing. English is a Germanic language, brought to the Latinized British Isles by northern European Germanic peoples around AD 450. Latin had displaced indigenous languages such as Brittonic Celtic, Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish; and now those languages commingled with the proto-English contributions brought from the Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (named after their corresponding regions in present day Germany and Denmark). Voilà!--the Old English language, otherwise known as Anglo-Saxon (sorry, Jutes). Written originally in runic script, this was replaced by a version of the Latin script by Irish missionaries in the 9th century.
From the 8th to 10th century was the time of Vikings and Danelaw, and of the magisterial leadership of King Alfred the Great which saw the unification of Brittanic kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria, Mercia, Anglia, etc.) into one England. This corresponded with an influx of Scandinavian-language (esp. Old Norse) influences, also part of the Germanic languages tree. These invaders came largely from modern-day Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
Everyone has heard of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, of the Norman Conquest, and of William the Conqueror. But seldom do we remember the significance of these events and this time in history. In language terms, the Norman Conquest is a sort of benchmark for the transition from Old English to Middle English, as it reminds us of the influx of (Old) French and (yet again) Latin influences into the English language.
At this time, the British Isles were home to a syncretistic group: the Welsh, Celtic, Gaelic, and Irish indigenous peoples; the Anglo-Saxon English and their recently arrived Dane and Norse neighbors, which amounted to several regional dialects. All of this was controlled by the Normans, who themselves were linguistically united by a regulated and widespread Old French (ca. 8th-14th century), a Romance language derived from Latin. Thus begat the Anglo-Norman culture, or what would be the product of this commingling. The Anglo-Norman language, a hybrid dialect of Old French largely used in England but now extinct, would continue to appear in English legal documents until the 17th century.
Calling anything "modern" in the 15th century certainly seems premature, considering "modern" typically comfortably denotes a period which doesn't begin until about 200 years later. But this designation means to mark the language's own drastic and massive shifts, which, to be frank, really haven't happened lately. Yes, spellings have changed, new words coined and archaic words disused--for which reason a distinction between Early Modern English (ca.1430-1750) and Modern English has become commonplace--but this earliest date marks the beginning of a language which present-day English speakers can read and understand without much difficulty.
Today, Modern English is much more the influencer than its ancestors were, with approximately 400 million speakers worldwide and frequent contributor of loan words (e.g., "le hot-dog" en français).
An Etymological Dictionary of the English LanguageTransactions of the Philological Society (academic journal 1848-present)wiktionary.orgetymonline.comOrigins of "Thee" and "Thou"
See the classifications of languages into families; w/search feature.For example, notice that Danish is a (South) Scandinavian, (North(west)) Germanic, Indo-European language.
Du Cange's Glossary of Medieval and Modern Latin, with usage citations in Latin, Old French, Greek, and even Arabic languages & literature.
Previous Iterations:(1678), Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange (1610-1688) - 3 vol.
(1733-1736), the Benedictines of the congregation of St. Maur make some significant additions, but in keeping with general plan.
(1766), Pierre Carpentier adds a supplement of 4 vol. worth of articles.
(1840-1850), Louis Henschel adds another 2 vol. & officially unites the supplemental materials to the main work.
(1883-1887), Léopold Favre composes the last edition, printing it just before the 20th century - 10 vol.
A Guide to the Danish Language for English SpeakersKalkars Ordbog ---> [Kalkar's Dictionary]Ordbog over det Dankse Sprog: Historik Ordbog (1700-1950) ---> [Dictionary of the Danish Language: Historical Dictionary (1700-1950)]
Norsk Ordbok ---> [Norwegian Dictionary]
Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok---> [Swedish Etymological Dictionary]
Listen to a recording of The Lord's Prayer in Old Norse below
The Lord's Prayer in Old Norse
Transliteration:Faðer uor som ast i himlüm, halgað warðe þit nama. Tilkomme þit rikie. Skie þin uilie so som i himmalan so oh bo iordanne. Wort dahliha broð gif os i dah. Oh forlat os uora skuldar so som oh ui forlate þem os skuüldihi are. Oh inleð os ikkie i frestalsan utan frels os ifra ondo. Tü rikiað ar þit oh mahtan oh harlihheten i ewihhet. Aman.
(Source: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm)(Also: www.personal.psu.edu/ejp10/blogs/gotunicode/charts/runes.html)
English Translation (in Latin alphabet):
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)