Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arrows in Our Eyes

Today, in 1066, the Battle of Hastings marked the last successful invasion of England (depending, of course, on how one defines successful and invasion). This Norman Conquest has significance for poets writing in English everywhere.

My background is Literature, not Linguistics, and I studied literature from more recent time periods (19th and 20th century), but I can still appreciate the ways that the language changed after the French arrived in England. I can still marvel at the suppleness and resilience of the languages from that time.

Unlike what we would see in some conquests, the Anglo-Saxon language of the vanquished people didn't disappear. It absorbed parts of the invading languages, Latin and what would eventually become French. The language adapted and changed into the interesting amalgamation we enjoy today.

The history of the language explains why English is so difficult in some ways, so full of rules that seem arbitrary, even though linguists could explain why they're not really as arbitrary as they seem.

The history also explains why the English language has such a rich vocabulary. Think about the many words we could use for house: dwelling, mansion, hut, hovel, . . . on and on I could go. For every verb, we could come up with several others that would work just as well: walk, perambulate, stroll, . . . and then I could move to even more descriptive verbs: march, skip, stomp. Most other languages don't have this wide ranging vocabulary.

When Harold took that arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings, he opened the eyes of so many generations to follow him. Today we should celebrate our enlarged vision that comes from having a broader language.

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