of the English
ALUN and BRENDAN O'CORRAIDHE
beginning there was an island off the coast of Europe. It
had no name, for the natives had no language, only a collection
of grunts and gestures that roughly translated to "Hey!",
"Gimme!", and "Pardon me, but would you happen
to have any woad?”
Then the Romans invaded it and called it Britain, because
the natives were "blue, nasty, brutish [British] and
short." This was the start of the importance of u (and
its mispronounciation) to the language. After building some
roads, killing off some of the nasty little blue people
and walling up the rest, the Romans left, taking the language
instruction manual with them.
British were bored so they invited the barbarians to come
over (under Hengist) and "Horsa" 'round a bit.
The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought slightly more refined
of the vocal sounds of this primitive language were onomatapoedic,
being derived from the sounds of battle. Consonants were
were derived from the sounds of weapons striking a foe.
"Sss" and "th" for example are the sounds
of a draw cut, "k" is the sound of a solidly landed
axe blow, "b", "d", are the sounds of
a head dropping onto rock and sod respectively, and "gl"
is the sound of a body splashing into a bog. Vowels (which
were either gargles in the back of the throat or sharp exhalations)
were derived from the sounds the foe himself made when struck.
barbarians had so much fun that decided to stay for post-revel.
The British, finding that they had lost future use of the
site, moved into the hills to the west and called themselves
Irish, having heard about language from Patrick, came over
to investigate. When they saw the shiny vowels, they pried
them loose and took them home. They then raided Wales and
stole both their cattle and their vowels, so the poor Welsh
had to make do with sheep and consonants. ("Old Ap
Ivor hadde a farm, L Y L Y W! And on that farm he hadde
somme gees. With a dd dd here and a dd dd there...")
future raids, the Welsh started calling themselves "Cymry"
and gave even longer names to their villages. They figured
if no one could pronounce the name of their people or the
names of their towns, then no one would visit them. (The
success of the tactic is demonstrated still today. How many
travel agents have YOU heard suggest a visit to scenic Llyddumlmunnyddthllywddu?)
the Irish brought all the shiny new vowels home to Erin.
But of course they didn't know that there was once an instruction
manual for them, so they scattered the vowels throughout
the language purely as ornaments. Most of the new vowels
were not pronounced, and those that were were pronounced
differently depending on which kind of consonant they were
either preceding or following.
Danes came over and saw the pretty vowels bedecking all
the Irish words. "Ooooh!" they said. They raided
Ireland and brought the vowels back home with them. But
the Vikings couldn't keep track of all the Irish rules so
they simply pronounced all the vowels "oouuoo."
meantime, the French had invaded Britain, which was populated
by descendants of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
After a generation or two, the people were speaking German
with a French accent and calling it English. Then the Danes
invaded again, crying "Oouuoo! Oouuoo!," burning
abbeys, and trading with the townspeople.
Britons that the Romans hadn't killed intermarried with
visiting Irish and became Scots. Against the advice of their
travel agents, they descided to visit Wales. (The Scots
couldn't read the signposts that said, "This way to
LLyddyllwwyddymmllwylldd," but they could smell sheep
a league away.) The Scots took the sheep home with them
and made some of them into haggis. What they made with the
others we won't say, but Scots are known to this day for
having hairy legs.
former Welsh, being totally bereft, moved down out of the
hills and into London. Because they were the only people
in the Islands who played flutes instead of bagpipes, they
were called Tooters. This made them very popular. In short
order, Henry Tooter got elected King and begin popularizing
ornate, unflattering clothing.
everybody was wearing ornate, unflattering clothing, playing
the flute, speaking German with a French accent, pronouncing
all their vowels "oouuoo" (which was fairly easy
given the French accent), and making lots of money in the
wool trade. Because they were rich, people smiled more (remember,
at this time, "Beowulf" and "Canterbury Tales"
were the only tabloids, and gave generally favorable reviews
even to Danes). And since it is next to impossible to keep
your vowels in the back of your throat (even if you do speak
German with a French accent) while smiling and saying "oouuoo"
(try it, you'll see what I mean), the Great Vowel Shift
came about and transformed the English language.
very richest had their vowels shifted right out in front
of their teeth. They settled in Manchester and later in
were a few poor souls who, cut off from the economic prosperity
of the wool trade, continued to swallow their vowels. They
wandered the countryside in misery and despair until they
came to the docks of London, where their dialect devolved
into the incomprehensible language known as Cockney. Later,
it was taken overseas and further brutalized by merging
it with Dutch and Italian to create Brooklynese.
what happened, you can check for yourself. But I advise
you to just take our word for it.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004