When we usually think about the English language, we commonly describe it as a European language used by European people to communicate with each other, nevertheless linguistic differences can exist. Even if English language is nowadays considered in the world the easiest language to speak, this language was not so easy to learn in the past.
What would you think if I told you that English and German share common roots? Don’t panic! I know, German may sound a little bit more complicated than English, but I will show you how these two languages do not differ each other so much.
- The Germans
Our historical and linguistic journey starts as far back as 50 B.C, when Caesar, writing about the roman population in his own book called “De Bello Gallico”, writes about the barbarian, to distinguish this population from the roman one. These barbarians were commonly described by Caesar as German, people who lived across the mouth of the Rhine river. Even if Caesar writes about German a single population, this bunch of people was made up of two different population:
– The Celts who inhabited the western part of the Europe,
– The Shia who inhabited the eastern part of Europe.
In order to defend their cultural autonomy, romans were not so interested in discovering these people at the beginning, but then, thanks to the wars and the military conquests, they showed much more enthusiasm in socializing and meeting the Germans.
The historian Tacito, writing about the traditions and the habits of the German people in his famous masterpiece “De origine et situ Germanorum” (I century A.C- 98 A.C), describe the Germans as a unity in terms of politics and cultural and religious features. As the romans, Germans had common political and economic structures and shared the same cultural and religious traditions. Even if Tacito’s work it’s a big step forward, we must wait till the end of the III century to read about Germans as a much more complex unity, made up of different people such as francs, goths, alemannians…
- The evolution of the English and German language
And now, after this brief explanation, let’s continue our historical journey focusing much more on the evolution of the English and German languages, discovering how they evolved and why they are not so different even if, as we have discovered, they share a common past.
When, in the VI century A.C, a big group of Germans people, Angle, Saxon and Jute, landed on the coasts of Britain, they came face to face with a Christian population who had a roman-Celtic culture. It was in this period that the English language and culture, while preserving typical Germans’ features, developed absorbing the main elements of the Celtic and Latin culture.
In his work, “Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum”, the historian Beda writes about the landing of the German people on the coasts of Denmark and northern Germany, specifying that they were asked for help by the original inhabitants of Britain to fight with them against the northern tribes. According to Beda, after this long war, German people occupied the whole island except for Cornwall and Wales which were still under Celts control. After the occupation, the Anglo-Saxons divided their new-conquered island into seven different reins: Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Mercia, eastern Anglia and Northumbria.
According to chronological point of view, the evolution of the German language can be summarized into three big periods.
- The ancient period (VIII century – X century) characterised by different dialects;
- The middle period (XII century – XV century) and the rise of a modern literary language;
- The modern period (XVI century – nowadays).
Discovering the historical background of the German language, we should focus on the combination of those population who lived in the eastern part of the Rhine river and on the important influence that the Francs, who lived in the territories of the Gaul, had on the evolution of the language itself. However, according to a linguistic point of view, we cannot talk of a German literary language till the end of the XII century, because in the past the literal heritage of the Germany was made up of different kinds of written languages based on oral languages which later gained a literary dignity thanks to the monks ‘contribution who used these languages in their own works.
Concluding our historical journey, I want to show you some words that, as you are going to see, will show you that English and German languages are not so different each other:
Mother – Mutter
Sister – Schwester
Butter – Butter
Cat – Katze
Hand – Hand
Book – Buch
School – Schule
To bring – bringen
To drink – trinken
To see – sehen
Thanks – Danke
Bread – Brot
Water – Wasser
Door – Tür
Blood – Blut
Word – Wort
Kitchen – Küche
Football – Fußball
Red – rot
Cold – kalt
Sofa – Sofa
Light – Licht
Hell – Hölle
Our historical journey ends here, but I hope you have learnt something new about english language and its linguistic history. I think that the interesting thing about learning a new language is discovering its past and common features it has with other languages, so if in the future someone will tell you that Italian and French have some common words don’t take the wind out of the sails of your curiosity and discover the craziest things you have never thought existed.
by Alessio Aino