The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

I’ve been reading Mrs H’s book, The Stories of English by David Crystal. The development of language is an amazing thing. As I read it, it makes me almost wish I had carried through with one of my early plans for advanced education. After I did very well in Greek and Hebrew at college, I considered getting a Masters in linguistics.

As you might anticipate from the early chapters of such a book, I have been reading about the development of Old English. In the late 11th century, the Lord’s Prayer went like this:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum, Si þin nama gehalgod. to becume þin rice, gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg, and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum. and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. soþlice.

Old English had letters that no longer exist, even if their sounds are still familiar to us. It may look like a “p”, but “þ” is the aspirated “th” sound, as in “breath”. The “ð” may look a bit like a “d”, but it represents the vocalised “th” sound in “breathe”.

By the time of Middle English, Wycliffe translated the Paternoster in 1390 as:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyndoom come to; be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene: gyue to us this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce; and forgyue to us oure dettis, as we forgyuen to oure gettouris; and lede us not in to temptacioun, but delyuere us fro yuel.

That’s starting to look recognisable to modern eyes. But it’s only us who change. The prayer is the same. I wonder what English will look like or sound like in another 1000 years.


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