English Language; Drama & Speech; Social Etiquette. Est. 1986, Hong Kong

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30 October 2015

Historical Events Change a Language

When the English colonised North America in the 1600s in a distinct American variation of English was created. Some English pronunciations and words became “frozen” at that time, making American English, in some ways, more like Shakespearean English than modern British English.

Some expressions that the British call “Americanisms” are really original British expressions that have been preserved. For example, “trash” for “rubbish”, “loan” as a verb instead of “lend”, and “fall” for “autumn”.  Interestingly, Spanish also had an influence on American English, with words like “canyon”, “ranch”, and “stampede”.  These Spanish words entered English through South America and, along with Christianity, crept into Mexico, San Diego and up along the West coast.

Britain also had colonies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and India, where English also became part of the language.  English grew as words from the native languages were added.  India, in particular had a great influence with words such as bungalow (from Bangalore) and jodhpurs (from Jodpur) becoming ‘English’ words.

The speech patterns of the local language of colonised countries, like some of their vocabulary, also heavily influenced English. From the early 1700s, thousands of people from West Africa were transported as slaves to the Caribbean. As a result, a number of pidgin languages developed.

A pidgin language is a simplified way of communicating that emerges naturally when speakers of two or more languages need to understand each other. The workers on colonial plantations in the Caribbean would have spoken a variety of languages, but the slave owners wanted them to speak English, thus a pidgin language evolved. Sounds, vocabulary and grammatical structures of all the contributing African languages would have been woven into English to create pidgin English.

When a pidgin language remains the main means of communication within a society, it is passed down through the generations until becomes the first language. Then, children will learn the pidgin language as their mother tongue. This language is called a “creole” language.

Isolation, too, can simultaneously “freeze” and “change” a language into something new. The mutineering sailors of the ship Bounty rebelled against their captain. They first landed on Tahiti a South Pacific Island, then taking some Tahitian islanders with them, the sailors left there to settle on the island of Pitcairn. The language that evolved on Pitcairn was a creole language called “Pitkern”, which is based on eighteenth-century English and Tahitian.

So, we see how a language, is truly a living form of communication, and one that reflects historical events, social changes and industrial innovations.