The History of the English Language


by Owen Alun and Brendan O'Corraidhe


	In the 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, br(u-i)tish 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.

	The 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 vocal noises.
	
	All of the vocal sounds of this primitive language were onomatapoeic,
	being derived from the sounds of battle.  Consonants 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.
	
	The 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 Welsh.
	
	The 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...")
	
	To prevent 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?)
	
	Meantime, 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.
	
	The 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."
	
	In the 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.
	
	The Britons that the Romans hadn't killed intermarried with visiting
	Irish and became Scots.  Against the advice of their travel agents, they
	decided to visit Wales.  (The Scots couldn't read the signposts that
	said, "This way to Lyddyllwwyddymmllwylldd," 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.
	
	The 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.
	
	Soon, 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.
	
	The very richest had their vowels shifted right out in front of their
	teeth. They settled in Manchester and later in Boston.
	
	There 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.
	







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