STATE OF THE ART
There exist many studies about languages and their respective evolutions. We put as an example below a picture showing the relation between a quite impressive number of languages around the world :
We can see that many of them have been studied and compared with each other but the most important study, the most developed one is definitely the one over the English language. One can easily find tremendous number of studies on the web and even some peoples that have done their thesis on the subject. We found some really interesting information by exploring some books like for instance :
- Algeo, John. 2010. The Origins and Development of the English Language. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
- Peter S. Baker. 2003. ”Pronouns”. The Electronic Introduction to Old English. Oxford: Blackwell.
There even exist a Wikipedia book on the subject so we do not lack of example and information. This is the case because English is a so widely used, that many linguist get interested studying it. There is so many aspects to treat that it’s easy to find a specific subject. The definition of « English studies » is quite revealing :
From Wikipedia – English Studies is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language (including literatures from the UK, the US, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, India, South Africa, and the Middle East, among other areas), English linguistics (including English phonetics, phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, corpus linguistics, and stylistics), and English sociolinguistics (including discourse analysis of written and spoken texts in the English language, the history of the English language,English language learning and teaching, and the study of World Englishes).
But our main question is : How were these studies lead ?
We can try to find it out by analysing some works to find out keys. The first task they had to do was to divide the language in different periods and categories (like American literature, British literature or even multicultural English literature). Since our study focus on a language world wide spread (HTML) we won’t study much the category and focus more on the period. We can find specific information about all the periods from the first century to nowadays. Below are the period of time periods of time they found :
- Proto-English (before 5th century)
- Old english (between 5th century and mid 11th century)
- Middle english (from the late 11th to the late 15th century)
- Early modern english (from the late 15th to the late 17th century)
- And finally modern english
This first distinction is based on the study of text representative of each period. They were semantically saying similar thing but were written totally differently. What is interesting is how they based themselves on this first main cut to start their work. For each period, they started looking deeply how were the word written and how were they used. One can easily find the most important and common ones by just taking a book and counting the occurrences of each word. Then you just get a list of the words and can start classifying them by type : noun, verbs, adjectives etc. So they use these really common words that you can find in all the texts off all the period and compared them.
Bellow is an example of the frequency of different words over the time :
It’s really interesting to be able to see how were used the different word and how suddenly one disappear to leave some place to a new one that quickly spread among the whole population.
The resume from study magazine (bellow) explain : « Michel study their evolution on a grand scale. He found that over the last 200 years, 16% of irregular verbs have become more regular. In the past, ‘chide’ would have become ‘chid’ or ‘chode’, it now simply turns into ‘chided’. Common verbs are more resistant to change. Michel writes, “We found ‘found’ 200,000 times more often than we finded ‘finded’.” For comparison, ‘dwelt’, which is 10 times rarer, is only 60 times more common than ‘dwelled’.»
Obviously there were able to spot differences on the grammar, the spelling of the words it-selves and the way they were put together. Some irregulars verbs became regular some word disappeared and other were created but not as we tough because of technology, English is booming :
In the last 50 years, its vocabulary has expanded by over 70% and around 8500 words are being added every year. The team worked this out by scanning the corpus words for solo words that turned up at least once per billion. They took random samples and culled any non-words (“l8r”), typos and foreign words. By the end, they estimated that English had 544,000 words in 1900, rising to 1,022,000 in 2000.
You can find a quite detail and compact resume of an study on one of our sources : Discover Magazine and here is a study about quantitative and qualitative analysis of the culture in millions of books : From Science that helped making the statistic for some studies.