Our English tongue belongs to the Aryan or Indo-European Family of languages. That is to say, the main part or substance of it can be traced back to the race which inhabited the high table-lands that lie to the back of the western end of the great range of the Himalaya, or "Abode of Snow." This Aryan race grew and increased, and spread to the south and west; and from it have sprung languages which are now spoken in India, in Persia, in Greece and Italy, in France and Germany, in Scandinavia, and in Russia. From this Aryan family we are sprung; out of the oldest Aryan speech our own language has grown.
Our own language has been in the process of formation for centuries, and that it still is changing and adding new words indicates it has vitality and is a living lan: guage. A language is said to be dead when it is no longer spoken. Such a language we know only in books. Thus, Latin is a dead language, because no nation anywhere now speaks it. A dead language can undergo no change; it remains, and must remain, as we find it written in books. But a living language is always changing, just like a tree or the human body. The human body has its periods or stages. There is the period of infancy, the period of boyhood, the period of manhood, and the period of old age. In the same way, a language has its periods.
We divide the English language into periods, and then mark, with some approach to accuracy, certain distinct changes in the habits of our language, in the inflexions of its words, in the kind of words it preferred, or in the way it liked to put its words together. But we must be carefully on our guard against fancying that, at any given time or in any given year, the English people threw aside one set of habits as regards language, and adopted another set. It is not so, nor can it be so. The changes in language are as gentle, gradual, and imperceptible as the changes in the growth of a tree or in the skin of the human body. We renew our skin slowly and gradually; but we are never conscious of the process, nor can we say at any given time that we have got a completely new skin. - Bearing this caution in mind, we can go on to look at the chief periods in our English language. These are five in number : and they are as follows :I. Ancient English or Anglo-Saxon, 449 - 1100 II. Early English..........1100-1250
III. Middle English.........1250-1485
IV. Tudor English,.........1485-1603
V. Modern English.........1603-1900
These periods merge very slowly, or are shaded off, so to speak, into each other in the most gradual way. If we take the English of 1250 and compare it with that of 900, we shall find a great difference ; but if we compare it with the English of 1100 the difference is not so marked. The difference between the English of the twentieth and the English of the fourteenth century is very great, but the difference between the English of the fourteenth and that of the thirteenth century is very small.