Shakespeare and German

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In my English class we are currently reading Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s classics. Working with the text, many students in my class have complained that Shakespearean English is hard to understand, that the sentences seem out of order and strangely worded. I, however, haven’t had much difficulty reading it because I noticed very quickly that Shakespearean English is written with German word order.

At first I was surprised by this realization, I knew English had Germanic roots but I hadn’t realized how deep they went. What I learned was that English had in fact started out as an archaic dialect of German, originating in Saxony. The Anglo-Saxons brought this dialect with them when they invaded the British Isles. Over many years the Germanic settlers linguistically displaced the native Celts and after centuries of French and Viking influence, we now have the modern English language.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the connections between the two languages, and a good reminder of how languages evolve.

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