short history of the origins and development of English
The history of the English language
really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain
during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes,
crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. At that
time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language.
But most of the Celtic speakers were
pushed west and north by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland
and Ireland. The Angles came from Englaland and their language was called
Englisc - from which the words England and English are derived
English (450-1100 AD)
The invading Germanic tribes spoke
similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old
English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English
speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English.
Nevertheless, about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have
Old English roots. The words be, strong and water, for example, derive from Old
English. Old English was spoken until
In 1066 William the Conqueror, the
Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. The
new conquerors (called the Normans) brought with them a kind of French, which
became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes.
For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower
classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French. In the 14th century
English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added.
This language is called Middle English. It was the language of the great poet
Chaucer (c1340-1400), but it would still be difficult for native English
speakers to understand today
Modern English (1500-1800)
Towards the end of Middle English, a
sudden and distinct change in pronunciation (the Great Vowel Shift) started,
with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the
British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the
Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases
entered the language. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a
common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read.
Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became
fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the
standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.
Modern English (1800-Present)
The main difference between Early
Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has
many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial
Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British
Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth's surface, and the
English language adopted foreign words from many countries