A (Very) Brief History of the English Language


Indo-germanic and Germanic Influences

Old English ( 500-1100 AD )

The Norman Conquest and Middle English ( 1100-1500 )

Early-Modern English ( 1500-1800 )

Late-Modern English ( 1800-Present )

American English

Indo-germanic and Germanic Influences

English is a member of the Indo-germanic household of linguistic communications. This wide household includes most of the European languages spoken today. The Indo-germanic household includes several major subdivisions:

Latin and the modern Romance linguistic communications ;

The Germanic linguistic communications ;

The Indo-Iranian linguistic communications, including Hindi and Sanskrit ;

The Slavic linguistic communications ;

The Baltic linguistic communications of Latvian and Lithuanian ( but non Estonian ) ;

The Celtic linguistic communications ; and


The influence of the original Indo-germanic linguistic communication, designated proto-Indo-European, can be seen today, even though no written record of it exists. The word for male parent, for illustration, is vater in German, pater in Latin, and pitr in Sanskrit. These words are all blood relations, similar words in different linguistic communications that portion the same root.

Of these subdivisions of the Indo-germanic household, two are, for our intents of analyzing the development of English, of paramount importance, the Germanic and the Romance ( called that because the Romance linguistic communications derive from Latin, the linguistic communication of ancient Rome, non because of any bodice-ripping literary genre ) . English is in the Germanic group of linguistic communications. This group began as a common linguistic communication in the Elbe river part about 3,000 old ages ago. Around the 2nd century BC, this Common Germanic linguistic communication split into three distinguishable sub-groups:

East Germanic was spoken by peoples who migrated back to southeastern Europe. No East Germanic linguistic communication is spoken today, and the lone written East Germanic linguistic communication that survives is Gothic. North Germanic evolved into the modern Norse linguistic communications of Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic ( but non Finnish, which is related to Estonian and is non an Indo-germanic linguistic communication ) . West Germanic is the ascendant of modern German, Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, and English.

Old English ( 500-1100 AD )

West Germanic encroachers from Jutland and southern Denmark: the Angles ( whose name is the beginning of the words England and English ) , Saxons, and Jutes, began dwelling the British Isles in the fifth and 6th centuries AD. They spoke a reciprocally apprehensible linguistic communication, similar to modern Frisian — the linguistic communication of northeasterly part of the Netherlands — that is called Old English. Four major idioms of Old English emerged, Northumbrian in the North of England, Mercian in the Midlands, West Saxon in the South and West, and Kentish in the Southeast.

These encroachers pushed the original, Celtic-speaking dwellers out of what is now England into Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, go forthing behind a few Gaelic words. These Gaelic linguistic communications survive today in Gaelic linguistic communications of Scotland and Ireland and in Welsh. Cornish, unluckily, is now a dead linguistic communication. ( The last native Cornish talker, Dolly Pentreath, died in 1777 in the town of Mousehole, Cornwall. ) Besides act uponing English at this clip were the Vikings. Norse invasions, get downing about 850, brought many North Germanic words into the linguistic communication, peculiarly in the North of England. Some illustrations are dream, which had meant ‘joy ‘ until the Vikings imparted its current significance on it from the Norse blood relation draumr, and skirt, which continues to populate alongside its native English blood relation shirt.

The bulk of words in modern English semen from foreign, non Old English roots. In fact, merely about one sixth of the known Old English words have posterities lasting today. But this is delusory ; Old English is much more of import than these statistics would bespeak. About half of the most normally used words in modern English have Old English roots. Wordss like be, H2O, and strong, for illustration, derive from Old English roots.

Old English, whose best known lasting illustration is the verse form Beowulf, lasted until about 1100. This last day of the month is instead arbitrary, but most bookmans choose it because it is shortly after the most of import event in the development of the English linguistic communication, the Norman Conquest.

The Norman Conquest and Middle English ( 1100-1500 )

William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England and the Anglo-saxons in 1066 AD. ( The Bayeux Tapestry, inside informations of which form the pilotage buttons on this site, is possibly the most celebrated graphical word picture of the Norman Conquest. ) The new masters spoke a idiom of Old French known as Anglo-Norman. The Normans were besides of Germanic stock ( “ Norman ” comes from “ Norseman ” ) and Anglo-Norman was a Gallic idiom that had considerable Germanic influences in add-on to the basic Latin roots.

Prior to the Norman Conquest, Latin had been merely a minor influence on the English linguistic communication, chiefly through traces of the Roman business and from the transition of Britain to Christianity in the 7th century ( ecclesiastical footings such as priest, vicar, and mass came into the linguistic communication this manner ) , but now there was a sweeping extract of Romance ( Anglo-Norman ) words.

The influence of the Normans can be illustrated by looking at two words, beef and cow. Beef, normally eaten by the nobility, derives from the Anglo-Norman, while the Anglo-Saxon common mans, who tended the cowss, retained the Germanic cow. Many legal footings, such as indict, jury, and finding of fact have Anglo-Norman roots because the Normans ran the tribunals. This split, where words normally used by the nobility have Romantic roots and words often used by the Anglo-Saxon common mans have Germanic roots, can be seen in many cases.

Sometimes Gallic words replaced Old English words ; offense replaced firen and uncle replaced eam. Other times, Gallic and Old English constituents combined to organize a new word, as the Gallic gentle and the Germanic adult male formed gentleman. Other times, two different words with approximately the same significance survive into modern English. Therefore we have the Germanic day of reckoning and the Gallic judgement, or wish and desire.

It is utile to compare assorted versions of a familiar text to see the differences between Old, Middle, and Modern English.

In 1204 AD, King John lost the state of Normandy to the King of France. This began a procedure where the Norman Lords of England became progressively estranged from their Gallic cousins. England became the main concern of the aristocracy, instead than their estates in France, and accordingly the aristocracy adopted a modified English as their native lingua. About 150 old ages subsequently, the Black Death ( 1349-50 ) killed about one tierce of the English population. The laboring and merchandiser categories grew in economic and societal importance, and along with them English increased in importance compared to Anglo-Norman.

This mixture of the two linguistic communications came to be known as Middle English. The most celebrated illustration of Middle English is Chaucer ‘s Canterbury Tales. Unlike Old English, Middle English can be read, albeit with trouble, by modern English-speaking people.

By 1362, the lingual division between the aristocracy and the common mans was mostly over. In that twelvemonth, the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the La

nguage of the tribunals and it began to be used in Parliament.

The Middle English period came to a stopping point around 1500 AD with the rise of Modern English.

Early Modern English ( 1500-1800 )

The following moving ridge of invention in English came with the Renaissance. The resurgence of classical scholarship brought many classical Latin and Grecian words into the Language. These adoptions were calculated and many bemoaned the acceptance of these “ inkhorn ” footings, but many survive to this twenty-four hours. Shakespeare ‘s character Holofernes in Loves Labor Lost is a sarcasm of an overenthusiastic headmaster who is excessively affectionate of Latinisms.

Many pupils holding trouble understanding Shakespeare would be surprised to larn that he wrote in modern English. But, as can be seen in the earlier illustration of the Lord ‘s Prayer, Elizabethan English has much more in common with our linguistic communication today than it does with the linguistic communication of Chaucer. Many familiar words and phrases were coined or foremost recorded by Shakespeare, some 2,000 words and infinite catch-phrases are his. Newcomers to Shakespeare are frequently shocked at the figure of platitudes contained in his dramas, until they realize that he coined them and they became platitudes afterwards. “ One fell slide, ” “ vanish into thin air, ” and “ flesh and blood ” are all Shakespeare ‘s. Words he bequeathed to the linguistic communication include “ critical, ” “ leapfrog, ” “ olympian, ” “ dwindle, ” and “ bookworm. ”

Two other major factors influenced the linguistic communication and served to divide Middle and Modern English. The first was the Great Vowel Shift. This was a alteration in pronunciation that began around 1400. While modern English talkers can read Chaucer with some trouble, Chaucer ‘s pronunciation would hold been wholly unintelligible to the modern ear. Shakespeare, on the other manus, would be accented, but apprehensible. Long vowel sounds began to be made higher in the oral cavity and the missive “ vitamin E ” at the terminal of words became soundless. Chaucer ‘s Lyf ( pronounced “ leef ” ) became the modern life. In Middle English name was pronounced “ nam-a, ” five was pronounced “ feef, ” and down was pronounced “ doon. ” In lingual footings, the displacement was instead sudden, the major alterations happening within a century. The displacement is still non over, nevertheless, vowel sounds are still shortening although the alteration has become well more gradual.

The last major factor in the development of Modern English was the coming of the printing imperativeness. William Caxton brought the printing imperativeness to England in 1476. Books became cheaper and as a consequence, literacy became more common. Printing for the multitudes became a profitable endeavor, and works in English, as opposed to Latin, became more common. Finally, the printing imperativeness brought standardisation to English. The idiom of London, where most publication houses were located, became the criterion. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the first English lexicon was published in 1604.

Late-Modern English ( 1800-Present )

The chief differentiation between early- and late-modern English is vocabulary. Pronunciation, grammar, and spelling are mostly the same, but Late-Modern English has many more words. These words are the consequence of two historical factors. The first is the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the technological society. This necessitated new words for things and thoughts that had non antecedently existed. The second was the British Empire. At its tallness, Britain ruled one one-fourth of the Earth ‘s surface, and English adopted many foreign words and made them its ain.

The industrial and scientific revolutions created a demand for neologies to depict the new creative activities and finds. For this, English relied to a great extent on Latin and Greek. Wordss like O, protein, atomic, and vaccinum did non be in the classical linguistic communications, but they were created from Latin and Greek roots. Such neologies were non entirely created from classical roots though, English roots were used for such footings as HP, aeroplane, and typewriter.

This explosion of neology continues today, possibly most seeable in the field of electronics and computing machines. Byte, cyber- , bios, hard-drive, and micro chip are good illustrations.

Besides, the rise of the British Empire and the growing of planetary trade served non merely to present English to the universe, but to present words into English. Hindi, and the other linguistic communications of the Indian subcontinent, provided many words, such as initiate, shampoo, pyjama, and steamroller. Virtually every linguistic communication on Earth has contributed to the development of English, from Finnish ( sweat room ) and Nipponese ( baron ) to the huge parts of Gallic and Latin.

The British Empire was a maritime imperium, and the influence of maritime footings on the English linguistic communication has been great. Wordss and phrases like three sheets to the air current and gossips have their beginnings onboard ships.

Finally, the twentieth century saw two universe wars, and the military influence on the linguistic communication during the latter half of this century has been great. Before the Great War, military service for English-speaking individuals was rare ; both Britain and the United States maintained little, unpaid armed forcess. Military slang existed, but with the exclusion of maritime footings, seldom influenced criterion English. During the mid-20th century, nevertheless, virtually all British and American work forces served in the armed forces. Military slang entered the linguistic communication like ne’er earlier. Blockbuster, nose dive, disguise, radio detection and ranging, barrier, spearhead, and set downing strip are all military footings that made their manner into standard English.

American English

Besides important get downing around 1600 AD was the English colonisation of North America and the subsequent creative activity of a distinguishable American idiom. Some pronunciations and usages “ froze ” when they reached the American shore. In certain respects, American English is closer to the English of Shakespeare than modern British English is. Some “ Americanisms ” that the British decry are really originally British looks that were preserved in the settlements while lost at place ( e.g. , autumn as a equivalent word for fall, rubbish for rubbish, frame-up which was reintroduced to Britain through Hollywood mobster films, and loan as a verb alternatively of lend ) .

The American idiom besides served as the path of debut for many native American words into the English linguistic communication. Most frequently, these were topographic point names like Mississippi, Roanoke, and Iowa. Indian-sounding names like Idaho were sometimes created that had no native-American roots. But, names for other things besides topographic points were besides common. Raccoon, tomato, canoe, barbeque, savanna, and hickory have native American roots, although in many instances the original Indian words were mangled about beyond acknowledgment.

Spanish has besides been great influence on American English. Armadillo, mustang, canon, spread, stampede, and vigilance mans are all illustrations of Spanish words that made their manner into English through the colony of the American West.

To a lesser extent French, chiefly via Louisiana, and West African, through the importing of slaves, words have influenced American English. Armoire, bayou, and jambalaya came into the linguistic communication via New Orleans. Goober, gumbo, and carryall are West African adoptions foremost used in America by slaves.

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