There are so many people in the world that can speak English, and even more learning how to speak English. However, not so many people know the origins of the English language. This article seeks to provide a brief history of the English language.
The history of the English language starts around the 5th century AD, with the arrival of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes to Britain from what is today Denmark and Germany. The Angles came from “Englaland” and spoke “Englisc” which is where “England” and “English” comes from. In fact, the French word for English (Anglais) also comes from this word. These invaders settled in what is now called England and pushed the native Celtic speakers west and north into Scotland, Walks and Ireland.
These Germanic tribes spoke very similar languages and these languages developed into something called Old English which was used from around 450-1100 AD. This version of English has very little similarities to what we speak today, however some commonly used words have their roots from old English. For example, one of the most commonly used verbs in the English language is ‘be’ and it comes from Old English.
After this time, we move into what is called Middle English, which was used from around 1100-1500 AD. William the Conqueror successfully invaded Britain in 1066 and they bought with them a form of French. This French language divided the country and the lower classes spoke in English whereas the upper classes used French. English became more popular again around 1400 AD, but English incorporated many of the French words into the languages. This is one of the reasons, English has two words for most animals, one being on your place and ready to eat whereas English uses another word for an animal being alive and well! For example, pig and pork, cow and beef.
Then we enter into the era of Modern English, which was used from around 1500 AD to 1800 AD. This form of English is much more similar to what we use today and is characterised by a very distinct and sudden change in vowel pronunciation. During this time spellings became standardised due to the invention of the printing press which led to books becoming more widely available and much cheaper. It was also during this period, in 1604 that the first English dictionary was published and therefore spelling and grammar become standardised.
What we speak today is known as Late Modern English. The English language has changed considerably in the last few hundred years due to industrialisation, technological advances and the rise of the British Empire. New words were needed for new inventions and English borrowed many words from Britain’s colonies. For example, Shampoo originally derives from India and the word gigabyte is a very new word that wasn’t ever heard of 100 or even 50 years ago.
The English language will continue to evolve. Words are being shortened even further and these are now making their way into the English dictionary. For example, the Oxford Concise Dictionary has added the word ‘lol’ that comes from the recent internet phenomenon to show people that you are ‘laughing out loud’ to their joke!