History of English



Many of the world’s great languages have been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Even though they are constantly changing and evolving, they still keep their identity: they have been “Arabic” or “Mandarin” over long periods of time.


English, by contrast is a relatively young language. And it is not just one language. Instead, it is a blend of five main pre-existing languages that came together as a result of historical events. Here are the main constituent languages of English and the eras during which they came into English:

1) Anglo-Saxon–our base language, spoken by immigrants to England who went there around 450 A.D. By about 750, the Anglo-Saxons had established seven kingdoms, but Celts (in green) still held the western parts of the island. English words from Anglo-Saxon: father, share, follow, half, hold.


2) Old Norse–a Germanic language spoken by the Vikings (~750 A.D.), who invaded many parts of both Great Britain and Ireland. The Danelaw was an area in which many Vikings lived, but as you can see from the map, Vikings settled in a number of other areas as well. Old Norse-derived words include anger, gift, heathen, happy.


3) Norman French–Old French dialect spoken in the area of Normandy, brought to England by William the Conqueror (1066 A.D.). French words are more formal, such as office, bureau, volume, table, digit. The map shows the path of conquest that William the Conqueror took in his lightning campaign to take over England.


4) Latin–brought into English a) by the Catholic Church b) by the French (French is a Latin dialect) and c) during the Renaissance. Words from Latin include predisposed, distraction, inhibited, metric. The picture shows Alcuin of York (732-804 A.D.)


5) Classical Greek–brought into English during the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution. Words from Greek include hydrophobia, echo, anaphylactic, biological. 



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