Lesson 1 of 0
In Progress

2.1 Where did the English language come from?

durenmgmail-com November 9, 2021

Where did the English Language come from?

Below is a summary of the origins and timeline of English language development.

English falls part of the Indo-European family of languages. This includes most European languages spoken to this day. This family includes:

• The Indo-Iranian languages: Hindi and Sanskrit, Farsi (Persian), etc.

• Slavic languages: Russian, Polish, Serbian, etc.

• Baltic languages: Latvian and Lithuanian

• Celtic Languages: Welsh, Breton, Gaelic, etc.

• Greek, Latin and the modern Romance languages: Italian, Spanish, French, etc.

• Germanic languages: Icelandic, English, Dutch, German, Swedish, etc.

English is known to be originated from the Germanic group of languages. These have developed from a traditional language that existed almost 3,000 years ago in the Elbe River region around the 2nd century B.C.

This language was divided into three groups:

  • East Germanic,
  • West Germanic (which is the source of modern German, Dutch, Frisian, English, and Flemish), and
  • North Germanic, which evolved into the Scandinavian languages of today (except Finnish)

The story of English began around 500 A.D. when West Germanic invaders started arriving in Britain from the Netherlands, Jutland, and southern Denmark. These crowds were from the Saxons, Anglos, Jutes, and Frisians, who spoke a commonly understandable language later named Old English or Anglo-Saxon. This language is comparable to common Frisian, which roughly 400,000 people still speak in western areas of the Netherlands.

The original inhabitants of Britain, the Celts, as a result of these continuous invasions, were pushed into the western and northern areas of the island of Britain and across into Ireland and Brittany in modern France, where they all spoke a similar form of Gaelic and became today’s Scottish, Irish, Bretons, and Welsh.

Early Modern English falls within a period roughly between the 1500s and 1800s and is linked to the Renaissance period of the King James Bible, William Shakespeare, and William Caxton.

The scholarship during the Renaissance brought many classical Greek and Latin words into the language. An example of this is the contribution of almost 3,000, primarily Latin-based words by Shakespeare.

Exploration and discovery exposed new languages as well when people started to trade products and began to import into Europe, giving us words like “tobacco,” “chocolate,” and “potato.” The King James Bible helped standardize the language that previously had been based on dialect and personal choice in word and spelling.

The Vikings brought the North Germanic language influence, which began around 850 A.D. Today, Old English amounts to about one-sixth of the total contemporary English vocabulary. However, this vocabulary is amongst the most important that we use. Nearly half of the commonly used words today, in actuality, are descended from Old English. Words like “him,” “her,” “these,” “the,” “water,” “book,” and “those” are all descended from Old English and are the heart of today’s English language.

A significant moment for the language arose in 1066 A.D. with the Norman Conquest. The Anglo-Saxons of England were conquered by the French-speaking William, Duke of Normandy, and his Norman forces. Afterward, the language of Old English began to evolve with the dramatic influence of the language of the new Norman aristocracy that ruled England. (approximately 1100 to 1500 A.D.) This was the Middle English period when the English language evolved with foreign speaking French in the upper-class, while some say the lower classes continued to speak their native English. The French Latin-based vocabulary gradually mixed with English, providing a broad new vocabulary, often producing two words to describe one thing. French lords used beef, veal, and pork, while English-speaking commoners used cow, calf, and pig.

The late modern period of English, ranging between the 1800s to the present, has been identified by three significant events: the ascent of technology, the growth of the British Empire, and, eventually, the effect the American influence had on the world. The industrial revolution began in England and reached its height in the United States. As a result, thousands of new and unique words were created to describe machines, materials, processes, and medicines. Many were formed from Latin and Greek words that did not exist in the original forms of these languages, such as oxygen, nuclear, and vaccine. However, often, the new words were created from other English words, such as “typewriter,” “aeroplane,” and “horsepower.” This process continues today in the area of electronics and computers, with examples like “hard-drive” and “microchip.”

New vocabulary was adapted from the languages of the Indian subcontinent during British Empire travels, such as “pundit,” “shampoo,” “pyjamas,” and “juggernaut.” This process has continued to this day, with the expansion of American world influence, in which such words as: “boondocks,” “canyon,” “ranch,” “teepee,” “kamikaze,” “gringo,” and “gung ho” have been assimilated into the English language over the last two centuries of the American experience.

The Spelling of English

The biggest problem most native speakers and those who learn English have with the language is spelling. Thousands of words have been borrowed from practically every language in the world adopted onto a language structure, making it hard to keep track of the construction rules. No other people have as much trouble learning to spell their native language as English speakers, and this is why the spelling bee tradition is found only in language classrooms of English-speaking countries.