Where does English come from?

  • history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD.
  • 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; 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.

Where did the Angles, Jutes and Saxons get language?

  • English is a member of the Germanic language family
  • Indo-European Language Families

What about other languages?

  • Most linguists classify all varieties of modern spoken Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family and believe that there was an original language, termed Proto-Sino-Tibetan, from which the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended
  • Japanese is related to the Ryukyuan languages. There is evidence of influence from China, Portuguese, and Germanic languages (caused by trade)
    • Modern Standard Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family.
    • agreement that they flourished in the Mediterranean Basin area,
    • Aside from Arabic, the Semitic language family includes Hebrew, Aramaic, Maltese, Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre, Gurage, Geez, Syrica, Akkadian, Phonoecian, Punic, Ugaritic, Nabatean, Amorite and Moabite. (majority of these are now considered “dead” languages) Arabic has flourished (linked with the rise of Islam)

Back to English

  • At some time between 3500 and 2500 BC, the Indo-Europeans, who probably lived on the Russian steppes or in the Danube valley, began to travel east and west. Today about one third of the human race speak a language that came originally from the Indo-European language.

Old English (450-1100)

  • 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
  • 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.

Middle English (1100-1500)

  • 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.
  • The Lord’s Prayer – Middle English
  • Thu ure Fæder þe eart on heofunum, Sy þin nama gehalgod. Cume þin rice, Sy þinne wille on eorðan swaswa on heofonum. Syle us todaeg urne daeghwamlican hlaf. Ond forgyf us ure gyltas, swaswa we fogyfaþ þampe with us agyltaþ. Ond ne lae thu na us on constnunge, ac alys us of yfele. Soðlice

Modern English
Early Modern (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.
  • 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.
  • Robert Cawdrey published his Table Alphabeticall in 1604, the first English dictionary
  • Cawdrey subtitled his dictionary “for the benefit of Ladies, Gentlewomen, and other unskilled folk,” to create an in-depth guide for the lesser educated who might not know the “hard usual English wordes, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French.” 2543 headwords
  • First entry: [fr] ABandon, cast away, or yeelde vp, to
    leaue or forsake.

Modern English
Late Modern (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.
  • The Lord’s Prayer – Modern English

More Modern

  • Many varieties of English around the world, including Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Indian English and Caribbean English.
  • Adapted and changed to suit our lifestyle, new inventions (email and fax were not words when I was in high school)
  • Text messaging changes our language
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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