The History Of The English Language

What has led to this?

Well, we have various factors to thank, including British colonialism, America's role late in World War 2, American wealth, movies and TV, the internet and computer technology...


But what is the story of English?




In short, it is a story of continual adaption and growth...

At present we encounter many different versions of the language, depending on where we are in the world, from the Australian twang to the American drawl and the flattened South African vowel sounds, to the many accents and dailects scattered throughout Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England itself.

Sometimes an English speaker from one area can't entirely undertand one from another part of the globe, so different are its many accents and eccentricities!

The English language is always "a work in progress" - involving Germanic roots and influences by groups as diverse as the Romans, Scandinavian/Germans, French and many others...


The story of English is inextricably tied to the politics of the area, in some ways telling the tale of who was in charge at certain times.

The original inhabitants of the British Isles until the year 55 BC spoke the local language, CELTIC, which was also spoken across wide areas of Europe.

Some of these words which remain in English now, in altered form, are everyday words like cheese, pear, school and silver/money!

Then, in 55BC, the Romans, under Julius Caesar, invaded and occupied the area, until 436AD, when the withdrawal of the Romans was complete.  They left behind a great many words (and language structures), though, including ones that end in "ion", like solution, revolution, proportion - which are also common in other Romance languages, like Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese....they are called Romance languages not because they are romantic (althought those accents can surely be attractive!), but becuase they are derived from "Roman", or LATIN.


The next invaders arrived in the 5th century AD, from northern Europe and what we now call Scandinavia.  They were the Vikings, and included tribes known as the Angles, Jutes and Saxons.  Celtic speakers were pushed West and North to the areas now called Wales, Scotland and Ireland, where forms of Celtic are still spoken.

The Viking invaders spoke similar GERMANIC-type languages; however, the Angles came from "Englaland" and their language was called "Englisc"...... sound familiar?  The language of those tribal invaders blended with the local language to become what is now referred to as OLD ENGLISH.

About half the words we now use in English have their origins in Old English.


So, the next series of events in the evolution of English gave rise to a version of it that is called MIDDLE ENGLISH, which spanned the time from about 1100 to 1500.

It came about largley as a result of yet another invasion, in the year 1066, this time by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.


William the Conqueror brought with him to Britain the French of his area at the time, and - no surprise - it became the language of the royal court, the ruling and business classes, while the working classes continuted to speak the English of the time.

In the 14th century English became dominant again, but like the other 'invaders', French certainly left its mark... it is estimated that about 29% of English words in use now are derived from French, including even the most common of words such as 'bottle', 'garden' and 'hotel'.

It was in this period that Chaucer's famous Tales were written.  They are difficult for today's reader to understand; their time was about 700 years ago, and again, much has happened in the interim to change the nature of the language in which Chaucer expressed himself.