Brief History of the English Language

Brief history of the English language

The History of English

There is a lot of curiosity about the English language. Why is it so confusing? Where did these words come from? When was it born? Would you be surprised to learn that English did not develop from Spanish? Nor from French? Nor from Italian? Continue reading to really understand why English can be confusing. Why are there so many words from other languages?

Spaghetti & University

These words developed from Latin. However, English is not a Latin language. While England has had Latin as one of the its languages hundreds of years ago, the use of Latin dissipated after the end of the Roman Empire when the Romans left about 410-436 AD. Here’s how English developed.

During the 5th through the 7th centuries AD, Anglo-Saxons, the people who lived in the region of northern Europe, invaded and settled in England and the surrounding countries. The native countries for these settlers were northwest Germany, western Denmark and the Netherlands. The tribes of these Anglo Saxons were Angles, Frisians, Saxons and Jutes. We sometimes refer to the people who originated in this region as Scandinavian Vikings. Their language is the ancestor language of English and we can see that German influence in our language today. One particular characteristic of Old High German that is also a characteristic of English is the way 2 or 3 words are combined to form one word. Examples of this include basketball and hamburger. The bottom line here is that English is a decedent of Old High German.

Vikings!

During the 5th through the 7th centuries AD, Anglo-Saxons, the people who lived in the region of northern Europe, invaded and settled in England and the surrounding countries. The native countries for these settlers were northwest Germany, western Denmark and the Netherlands. The tribes of these Anglo Saxons were Angles, Frisians, Saxons and Jutes. We sometimes refer to the people who originated in this region as Scandinavian Vikings. Their language is the ancestor language of English and we can see that German influence in our language today. One particular characteristic of Old High German that is also a characteristic of English is the way 2 or 3 words are combined to form one word. Examples of this include basketball and hamburger. The bottom line here is that English is a decedent of Old High German.

English words from French: Semester, University, Justice, Court

We have so many Latin words! How did that happen? One specific, important event that did not change the nature of English but did add French words to our vocabulary was the Norman (French) invasion of 1066 AD. After the Normans conquered the Britain, William the Conqueror decided to move his capitol city to London. One of his goals was to change the language of the Anglo Saxons, the people of the British Isles, to French. Was he successful? No. He was not able to change the language of the entire Anglo Saxon people. However, as the capitol was London, we now have many French words adapted to English; these are commonly words specific to education, justice and government. University, semester and justice are English words that originated from French. When we adopt words from other languages into our English language, these words are called “word borrowings.”

Spain, Portugal, France

Spain, Portugal, France and the rest of Europe is, obviously, very close to England. So, it was a natural evolution that our language includes words from these other languages. These adopted words demonstrate for us that English is resilient. English remains English even when influenced by outside factors. Interestingly, we actually have English words, “word borrowings”, that originated from Hindi, Chinese languages, Japanese and many more languages.

Linguists and scholars have studied English for centuries. In an effort to track the development of languages, a family tree of languages was created. There may be some differences between various family tree graphics however the nature of English, as a decedent from Old High German, is a confirmed fact.

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