A Brief History of the English Language

Title:A Brief History of the English Language


Text adapted from: http://www.studyenglishtoday.net/english-language-history.html


The English language is part of the Indo-European group of languages. These languages all came from the North of India. Before the fifth century, Celtic-speaking people lived in the British Isles (the islands where the UK and Ireland are found). In the years that followed, the languages in the British Isles received influence from many other people, including Germanic tribes, Christian missionaries, the Vikings and French rulers. Later during the Industrial Revolution (a period when many production techniques and machines were invented), a lot of new technical words were invented. In addition, the British Empire brought many words from lands far from Britain to the English language. This is how the English language comes to be the way it is today.


Do you want to learn where the English language comes from? You may watch this video or read the following summary of the history of English.

The English language is part of the Indo-European group of languages, which had a common origin somewhere in the North of India about 10,000 years ago.

OLD ENGLISH (450-1100 AD)

Until the 5th century the British Isles where inhabited by Celtic-speaking people influenced by Latin. Celtic languages are still spoken now in Wales (Welsh), Scotland (Gaelic) and Ireland (Irish).

Celtic words: place names such as Kent, York, Thames, Avon.

Latin words: candle, belt, wine and place names such as London.

During the 5th century three Germanic tribes, Jutes, Angles and Saxons, went to the British Isles from different parts of what is now Denmark. Their dialects mixed through the years.

After the 597 AD century St. Augustine brought Christianity and many Latin and Greek words were introduced:

Latin and Greek words: church, bishop, baptism, monk

After 878 AD the Vikings introduced many Norse words, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. Norse was another Germanic language:


Norse words: sky, egg, cake, skin, leg, window, husband, fellow, anger, flat, ugly, get, give, take, call, die, they.

MIDDLE ENGLISH (11100-1500 AD)

In 1066 AD Britain was invaded by the Normans. This Germanic people spoke Old French. For centuries, England had two languages: the powerful spoke French whereas peasants spoke English. Latin was used as a written language and English was considered vulgar.

By 1200 AD English was largely influenced by French.

French words from this period: crown, castle, parliament, army, mansion, beauty, banquet, art, poet, romance, duke, servant, peasant, and governor

It is in this period that the vocabulary for animals becomes dual:

the word for the animal is Anglo-Saxon: ox, cow, calf, sheep, swine, deer

and the word for the meat is French: beef, veal, mutton, pork, bacon, venison


During this period the Great Vowel Shift took place. A great change in the way vowel sounds were pronounced. This is way the pronunciation of vowels does not correspond to the Latin sounds they used to represent.

The printing press was invented by Gutenberg in Germany and in 1450 Caxton set up the first press in England. Books become cheaper, people learnt to read and English became standardized.

During the Renaissance many words from Greek and Latin entered English.

Latin words: street, kitchen, cheese.

The Industrial Revolution resulted in many technical words being invented to name the new products and machines.

New technical words: trains, engine, pulleys, combustion, electricity, telephone, telegraph, camera.

The British Empire also brought many words from distant lands and languages:

Chinese words: ketchup, tea, silk, soya.

Indian words: shampoo, pyjamas, bungalow.

Arabic words: algebra, bazaar, giraffe, lemon.

African words: jazz, safari, cola, banana, zebra.

Hi there~

Click the “play" button to listen to novel opinions and thought-provoking questions about the articles you have just read, delivered to you in standard English and prepared exclusively by our Linko team.

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English recording:

Hello everyone,this is Sampson.We are speaking English everyday but do you guys really know the history of the English language?Today’s article talks about how the English language has evolved over the past centuries and some of the origins of the modern English words.It is never possible for a language to stay unchanged forever.The words and sentence structures used by Shakespeare may not coincide with the words and structures we have adopted today. It seems that the English language is becoming fuller and richer compared to the past.Actually,some of the expressions commonly used on the Internet today have been included in the latest version of English dictionary. How will you guys think about these so-called modern English words? Do they still carry the value of the ancient language or are they actually melting away the true essence of the English language?Let’s discuss in the chat room.

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