Hey ABA family! We know, you’ve always wondered about the origin of the English language. Well, wonder no more! Today we’re going to take a walk down memory lane and see what factors influenced the development of English.
So, what have been the English language’s main influences?
There is no doubt that English has had a tremendous amount of influence from many languages over the years, but it can be narrowed down to 3 general periods in history. These 3 “stages” of English are called “Old English” (450-1100 AD), “Middle English” (1100-1500) and Modern Day English (1500-present)
More than 1500 years ago three different groups of people arrived in Britain with their three very different dialects. They were the Jutes, Angles and the Saxons. They arrived from neighbouring Denmark and Germany and actually pushed out the local Celtic languages along with Latin that were being spoken in southern England at the time. Nowadays the Celtic languages are generally only found in Parts of Wales, North-Western Scotland and Ireland.
Over many years, these Germanic dialects mixed and took on words from each other. In fact, the term “Anglo-Saxon”, referring to an English speaker comes from the influence of these groups of people on the language.
Before the year 900 AD, the vikings landed on the northern shores of the British Isles bringing their mother tongue of old Norse with them. This had a profound effect on the English language and many of the words that they introduced are still in play today. A few examples of these are:
So if you say the sentence “take a look at that ugly window” you are, in fact, speaking much the same as a Viking! These northern warriors also introduced pronouns such as “their” and “them” that we still see in modern English.
When we refer to the period of time known as “Middle English”, we are referring to the time when William the Conqueror became king and introduced old style French to the United Kingdom. French was in and English was out, considered to be the language of the lower classes and, effectively, outlawed.
Since English was no longer “popular”, it didn’t develop very much during until the year 1200 when it made a comeback packed with French vocabulary. Some of the new words we use are:
It is also important to mention that during the period of middle English, the way certain vowels in words were pronounced shifted greatly. When we say this, what we mean is that the way the mouth was shaped when saying a particular sound in certain words changed as the tongue was raised. This had a significant effect on the sound of words over a three hundred year period.
This period of English is often referred to as the Shakespeare Era thanks to the magnificent playwright William Shakespeare. Did you know he invented over 1700 words? He changed nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives and connected words that had never been used together.
A significant impact on this period was the introduction of the first printing press at Westminster Abbey in the 1470s. Why? Well, it began to introduce the standardisation of the language and helped many people become literate. Books were expensive and therefore limited to the richer classes.
As time marched on in the 18th century, the British were just getting started and the English language’s development was in full swing. The British Industrial Revolution was taking hold and the pace of the development of English was uncontrollable. It was during this period that many words were invented or others adjusted to suit the technological advances of the time. Those words are still used today. For example:
At this point in time, additionally to all the words being invented or evolving, the British began their journey into colonisation. This brought even more vocabulary to the United Kingdom, for example: did you know that the word “shampoo” is from the Hindi word “champna” which means “to massage?” Or that the word “boomerang” is Australian? And the word “zombie” comes all the way from Africa.
Is there anything else to know?
Well of course! If we had written the whole history of the English language this article would be a book! To summarise, what’s fascinating about this wonderful language is that it will never stop developing so it’s a good job for us that we never stop learning.
If you also want to continue learning about this marvellous language, then go ahead and join millions of students studying with us today.