Old English Words The Angles came from an angle-shaped land area in contemporary Germany. Their name “Angli” from the Latin and commonly-spoken, pre-5th Century German mutated into the Old English “Engle”. Later, “Engle” changed to “Angel-cyn” meaning “Angle-race” by A.D. 1000, changing to “Engla-land”. Some Old English words which have survived intact include: feet, geese, teeth, men, women, lice, and mice. The modern word “like” can be a noun, adjective, verb, and preposition. In Old English, though, the word was different for each type: gelica as a noun, geic as an adjective, lician as a verb, and gelice as a preposition.
West Germanic invaders from Jutland and southern Denmark: the Angles (whose name is the source of the words England and English), Saxons, and Jutes, began populating the British Isles in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. They spoke a mutually intelligible language, similar to modern Frisian–the language of northeastern region of the Netherlands–that is called Old English. Four major dialects of Old English emerged, Northumbrian in the north of England, Mercian in the Midlands, West Saxon in the south and west, and Kentish in the Southeast. These invaders pushed the original, Celtic-speaking inhabitants out of what is now England into Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, leaving behind a few Celtic words. These Celtic languages survive today in Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland and in Welsh. Cornish, unfortunately, is now a dead language.
(The last native Cornish speaker, Dolly Pentreath, died in 1777 in the town of Mousehole, Cornwall.) Also influencing English at this time were the Vikings. Norse invasions, beginning around 850, brought many North Germanic words into the language, particularly in the north of England. Some examples are dream, which had meant ‘joy’ until the Vikings imparted its current meaning on it from the Scandinavian cognate draumr, and skirt, which continues to live alongside its native English cognate shirt. The majority of words in modern English come from foreign, not Old English roots. In fact, only about one sixth of the known Old English words have descendants surviving today. But this is deceptive; Old English is much more important than these statistics would indicate.
About half of the most commonly used words in modern English have Old English roots. Words like be, water, and strong, for example, derive from Old English roots. Old English, whose best known surviving example is the poem Beowulf, lasted until about 1100. This last date is rather arbitrary, but most scholars choose it because it is shortly after the most important event in the development of the English language, the Norman Conquest.
In spite of the fact that the Romans built cities with walls around them and magnificent roads all over the country, they did not influence all of Britain because outside their wallsand camps the old Celtic language was spoken and their language, Latin, never became a spoken language throughout the whole of the country. The real story of English in England begins in the first half of the fifth century: when the Goths attacked Rome in A.D. 410, the Roman soldiers had to leave Britain in order to help their countrymen; and the undefended Britain was attacked and seized by the Angles from Schleswig, the Saxons from Holstein and the Jutes from Jutland. Once more the Britons were driven to the mountains of Wales and Scotland.
When the Romans came to Britain in 55 B.C. they found a race of Celtic people called the Britons, and during the four hundred years that followed the Roman invasion, Britain became a Roman colony. The language spoken by those people developed into Welsh and Gaelic and nowadays an Englishman wouldn’t understand a single word of those languages because the language he speaks does not come from the Britons who fought the Romans, and fled from other invaders, but from the Angles who made England into ‘Angle-land’. The language the new invaders spoke belonged to the Germanic speech family, which we can separate into three main families: East Germanic, which disappeared with Gothic in the eighth century, North Germanic, which developed into Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic, and low and high West Germanic, the low developed into Dutch, Flemish and English and the high into German. The language that the above mentioned invaders spoke was a west Germanic member of the Indo-European languages. Although it is generally called Anglo-Saxon there were, in fact, four dialects, the dialect of the Saxons was called West Saxon, that of the Jutes was called Kentish, the other two were called Northumbrian (north of the Humber) and Mercian.
The ‘English’ they spoke was an inflicted language and there were five cases of nouns (Nominative, Vocative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative), ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ forms of adjectives (each with five cases); there was a full conjugation of verbs – complete with Subjunctive – and there was a system of grammatical gender. Fortunately, in modern English most of that has changed, grammatical gender of nouns has completely disappeared, adjectives no longer agree with their nouns in number, case or gender, nouns have only two cases (singular and plural), verbs have very few forms and the subjunctive has almost disappeared. Most of these changes were caused by two other invasions of England. THE The first of these invasions was by the Danes. The language spoken by these invaders was very similar to the language of England – words like mother and father, man and wife, summer and winter, house, town, tree, land, grass, come, ride, see, think, and many others were the same in both languages, so Saxon and Danes could just about understand each other.
Although the languages were similar, the endings were different; and as the roots of the words were the same, Saxon and Dane found that they could understand each other better if the inflectional endings were dropped. Adding the language the Danes spoke brought a lot of positive gains in vocabulary and grammar. The word law is Danish, so are leg, skin, knife, sky and Thursday, some of the adjectives the Danes brought to English are flat, happy, low, ugly, weak and wrong; among the verbs are want, cut, call, die, lift and take. An interesting feature of the language is a number of Danish forms existing side by side with, and usually with a different meaning from, the English forms. Shirt skirt No nay Drop drip Sit seat Rear raise From fro Blossom bloom The Norman Conquest and Middle English (1100-1500) Middle English, from 1066 until the 15th Century The Norman Conquest/ the Linguistic Impact Modern English patriots view the Battle of Hastings as a national catastrophe; the year 1066 is the most well-known date throughout English citizens.
“No other conquest in European history has had such disastrous consequences for the defeated”. However, modern England owes their government, culture, and language to the ideas the Normans brought. In the early years after the Conquest, Englishmen who pledged their allegiance to the King were allowed to keep their land. Nevertheless, between 1067 and 1070, there were many uprisings against the Norman rule, including at least one disturbance each year. Many English, though, cooperated with the new rulers. The English “resented becoming an oppressed majority in their own country”.
In fact, there were only about 10,000 Normans living among one or two million Saxons. To protect themselves, the Normans lived in small units. They built castles from which a small group could rule a large area and population. More than 4,000 landowners were replaced and forced to turn over their land to less than 200 barons. England and Normandy now shared a ruler, forming a connection between the two areas. William, still a Norman Duke in addition to his English title, owed his allegiance to the King of France, and therefore English politics became French politics.
Because of the allegiance William still owed to France, he spent most of his time there, instead of in the country he ruled. This was a major change from the previous rulers, who lived in the country. William never really liked England or its people. He gave up trying to learn the language and only stayed in the country when it was absolutely necessary. As a result, he had to plan for when he would be absent.
Under normal circumstances, a family member would act as regent while the king was away. However, William had no relatives whom he trusted enough to leave England in their hands. This began the tradition of one of the king’s servants, usually a bishop, representing the king while he was away. Another political change in England was the formation of Anglo-Norman feudalism. Several features of feudalism are: “vassalage, military groupings, and the fragmentation of authority”. The time after the Conquest was the first public demonstration of the power the king held over the land.
William essentially took back all of the land and redistributed it to his own vassals or, as they came to be known, barons. The barons then divided up their own sections and granted the areas to their own vassals. A “feudal pyramid” can begin to be seen, in which the classes were very defined, and everyone, in the end, was led by the king. In addition to these political changes, their were cultural changes, too.
The Normans were shocked at their arrival to find such low moral and cultural standards in England. With the invasion of the Normans, England received a new ruling class, culture, and language. French became the language of law, estates, song, verse, chanson, and romance. It was considered the “language of the civilized”, and all of the noblepeople all over Europe knew, in addition to their own language, French. The English architects and artists borrowed French designs, such as Romanesque and Gothic, which are now well-known as the styles of most of the famous landmarks in Europe, such as Westminster Abbey, and Bath.
Prior to the invasion of French culture, England had been a land mostly influenced by its neighbors to the north, what is now known as Scandinavia. The language was in use from the first immigrants in the Fifth Century, until it became common in the Eighth Century. It remained relatively unchanged until 1150, when the linguistic effects of the Norman Conquest began to appear in everyday use and the language shifted to Middle English. Even in Modern English, the correlation between the two languages is apparent.
One of the most significant differences between Old English and Middle English is the amount of borrowing from other languages, which expanded mainly with the Norman Conquest. The Old English speakers hesitated from using foreign words, and generally made up their own equivalent of words rather than borrowing directly. The French, however, kept words and sounds similar to their foreign roots. One example of foreign sounds directly affecting English phonemics is the difference between v and f. In Old English, these were both similar ways of saying f, like Modern English’s long and short vowels. The introduction of the French word ver, which sounded like Old English’s fer forced speakers and listeners to make a difference between the two sounds.
Another effect that the Conquest had on the English language was due to the scribes. As Old English quickly lost its status, the French scribes, who didn’t care much about correctly spelled Old English began to write the language phonetically, as they heard it with their French conventions. This change can also be seen in Modern English, such as the shift from Middle English u to the French ou as in house. Both the English language and the culture have gone through many evolutions, all as a result of the introduction of new ethnic groups into Britain.
From the first invasions of the Angles and Saxons in 450 A.D. through the ongoing influx of immigrants from all over the world, England has been a country influenced by its ever-changing population. The most influential of these developments was the Norman Conquest in the year 1066. The results of the Conquest have shaped the history of England, and are still apparent in today’s English traditions, government, and language. By looking at modern England, we can still see the threads that stemmed from the influence of that event, so many years ago.
The Norman Invasion and Conquest of Britain in 1066 and the resulting French Court of William the Conqueror gave the Norwegian-Dutch influenced English a Norman-Parisian-French effect. From 1066 until about 1400, Latin, French, and English were spoken. English almost disappeared entirely into obscurity during this period by the French and Latin dominated court and government. However, in 1362, the Parliament opened with English as the language of choice, and the language was saved from extinction.
Present-day English is approximately 50% Germanic (English and Scandinavian) and 50% Romance (French and Latin). William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England and the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 AD. (The Bayeux Tapestry, details of which form the navigation buttons on this site, is perhaps the most famous graphical depiction of the Norman Conquest.) The new overlords spoke a dialect of Old French known as Anglo-Norman. The Normans were also of Germanic stock (“Norman” comes from “Norseman”) and Anglo-Norman was a French dialect that had considerable Germanic influences in addition to the basic Latin roots. Prior to the Norman Conquest, Latin had been only a minor influence on the English language, mainly through vestiges of the Roman occupation and from the conversion of Britain to Christianity in the seventh century (ecclesiastical terms such as priest, vicar, and mass came into the language this way), but now there was a wholesale infusion of Romance (Anglo-Norman) words. The influence of the Normans can be illustrated by looking at two words, beef and cow.
Beef, commonly eaten by the aristocracy, derives from the Anglo-Norman, while the Anglo-Saxon commoners, who tended the cattle, retained the Germanic cow. Many legal terms, such as indict, jury, and verdict have Anglo-Norman roots because the Normans ran the courts. This split, where words commonly used by the aristocracy have Romantic roots and words frequently used by the Anglo-Saxon commoners have Germanic roots, can be seen in many instances. Middle English Words Many new words added to Middle English during this period came from Norman French, Parisian French, and Scandinavian. Norman French words imported into Middle English include: catch, wage, warden, reward, and warrant.
Parisian French gave Middle English: chase, guarantee, regard, guardian, and gage. Scandinavian gave to Middle English the important word of law. English nobility had titles which were derived from both Middle English and French. French provided: prince, duke, peer, marquis, viscount, and baron. Middle English independently developed king, queen, lord, lady, and earl.
Governmental administrative divisions from French include county, city, village, justice, palace, mansion, and residence. Middle English words include town, home, house, and hall. Sometimes French words replaced Old English words; crime replaced firen and uncle replaced eam. Other times, French and Old English components combined to form a new word, as the French gentle and the Germanic man formed gentleman.
Other times, two different words with roughly the same meaning survive into modern English. Thus we have the Germanic doom and the French judgment, or wish and desire. It is useful to compare various versions of a familiar text to see the differences between Old, Middle, and Modern English. Take for instance this Old English (c.1000) sample: Fder ure ue eart on heofonum si in nama gehalgod tobecume in rice gewure in willa on eoran swa swa on heofonum urne gedghwamlican hlaf syle us to dg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfa urum gyltendum and ne geld u us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele solice.
Finally, in Early Modern English (King James Version, 1611) the same text is completely intelligible: Our father which art in heauen, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen. Giue us this day our daily bread. And forgiue us our debts as we forgiue our debters. And lead us not into temptation, but deliuer us from euill.
Amen. In 1204 AD, King John lost the province of Normandy to the King of France. This began a process where the Norman nobles of England became increasingly estranged from their French cousins. England became the chief concern of the nobility, rather than their estates in France, and consequently the nobility adopted a modified English as their native tongue. About 150 years later, the Black Death (1349-50) killed about one third of the English population.
The laboring and merchant classes grew in economic and social importance, and along with them English increased in importance compared to Anglo-Norman. This mixture of the two languages came to be known as Middle English. The most famous example of Middle English is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Unlike Old English, Middle English can be read, albeit with difficulty, by modern English-speaking people.
By 1362, the linguistic division between the nobility and the commoners was largely over. In that year, the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the language of the courts and it began to be used in Parliament. The Middle English period came to a close around 1500 AD with the rise of Modern English. The Norman invasion played a major part of the shaping of modern English. The Normans were renowned for their learning, their military prowess and their organizing ability.
After defeating the English king Harold at Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror began to organize England on the Norman pattern. Many Frenchmen came to Britain and brought the rich learning and developed civilization and culture of Normandy. The Normans ruled with a hard hand and the defeated Saxons were oppressed. For the next three centuries all the Kings of England spoke French: all the power in Court, Church and Castle was in the hands of the Normans. The language they spoke was French and they never dreamed of doing their organizing in any other language than French or Latin.
For about three hundred years two languages were spoken side by side in England: the ‘official’ language was French, and English was only spoken by the common people. The language of Saxon times was being changed, but it was in no danger of dying out, and every change did something to improve the English language. It took over three hundred years, but it happened, Norman and Saxon united to form one language. When King Edward III opened Parliament in English in 1362 it became obvious that there was no turning back. When English finally emerged as the language of England, it had been greatly modified by the changes through which it had gone.
The gradual dropping of the inflectional endings and the general grammatical simplification, which had begun in the times of the Danes, had gone on and had been greatly accelerated by the collision with French. Moreover, for three centuries English had been almost entirely a spoken language, no longer restrained and kept from change by literary models. The changes were revolutionary and English became the only language that had managed to get rid of grammatical gender, case endings of nouns had been reduced to one. Verb forms had been simplified, and in general the whole language had been made much more flexible and expressive. If we take a close look at the vocabulary in modern English, we will discover that approximately 50 per cent. of the words in it are of French or Latin origin and half of these were adopted between 1250 and 1400.
Despite this incredible French element, English remains fundamentally Anglo- Saxon because although it is quite easy to make a sentence without any French words it is practically impossible to make even a short sentence without using Saxon words. Furthermore, the words which came into English from French throw an interesting light on the social history of the times. It would almost be possible to reconstruct the social history just by examining the vocabulary of today. This examination would reveal that the Normans were the ruling race because almost all the words expressing government (including government itself) are of French origin. Words such as: king, queen, lord and lady are Saxon; but prince, sovereign, throne, crown, chancellor, minister, council, royal, state, country, people, nation, parliament, duke, count and many others are all Norman.
The Normans also introduced words which expressed the new ideas of chivalry and refinement such as: honour, glory, courteous, duty, polite, conscience, noble, pity, fine and cruel. Through words like, arch, pillar, palace, tower, and castle, we can see that they excelled in the art of building. From their interest in war and warfare we got: war, peace, battle, armour, officer, soldier, navy, captain, enemy, danger, march and company. The Normans were great law-givers, and although the word law is Scandinavian, the words, justice, judge, jury, court, cause, crime, traitor, assize, prison, tax, money, rent, property and injury are all of French origin.
When English monks translated the scriptures into English, it was often far easier to adopt the Latin or French word than to try and invent a new word. Therefore, a large number of French words connected with religion came into the language. These words include: religion, service, saviour, prophet, saint, sacrifice, miracle, preach and pray. The names of nearly all articles of luxury and pleasure are Norman and the simpler things in life are English. Occasionally, we have two English words, both derived from the same French word, but borrowed at different times, and, as a result, having different pronunciations and usually slightly different meanings.
Examples of these are: warden, guardian; warranty, guarantee, catch, chase. French words that came into the language at an early time became fully anglicized both in accent and pronunciation. The later importations, from the sixteenth century onwards, failed to achieve this complete incorporation into the language. A feature of the Germanic group of languages is that in words of more than one syllable the accent is on the first syllable.
This rule applies to early borrowings from French: virtue, nature, honour, favour, courage, reason, captain. However, words which came into the language at a later stage like: campaign, connoisseur, garage and mnage have not yet managed to acquire this accentuation. On the one hand, it is hard to believe that words like table, chair, castle, grocer and beauty haven’t always been part of English. On the other hand, it is very easy to believe amateur, soufflet, valet, chaperon and chef were imported.
Words like garage are at a half-way stage, because we are not sure whether we should pronounce this word the same way as we pronounce carriage and marriage or whether it should be pronounced like mirage and sabotage. In almost every century since Norman times new words have entered the language: In the sixteenth: pilot, rendez-vous, volley, vase, moustache, machine In the seventeenth: reprimand, ballet, burlesque, champagne, nave, soup, group, quart In the eighteenth: migre, guillotine, corps, espionage, depot, bureau, canteen, brunette, picnic, police In the nineteenth: barrage, chassis, profile, restaurant, menu, chauffeur, fiance, prestige In the twentieth; garage, camouflage, hangar and revue The twenty-first century hasn’t seen any contributions from French yet. An interesting effect of the Norman element has been to give English a sort of bilingual quality, with two words, one of Saxon origin and one of French origin, to express roughly the same meaning. Thus we have foe and enemy; friendship and amity; freedom and liberty; unlikely and improbable; fatherly and paternal; motherhood and maternity; bold and courageous; and thousands more like these.
Although there is very little difference in meaning the Saxon word is always nearer the nation’s heart and has a greater emotional atmosphere. Brotherly love is deeper than fraternal affection; help expresses deeper need than aid; a hearty welcome is warmer than a cordial reception. Both Latin and, to a lesser degree, Greek have been important contributors to the English language, the Revival of Learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries created a nightmare for modern teachers of English, because instead of trying to understand how English worked and make grammar rules accordingly, Latin grammar was taught and the English language was distorted to fit into the pattern of Latin grammar.
There are a great number of words formed from Greek prefixes tacked on to words of English and other languages. For a complete list of Greek prefixes, what they mean and how we use them, click here. Italy, which was for so long the center of European culture, has given words to our vocabulary of music and architecture: piano: piccolo, soprano, solo, opera, miniature, studio, model, balcony, corridor. Spanish has contributed: cargo, cigar, cigarette, cork, desperado, renegade, potato, tobacco and chocolate. Indian has given us: pyjamas, shampoo, bungalow, curry and ginger. Persian gave us: bazaar, divan, lilac and check-mate. Arabic gave us: admiral, lemon, alcohol, algebra, coffee, cotton and assassin. The fact that there has never been any conscious worship of a ‘pure English’ that opposed the introduction of new words into the language, has more than likely contributed to help English become the universal language of the twenty-first century. Indo-European and Germanic Influences English is a member of the Indo-European family of languages.
Early Modern English (1500-1800) The next wave of innovation in English came with the Renaissance. The revival of classical scholarship brought many classical Latin and Greek words into the Language. These borrowings were deliberate and many bemoaned the adoption of these “inkhorn” terms, but many survive to this day. Shakespeare’s character Holofernes in Loves Labor Lost is a satire of an overenthusiastic schoolmaster who is too fond of Latinisms. Many students having difficulty understanding Shakespeare would be surprised to learn that he wrote in modern English. But, as can be seen in the earlier example of the Lord’s Prayer, Elizabethan English has much more in common with our language today than it does with the language of Chaucer.
Many familiar words and phrases were coined or first recorded by Shakespeare, some 2,000 words and countless catch-phrases are his. Newcomers to Shakespeare are often shocked at the number of cliches contained in his plays, until they realize that he coined them and they became cliches afterwards. “One fell swoop,” “vanish into thin air,” and “flesh and blood” are all Shakespeare’s. Words he bequeathed to the language include “critical,” “leapfrog,” “majestic,” “dwindle,” and “pedant.” Two other major factors influenced the language and served to separate Middle and Modern English. The first was the Great Vowel Shift.
This was a change in pronunciation that began around 1400. While modern English speakers can read Chaucer with some difficulty, Chaucer’s pronunciation would have been completely unintelligible to the modern ear. Shakespeare, on the other hand, would be accented, but understandable. Long vowel sounds began to be made higher in the mouth and the letter “e” at the end of words became silent. Chaucer’s Lyf (pronounced “leef”) became the modern life. In Middle English name was pronounced “nam-a,” five was pronounced “feef,” and down was pronounced “doon.” In linguistic terms, the shift was rather sudden, the major changes occurring within a century.
The shift is still not over, however, vowel sounds are still shortening although the change has become considerably more gradual. The last major factor in the development of Modern English was the advent of the printing press. William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476. Books became cheaper and as a result, literacy became more common. Publishing for the masses became a profitable enterprise, and works in English, as opposed to Latin, became more common. Finally, the printing press brought standardization to English.
The dialect of London, where most publishing houses were located, became the standard. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the first English dictionary was published in 1604. During this period, English became more organized and began to resemble the modern version of English. Although the word order and sentence construction was still slightly different, Early Modern English was at least recognizable to the Early Modern English speaker.
For example, the Old English “To us pleases sailing” became “We like sailing.” Classical elements, from Greek and Latin, profoundly influenced work creation and origin. From Greek, Early Modern English received grammar, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Also, the “tele-” prefix meaning “far” later used to develop telephone and television was taken. Late-Modern English (1800-Present) The principal distinction between early- and late-modern English is vocabulary.
Pronunciation, grammar, and spelling are largely the same, but Late-Modern English has many more words. These words are the result of two historical factors. The first is the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the technological society. This necessitated new words for things and ideas that had not previously existed. The second was the British Empire.
At its height, Britain ruled one quarter of the earth’s surface, and English adopted many foreign words and made them its own. The industrial and scientific revolutions created a need for neologisms to describe the new creations and discoveries. For this, English relied heavily on Latin and Greek. Words like oxygen, protein, nuclear, and vaccine did not exist in the classical languages, but they were created from Latin and Greek roots. Such neologisms were not exclusively created from classical roots though, English roots were used for such terms as horsepower, airplane, and typewriter.
This burst of neologisms continues today, perhaps most visible in the field of electronics and computers. Byte, cyber-, bios, hard-drive, and microchip are good examples. Also, the rise of the British Empire and the growth of global trade served not only to introduce English to the world, but to introduce words into English. Hindi, and the other languages of the Indian subcontinent, provided many words, such as pundit, shampoo, pajamas, and juggernaut.
Virtually every language on Earth has contributed to the development of English, from Finnish (sauna) and Japanese (tycoon) to the vast contributions of French and Latin. The British Empire was a maritime empire, and the influence of nautical terms on the English language has been great. Words and phrases like three sheets to the wind and scuttlebutt have their origins onboard ships. Finally, the 20th century saw two world wars, and the military influence on the language during the latter half of this century has been great. Before the Great War, military service for English-speaking persons was rare; both Britain and the United States maintained small, volunteer militaries. Military slang existed, but with the exception of nautical terms, rarely influenced standard English.
During the mid-20th century, however, virtually all British and American men served in the military. Military slang entered the language like never before. Blockbuster, nose dive, camouflage, radar, roadblock, spearhead, and landing strip are all military terms that made their way into standard English. It is important to note that modern English developed through the efforts of literary and political writings, where literacy was uniformly found.
Modern English was heavily influenced by classical usage, the emergence of the university-educated class, Shakespeare, the common language found in the East Midlands section of present-day England, and an organized effort to document and standardize English. Current inflections have remained almost unchanged for 400 years, but sounds of vowels and consonants have changed greatly. As a result, spelling has also changed considerably. For example, from Early English to Modern English, lyf became life, deel became deal, hoom became home, mone became moon, and hous became house. American English Also significant beginning around 1600 AD was the English colonization of North America and the subsequent creation of a distinct American dialect.
Some pronunciations and usages “froze” when they reached the American shore. In certain respects, American English is closer to the English of Shakespeare than modern British English is. Some “Americanisms” that the British decry are actually originally British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost at home (e.g., fall as a synonym for autumn, trash for rubbish, frame-up which was reintroduced to Britain through Hollywood gangster movies, and loan as a verb instead of lend). The American dialect also served as the route of introduction for many native American words into the English language.
Most often, these were place names like Mississippi, Roanoke, and Iowa. Indian-sounding names like Idaho were sometimes created that had no native-American roots. But, names for other things besides places were also common. Raccoon, tomato, canoe, barbecue, savanna, and hickory have native American roots, although in many cases the original Indian words were mangled almost beyond recognition.
Spanish has also been great influence on American English. Armadillo, mustang, canyon, ranch, stampede, and vigilante are all examples of Spanish words that made their way into English through the settlement of the American West. To a lesser extent French, mainly via Louisiana, and West African, through the importation of slaves, words have influenced American English. Armoire, bayou, and jambalaya came into the language via New Orleans. Goober, gumbo, and tote are West African borrowings first used in America by slaves.
History tells us that Celtic people lived in Britain several thousand years ago. Celtic languages were spoken in Britain before the Roman invasions. Some have died out, such as Manx, which used to be spoken on the Isle of Man, and Cornish, which was confined to the extreme south-western tip of England. These languages, living or dead, have a very long history.
They were probably among the very first languages to be spoken by the people of Europe. Thousands of years ago, there were peoples in central Europe known by the ancient Greeks as Keltoi. We know them as the Celts. They were adventurous and aggressive, travelling and invading many other areas, as far apart as what we now call Bulgaria and Spain, the Netherlands and Italy.
Over 2,000 years ago, the Celts reached Ireland and then England. From Ireland they went to Scotland. Irish and Scottish Gaelic are still spoken. Welsh, another Celtic language, is still spoken. In England, efforts are being made to keep the Celtic languages of Cornish and Manx alive. Roman and Anglo-Saxon invasions In 55 BC, Julius Caesar and his Roman legions arrived from the south.
The real invasion did not commence until 43 AD, and part of Britain was annexed by the Roman Empire for about 300 years. The rulers and militia spoke Latin, the ordinary people spoke their Celtic languages. Major changes to the language of Britain started when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded from what we now call Germany and Scandinavia. The languages they spoke were the forerunners of modern German. The first invasion was in 449 AD.
Over the next 150 years, they successfully took over the whole of England. Indeed, by about 1,000 AD it was known as England, the land of the Angles. The language which dominated in this period is now known as Anglo-Saxon or Old English. The Latin spoken by the Romans died out, but a new strand of Latin came with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 6th century. For about 200 years, this had an influence on both the culture and the language of England.
The marauding Vikings! But another series of invasions commenced – raiders came from Norway and Denmark, starting around the end of the 8th century. The marauding Norsemen, also known as Vikings, were on the move! They conquered various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain, and Norse almost became the official language. Alfred the Great, helped the Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen eventually worked out how to live with each other. A division of the north and south of England was made by a line called the Danelaw.
During this period, the young English language was absorbing words from Old Norse. The language of the Vikings has not completely disappeared. Much of it can be heard in Modern Icelandic. A Danish ambassador explained this to me in an amusing way: ‘When the Vikings reached Iceland, both they and their language froze’! The final great invasion In 1066, William the Conqueror arrived from the northern part of France, still known as Normandy, and swept all before him. King Harold was beaten at Hastings. William became king.
For two or three hundred years, the Normans controlled the country. Norman French was the official language used in government, law and commerce. Latin remained the language of the church and schools. Peasants, labourers, ordinary folk continued to speak the Anglo-Saxon form of Old English but it was rarely put into writing during this period. From Old to Middle to Modern However, over time, the various peoples, their cultures and languages, came closer together. Norman French had an enormous influence over the language.
We now have a special term for English between the 12th and 15th centuries: it is called Middle English. You cans see it in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poems. It is said that Chaucer (1340?-1400) was responsible, through his writing, for the revival of the English language. William Caxton (1422?-1491?), who printed Chaucer’s works, also influenced this rebirth and the standardisation of the language.