English is one of the most dominant languages in the world, with 375 million native speakers. But where did it all start? If you want to learn the history of the English language, here is a basic outline of the language’s origins and growth over the centuries.
Before the 5th century AD, natives of the British Isle spoke a Celtic language but in the 5th century three Germanic tribes – the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes – invaded Britain. The Angles were the most culturally dominant, and their language, Englisc, is where the word ‘English’ originated.
The English language’s development can be divided into 3 eras – Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.
The period known as ‘Old English’ dates from 450 – 1100 AD). This English is difficult for modern English speakers to understand. The language is a mix of the Germanic languages brought to Britain by the 3 tribes.
The ‘Middle English’ period dates from 1100 – 1500. During this time England was conquered by France and French became the language of the nobility in Britain. By the 14th century many French words had been adopted or adapted into the ‘Old English’ language. This English is still a far cry from what a native English speaker uses today. ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer is written in Middle English and is difficult for modern English speakers to comprehend and pronounce.
Modern English separates into two eras, Early and Late Modern English. During the Early Modern English period (1500 – 1800) the Great Vowel Shift occurred. Vowel pronunciation became shorter and more words from around the world entered everyday English. The invention of the printing press also meant that written English became standardized. English became more like the English we know now and the first English dictionary was published in1604. Shakespeare wrote in Modern Early English.
From the 1800s the English entered the Late Modern English period. The language was solid by this point, but it became more refined. English is an ever evolving language, and advances in technology often lead to changes in English. An example of this is how English evolved into ‘Textlish’ when cellular phone messaging became a common means of communication.