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A Brief History of the English Language Old English to Modern English
* Before English The various dialects spoken by the Germanic tribes are known as Pre-Old English. The term England developed later from the tribal name Angles, possibly because this kingdom was dominant. The term Anglo-Saxon referred to the West Germanic tribes generally. Old English was not entirely uniform and four main dialects were predominant: Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon, and Kentish. Nearly all of Old English literature is preserved in the West Saxon dialect.
* An Overview Periods in History of English Old English: 449-1066 Middle English: 1100-1500 Modern English: 1500 on
* Old English (500-1066 AD) West Germanic invaders from Jutland and southern Denmark—the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes— began to settle in the British Isles in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. They spoke a mutually intelligible language 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.
* Old English (500-1066 AD) 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 the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland and in Welsh. Cornish, unfortunately, is, in linguistic terms, now a dead language.
* Influence of Old English The majority of words in modern English come from foreign, not Old English roots. 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.
* Beowulf Old English, whose best known surviving example is the poem Beowulf, lasted until about 1100, just after the most important event in the development and history of the English language—the Norman Conquest in 1066.
* The Lord’s Prayer in Old English (c. 1000AD) Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us to dæg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice.
* The Norman Conquest and the Development of Middle English (1100-1500) William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England and the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 AD.
* Norman Influences: Latin 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). Now there was a wholesale infusion of Romance (Anglo-Norman) words.
* The Merging of Two Languages 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: 1100-1500 It was not until the14th century—300 years later—that English became dominant in Britain again. In 1399, King Henry IV became the first king of England since the Norman Conquest whose mother tongue was English. By the end of the 14th Century, the dialect of London had emerged as the standard dialect of what we now call Middle English.
* Middle English: 1100-1500 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.
* Early Modern English The Middle English period came to a close around 1500 AD with the rise of Modern English.
* Early Modern English (1500-1800) The Renaissance brought the revival of classical scholarship and brought many classical Latin and Greek words into the Language. These borrowings were deliberate and many bemoaned the adoption of these "inkhorn" terms. Many survive to this day.
* Shakespeare Shakespeare wrote in modern English. 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 idioms are his.
* Shakespeare Newcomers to Shakespeare are often shocked at the number of clichés contained in his plays, until they realize that he coined them and they became clichés 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."
* The Influence of the Printing Press 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 literacy more common. Publishing for the masses in English became profitable.
* Standardization 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. The first English dictionary was published in 1604 (Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall).
* “Standard English” Many find the term standard English to be inaccurate and misleading because it creates a false impression that there exists a single variety of English that all educated Americans speak and write. Edited written English
* Late Modern English (1800-Present) The principal distinction between early- and late-modern English is vocabulary. Pronunciation, grammar, and spelling are largely the same. New words are the result of two historical factors: the Industrial Revolution the British Empire.
* English Vocabulary There are 600,000 words in the English language. The average college student may have a vocabulary of 80,000. Nearly 60% of all he or she says is said with just 100 different words.
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