HISTORY OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The History Of English Language traces its way back to a West Germanic language which originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the northern Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. The original Old English language was then influenced by two further waves of invasion: the first by speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic language family, who conquered and colonized parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries; the second by the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke Old Norman and ultimately developed an English variety of this called Anglo-Norman. These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to some degree. Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance languages (Latin based languages). This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility, resulting in an enormous and varied vocabulary.

The languages of Germanic tribes gave rise to the English language (the Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes and perhaps even the Franks), who traded and fought with the Latin-speaking Roman Empire in the centuries-long process of the Germanic peoples' expansion into Western Europe. Many Latin words for common objects entered the vocabulary of these Germanic peoples before any of their tribes reached Britain; examples include camp, cheese, cook, fork, inch, kettle, kitchen, linen, mile, mill, mint (coin), noon, pillow, pin, pound, punt (boat), street and wall. The Romans also gave the English language words which they had themselves borrowed from other languages: anchor, butter, chest, devil, dish, sack and wine. Our main source for the culture of the Germanic peoples (the ancestors of the English) in ancient times is Tacitus' Germania. While remaining quite conversant with Roman civilisation and its economy, including serving in the Roman military, they retained political independence. Some Germanic troops served in Britannia under the Romans. We can be certain that Germanic settlement in Britain was not intensified until arrival of mercenaries in the 5th century as described by Gildas, since had the English arrived en-masse under Roman rule, they would have been thoroughly Christianised as a matter of course. As it was, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived as pagans, independent of Roman control. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern (or Gwrtheyrn from the Welsh tradition), King of the Britons, invited the "Angle kin" (Angles allegedly led by Hengest and Horsa) to help him in conflicts with the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the southeast of England. Further aid was sought, and in response "came men of Ald Seaxum of Anglum of Iotum" (Saxons, Angles and Jutes). The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms, known as the heptarchy. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated, and the identification of the tribes with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes is no longer accepted as an accurate description, especially since the Anglo-Saxon language is more similar to the Frisian languages than any of the others.

The invaders' Germanic language displaced the indigenous Brythonic languages of what became England.[citation needed] The original Celtic languages remained in parts of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. The dialects spoken by the Anglo-Saxons formed what is now called Old English. Later, it was strongly influenced by the North Germanic language Norse, spoken by the Vikings who invaded and settled mainly in the north-east of England (see Jrvk and Danelaw). The new and the earlier settlers spoke languages from different branches of the Germanic family; many of their lexical roots were the same or similar, although their grammars were more distinct, including the prefix, suffix and inflection patterns for many words. The Germanic language of these Old English-speaking inhabitants was influenced by contact with Norse invaders, which might have been responsible for some of the morphological simplification of Old English, including the loss of grammatical gender and explicitly marked case (with the notable exception of the pronouns). The most famous surviving work from the Old English period is a fragment of the epic poem "Beowulf" composed by an unknown poet; it is thought to have been substantially modified, probably by Christian clerics long after its composition.

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The period when England was ruled by Anglo-Saxon kings, with the assistance of their clergy, was an era in which the Old English language was not only alive, but thriving. Since it was used for legal, political, religious and other intellectual purposes, Old English is thought to have coined new words from native Anglo-Saxon roots, rather than to have "borrowed" foreign words. The introduction of Christianity added another wave of Latin and some Greek words. The Old English period formally ended with the Norman conquest, when the language was influenced to an even greater extent by the Norman-speaking Normans. The use of Anglo-Saxon to describe a merging of Anglian and Saxon languages and cultures is a relatively modern development. The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English. Nevertheless, about half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots. The words be, strong and water, for example, derive from Old English. Old English was spoken until around 1100.

For about 300 years following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Norman kings and their high nobility spoke only one of the langues d'ol called Anglo-Norman, whilst English continued to be the language of the common people. Various contemporary sources suggest that within fifty years of the invasion, most of the Normans outside the royal court spoke English[citation needed], with Norman remaining the prestige language of government and law, largely out of social inertia. A tendency for Norman-derived words to have more formal connotations has continued to the present day; most modern English speakers would consider a "cordial reception" (from French) to be more formal than a "hearty welcome" (Germanic). Another example is the very unusual construction of the words for animals being separate from the words for their food products e.g. beef and pork (from the Norman buf and porc) being the products of the Germanically named animals 'cow' and 'pig'. While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued until 1154, most other literature from this period was in Old Norman or Latin. A large number of Norman words were taken into Old English, with many doubling for Old English words. The Norman influence is the hallmark of the linguistic shifts in English over the period of time following the invasion, producing what is now referred to as Middle English. English was also influenced by the Celtic languages it was displacing, most notably with the introduction of the continuous aspect, a feature found in many modern languages, but developed earlier and more thoroughly in English. English literature started to reappear around 1200, when a changing political climate and the decline in Anglo-Norman made it more respectable. The Provisions of Oxford, released in 1258, were the first English government document to be published in the English language since the Conquest. Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English when he did so in 1362. By the end of that century, even the royal court had switched to English. Anglo-Norman remained in use in limited circles somewhat longer, but it had ceased to be a living language.

Modern English is often dated from the Great Vowel Shift, which took place mainly during the 15th century. English was further transformed by the spread of a standardised London-based dialect in government and administration and by the standardising effect of printing. By the time of William Shakespeare (mid-late 16th century), the language had become clearly recognizable as Modern English. English has continuously adopted foreign words, especially from Latin and Greek, since the Renaissance. (In the 17th century, Latin words were often used with the original inflections, but these eventually disappeared). As there are many words from different languages and English spelling is variable, the risk of mispronunciation is high, but remnants of the older forms remain in a few regional dialects, most notably in the West Country. Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation (the Great Vowel Shift) started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases entered the language. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London became the standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.

In 1755, Samuel Johnson published the first significant English dictionary, his Dictionary of the English Language. The main difference between Early Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the Earth's surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries.

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