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History of the English Language



Brief History of the English Language:

Germanic Family of Languages
Old English (450-1066)
Middle English (1066-1525)
Modern English (1525-Present)
Old English
Very much like modern Frisian. Another name for Anglo Saxon
Between the 6th and 7th century Anglo Saxon words absorbed Latin words in
The alphabet for Anglo Saxons was called runes, but was later replaced by the
Latin alphabet
Main work Beowulf
Oral Tradition- written in Anglo Saxon
National poem of England
Mixture of Latin and German/Scandinavian (6th century)
9th century Anglo Saxon had become standard English


Middle English
The Norman Conquest (French)
William the Conqueror invades England
Many French words enter the Anglo-Saxon language
French becomes language of government, commerce and educated
But English survives due to peasants continued use of the language
The Great Plague in the mid-15th century caused social upheaval that eventually
helped restore English as the language of England



English in the Middle Ages

Mixture of Latin, French, and Anglo Saxon
For over 300 years French was the official language of England
French was only spoken by peasants
In the 14th century:
English became the language of the upper class
The new standard was a London dialect since London was now the
capital city
During the 300 years Kings of England spoke French, the English
language had changed
The French spoken by nobles became more like English
Geoffrey Chaucer
He is the main literary figure of the era



Referred to as The Father of the English Language

Wrote Canterbury Tales in English
The Great vowel shift (1450-1700)
In the 1400s a mysterious shift in pronunciation took place in England. No
one knows how or why it started, but soon vowels that were short were long
and the e was silent

Modern English
Great figure of modern English is William Shakespeare; he coined
2,000 words and invents phrases---NOT OLD ENGLISH!!!
Shakespeare spoke with a late 16th Century Warwickshire accent
Renaissance English
Britain becomes a great colonial power
12,000 new words enter the English language
English becomes a global language and begins to develop in
each colony
English is spoken with different pronunciations and accents
throughout England


Latin was a strong influence on English vocabulary during the
16th and 17th centuries

More than half of our Modern English vocabulary can be derived

from Latin

Latin words are often quite lengthy and sound scholarly

British English in the 18th century
Grammar and spelling were standardized by the 19th century
Received Pronunciation(RP) becomes the language of the
educated and the aristocracy
Estuary Englisha dialect of the Southeast of England, becomes
widespread in the UK
British English 18th century present
British English is highly influenced by American English
Technology, popular music, and Hollywood also influence the
Most English today is non-formal and colloquial, reflecting a
change in attitude
American English
1607: first settlement of Jamestown, VA
English colonist respected the English language
Late 18th century and early 19th century Noah Webster
standardizes spelling and Americanizes pronunciations
Main 19th century American figure Mark Twain

As immigrants move to the U.S. different accents and dialects

develop around the nation
During the 20th century it was influenced by southern African
Americans and Central and Eastern European immigrants
Today one fifth of the English words we use derive from AngloSaxon English
Ex. Man, woman, child
Ex. Latin=religious words