Origins of English Language
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Origins of English Language

Written by TUBA ?NCE

We speak English but do we know where it comes from? I didn?t know until I started to study on this subject and I learned where it comes from and how it has developed.

The history of English begins a little after A.D. 600. The ancestors of the language were wandering in the forests of northern Europe. Their language was a part of Germanic branch of Indo-European Family.

The people talking this language spread to the northern coast of Europe in the time of Roman Empire. Among this people the tribes called Angels,Saxons,Jutes which is called Anglo-Saxons come to England. The first Latin effect was in that period. Latin effected the language with the merchants traveling the tribes. Some of the words taken from Latin are; kettle,wine,cheese, butter, cheap.

Also in the 14th century Rome Empire weakened because Goths attacked to Mediterranean countries of Roman Empire and Anglo-Saxons attacked to empire. On the other hand the Celtic tribes in Scotland and Wales developed. At the end in 410 the last roman emperor left the island to Celtic and Anglo-Saxons. Celtic and Anglo-Saxons fought for 100 years and Anglo-Saxons killed all the Celtics. In 550 Anglo ?Saxons established England. During Roma Empire Latin wasn?t the native language of the kingdom because people in the country were talking Celtic.

When Anglo-Saxons became Christian in 597 they learned Latin. According to the effects to English , the history of the language divided in to three; Old English(7th century-1100), Middle English(1100-1450/1500), Modern English (1500-now). In some books Modern English is divided in to two Early modern (1500-1700) ,Late Modern (1700-now).


When England was established there were several kingdoms and the most advanced one was Nurthumbria. It was this period that the best of the Old English literature was written , including the epic poem Beowulf.

In the 8th century Nurthumbrian power declined , West Saxons became the leading power. The most famous king of the West Saxons was Alfred the Great. He founded and established schools, translated or caused to be translated many books from Latin in to English.

After many years of hit-and-run raids between the European kingdoms, the Norseman landed in the year of 866 and later the east coast of the island was Norseman?s. Norse language effected the English considerably. Norse wasn?t so different from English and English people could understand Norseman. There were considerable interchanges and word borrowings (sky,give,law,egg,outlaw,leg,ugly,talk). Also borrowed pronouns like they,their,them. It is supposed also that the Norseman influenced the sound structure and the grammar of English.

Old English had some sound which we don?t know have now. In grammar , Old English was much more highly inflected that Middle English because there were case endings for nouns, more person and number endings of words and a more complicated pronoun systems, various endings for adjectives. In vocabulary Old English is quiet different from Middle English. Most of the Old English words are native English which weren?t borrowed from other languages. On the other hand Old English contains borrowed words coming from Norse and Latin.


Between 1100-1200 many important changes took place in the structure of English and Old English became Middle English. The political event which effected the administration system and language was the Norman Conquest. In 1066 they crossed the Channel and they became the master of England. For the next several next years ,England was ruled by the kings whose native language was French. On the other hand French couldn?t become the national language because it became the language of the court , nobility, polite society, literature. But it didn?t replace as the language of the people. English continued to be the national language but it changed too much after the conquest.

The sound system&grammar wasn?t so effected but vocabulary was effected much. There were word related with goverment:parliment,tax, goverment,majesty; church word: religion, parson, sermon; words for food: veal, beef, mutton, peach,lemon,cream,biscuit; colors: blue, scarlet, vermilion; household words: curtain, chair,lamp,towel,blanket; play words: dance,chess,music,leisure,conversation; literary words: story romance, poet, literary; learned words: study, logic grammar,noun,surgeon, anatomy, stomach; ordinary words for all sorts: nice,second,very,age,bucket, final,gentel, fault, flower,count,sure, move, surprise, plain. (Clark, V.P.& Eschholz, P.A. &Rose ,A.F.; 1994;622 )

Middle English was still a Germanic language but it is different from Old English in many ways. Grammar and the sound system changed a good deal. People started to rely more on word order and structure words to express their meaning rather than the use of case system. ?This can be called as a simplification but it is not exactly. Languages don?t become simpler , they merely exchange one kind of complexity for another?( (Clark, V.P.& Eschholz, P.A. &Rose ,A.F.; 1994;622 )

For us Middle English is simpler that Old English because it is closer to Modern English.


Between 1400-1600 English underwent a couple of sound changes. One change was the elimination of a vowel sound in certain unstressed positions at the end of the words. The change was important because it effected thousands of words and gave a different aspect to the whole language.

The other change is what is called the Great Vowel Shift. This was a systematic shifting of half a dozen vowels and diphthongs in stressed syllables. For example the word name had in Middle English a vowel something like that in the modern word father;...etc. The shift effected all the words in which these vowels sounds occurred. These two changes produced the basic differences between Middle English and Modern English. But there are several other developments that effected the language. One was the invention of printing. It was introduced to England by William Caxton in 1475. After this books became cheaper and cheaper, more people learned to read and write and advanced in communication.

The period of Early Modern English was also a period of English Renaissance, which means the development of the people. New ideas increased. English language had grown as a result of borrowing words from French ,Latin, Greek.

The greatest writer of the Early Modern English period is Shakespeare and the est known book is the King Jones version of the BIBLE.


In order to establish the language they develop a dictionary. The first English Dictionary was published in 1603. Another product of the 18th century was the invention of English Grammar. As English is replaced with Latin as the language of scholarship, it was felt to control the language.

The period where English developed most in the Modern English. In that period the people speaking that language increased too much. Now, English is the greatest language of the world spoken natively and as a second language. What will happen in the future? It?ll continue to grow , may be it will be the universal language.

Adapted from "A Brief History of English" by Paul Roberts


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