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History
 of the English Language


Foreword

To Understand English, it is helpful to understand its history.  To understand its history is to know that English is a mixed language, full variety and rich in culture.  English, originally, was NOT a written language.  Not until the Roman Empire brought written language to the British Isles, did any writing take place.  That's why not much is know about what occurred on the Isles before the Romans conquered them.  Unfortunately, the Roman alphabet was (and is) insufficient for the English language.  English has 13-15 vowel sounds and the Roman alphabet has only five vowels.  What a pity!

Anyways, I hope this is helpful to somebody.



5,000 BC:
Archeology shows that people have been living on the Isle since at least this time. Who they were and what language they spoke is a complete mystery.  Linguists suggest that they were Germanic Celts that migrated from central Europe (as did the Swedes, the Norse, the Finns, the Danish, and the Dutch).

500 BC:
Celts lived on the Isle. Druids ruled. (nothing is known of their language; some evidence suggests that they had a written language called "Runes");  However, the use of runes (as a written language, readable by the early inhabitants of the British Isles, was not common and perhaps fell out of use completely in the British Isles.  However, in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, runes were used clear up to the 11th century A.D.

 

You really have to understand that most people of the British Isles couldn't read and write.  English was mostly a spoken language.  And it was quite different than the English we know today.

However, I think it is interesting to explore the runic alphabet and compare/contrast it with other existing alphabets of the times.

Modern English alphabet is the Roman (Latin) alphabet. Sounds like...
(in the word below)
Germanic or
"Futhark"
Runic alphabet
Greek alphabet Russian Cyrillic alphabet
A,a father A,a A,a
A,a cat ? ?
B,b babe B,b Б,б
C,c /K/ cat
kite
or K,k К,к
C,c /S/ city
center
or S,s С,с
D,d dark D,d Д,д
E,e egg E,e Е,е
Ei, ei eight ? ЕЙ, ей
F,f From F,f Ф,ф
G,g great G,g Г,г
H,h hi C,c Х,х
I,i ill I,i И,и
ie, ye yes ? Ё,ё
J,j jazz or J,j Ж,ж
L,l Leon L,l Л,л
M,m mom M,m М,м
N,n now N,n Н,н
Ng ring ? ?
O,o own O,o
W,w
О,о
P,p pop P,p П,п
R,r rob R,r Р,р
T,t Tom T,t Т,т
Th,th thing Θ,θ ?
V,v very ? ? В,в
W,w was ? В,в
Z,z zoo Z,z З,з

Evidence (see Wikipedia's article) suggests that runes were used by Anglo-Saxon England until the 10th century A.D.

However, as I wrote above, the lay people did not know how to read and write.  Probably only monks used the runes.

Here's a cool website about the history of Runes.

43 AD:
Romans took over rule of the Isle.  [The Romans introduced the Roman (Latin) alphabet]

a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, z  [no "k" or "y" originally].

And, still only the monks and the well-educated were able to read and write the new Roman (Latin) alphabet.

313 AD:

Emperor Constantine issues the "Milan Edict" saying that Christianity was allowed to be freely practiced in all Roman territories.

By the time the Romans left in 410 A.D., there were a lot of Christians in the British Isles.

I mention this, because religion has had a HUGE effect upon the language.  Most English names are now from the Christian Bible.

410 AD:

British Independence from Rome, and the start of 500 years of civil wars

435 AD: 

Irish invade

446 AD: 

Saxon mercenaries hired to defeat the Irish, given land.

496 AD: 

King Arthur defeats the Saxons (because the Saxons were getting unruly).

838 AD: 

Vikings (Norsemen) invade the Isle. And, their presence lasts for many years.

988 AD: 

Danes (from Denmark) invade England

994 AD: 

Danes and Norwegians invade the Isle.

1015 AD: 

King Canute the Great of Denmark & Norway invade England and Saxon Wessex.

1017 AD: 

King Canute the Great becomes the King of all England, Wessex, Denmark and Norway.

1068 AD: 

The Norman conquest of England begins. (Normandy = pre-France)

and so on....

Finally England defeats France and becomes it's own kingdom.

1604-1611 AD:

King James had the Bible translated into common English (of the times).
This was HUGE, because before that the Bible was only translated into Latin, because Latin was deemed as some kind of holy language.

Thus, the Bible became more accessible to the common people, who beforehand had to rely upon the interpretations of their local priests.

 

 




So, what you get is a language that is a mixture of the following:

1. The original language of the Germanic Celts
2. The Roman language (Latin)
3. The Irish language (Gaelic)
4. The Saxon language (?)
5. The Norse language (Norwegian)
6. The Danish language (Danish)
7. The Norman language (French)


Also, English also contains many many Greek words (probably due to the Roman influence).

And of course, There are a few Arabic words and quite a few Dutch words.

As time progressed, English adopted words from languages all around the world.

Therefore, you might be interested in my English-Words-From-Other-Languages Page.

 

English, or what I would call "Pure English" is very similar to Dutch, which is very similar to German, in fact it is thought that the first people on the isle of Great Britain, came from Germanic tribes that migrated north along the Danube River.  But the English we speak today is so full of influence of other languages that it makes a good lingua franka (for Europe, anyways; not for the other parts of the world).


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