HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
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The English language reflects the history of the English people.

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Celtic Influence

Until the withdrawal of the Roman legions from the British Isles about the middle of the 5th century, England was the home of the Celts who shared their culture and language with the Gauls of what is modern France.

Both Britain and Gaul were invaded by the Romans but, whereas the Gauls embraced the Latin tongue of the invaders, it had little influence in Britain.

One of the Celtic dialects has survived in the Welsh language


see also;   Iron-Age Britain

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Saxon Invasion

THE SAXON INVASION
The century follwing the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the mid 5th century was followed by wave after wave of invaders, the Saxons, Jutes and Angles from Germany. The invaders pushed the native Celts into the lowlands of Scotland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Wales and Cornwall.

Their language predominated as their territory extended and long before the Norman invasion dominated England from the Firth of Forth to the English Channel.

Geographical isolation caused the Saxon language, known as Old English to break up into a number of localised dialects but it is the foundation of our modern English.

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Introduction of Christianity

The introduction of Christianity into Saxon England brought many Latin words of an ecclesiastical nature into the English language. They were mostly concerned with the naming of Church dignitaries, ceremonies, etc. Some, such as baptism, bishop, church, clergy, eucharist, monk and presbyter came indirectly through Latin from the Greek.

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Norse Settlers

Saxon England was raided by the Danes who settled in the north-west. They left many words in the English language and left their mark particularly in the place names of their domain such as; Grimsby and Whitby (-by meaning town); Furness and Skegness (-ness meaning headland); Troutbeck and Welbeck (-beck meaning brook); Orkney (-ey meaning island); Aira Force and Scale Force (force meaning waterfall); Thorpe and Grimsthorpe (-throp meaning village); Dingwall and Thingwall (thing or ding meaning meeting place); Langwith (-with meaning wood); and, Lowestoft (-toft meaning a small field).

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Norman Conquest

When the Normans conquered England in 1066 and the years which followed, they also introduced their native Norman French and, for the third time, Latin. This was the most important introduction of Latin into the English Language.

Following the conquest, the Norman ruling classes spoke Norman French and official business, particularly documents, was conducted in Latin. The subjugated Saxon population clung to its Old English.

In time, as the two races intermingled, so did their Old English and Norman French languages giving us the basis of Modern English. Despite the fusion, the basis of the language, including our most common words and grammar stayed true to the Old English of the Saxons and French was spoken by the upper classes for a considerable period after the English language emerged.

Those words which deal with the law, warfare, government, chivalry and the chase were introduced into the language by the Normans. An example is the "Oh Yes, oh yes" of the town crier which derives from the Norman-French oyez - the imperative of oyer, to hear.


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Renaissance

The Renaissance of the 16th century brought the study of the Classics and classical languages. This caused the last introduction of Latin into the English language as it led to a fad for introducing words straight from the Latin and even Greek.

Many of the words introduced fell out of use and there was a reaction favouring a return to purer English in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Periods of English

The language of the early periods is very different from that of modern English and requires study in much the way that a foreign language does.

-1066Old or Early English
c.1100Middle
-c.1250Early Middle English
-c.1350Middle English
-c.1450Late Middle English
c.1450-Modern English

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Old or Early English

The period known as Old English starts before the time of the Norman Conquest towards the end of the 11th century.

The were four main dialects of Old English; Mercian and Northumbrian (the two together sometimes referred to as Anglian), prevelant in the north; Kentish and West Saxon in the south.

The south-eastern Midland version of the Anglian dialect, which included the dialect of London, became the precursor of modern standard English.

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Middle English

Early Middle English
The most notable feature of Early Middle English (c.
1100-c.1250) is the influence of Norman French on vocabulary and spelling.

During this period many of the infelxional endings became confused, frequently vanishing.

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Middle English

The weakening Norman french influence of this period (c.1250-c.1350) became more pronounced and the language became more analytic.

The Provisions of Oxford made during the reign of Henry III in 1258 was the first public document since the Norman conquest to be issued in English.  

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Late Middle English

The London dialect came to predominate in this period (c.1350-c.1450) which is typified by the works of Geoffrey Chaucher that can be readily understood by any English-speaking person of reasonable education.

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Modern English

From c.1450 until the present day, many changes in sound took place although these were not reflected in spelling, this is largely due to the adherence of early printers to the spelling conventional in the 14th century.

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Time-Line

This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
which you can view by clicking here or on the dates in the left-hand column.

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1362Under Edward III, English replaces French as England's national language, for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066
BAAAGBXC
1399.Oct.13Coronation of Henry IV at Westminster Abbey
The ceremony notable as first time since the Norman conquest (1066) that the English monarch made an address in English.
BAAAGEEV BAAAGEFJ BAAAGEFR
1535First printed Bible in English is dedicated to Henry VIII but printed abroad
BAAAGBXA BAAAGCBT

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