The English language reflects the history of the English people.
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
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.
|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
indirectly through Latin from the Greek.
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;
(-by meaning town);
(-ness meaning headland);
(-beck meaning brook);
(-ey meaning island);
Aira Force and
(force meaning waterfall);
(-throp meaning village);
ding meaning meeting place);
(-with meaning wood); and,
(-toft meaning a small field).
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
the imperative of oyer,
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.
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.
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;
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
which included the dialect of London, became the precursor of modern standard
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.
The weakening Norman french influence of this period (c.1250-c.1350) became more pronounced and the language became more analytic.
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.
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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