INTERNET EXERCISE 1.2
A (Brief) History of English
Language authorities believe that human language probably arose 100,000 to 200,000
years ago, as the original human population spread across the globe from Eastern Africa.
Based on this belief is the conclusion that all modern languages are descended from an
original language, which is called the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language.
The PIE language was first conjectured by Sir William Jones, in 1786, after he noticed
similarities between Sanskrit spoken in India and the classical Greek and Latin
languages. He suggested the three might have a common root, one that was shared by
Gothic, the Celtic languages and Persian.
Indo-European Language and People
Speakers of PIE are thought to have lived in Southwest Russia around 4,000 to 5,000
B.C. Based on similarities in modern Indo-European words for animals such as wolf or
bear, it is believed that PIE included these words in its lexicon. They also made use of a
decimal system, counting by 10's, and formed words by compounding.
In the language tree in Table 1.1 on page 10 of the text, depicting the ancestry of English
and several other “western” languages, you see that English is positioned as a descendant
of a Low West Germanic language. Like the Proto-Indo-European mother tongue, this
Germanic language is, for the most part, a theorized language for which we have no
concrete physical evidence; its existence has been extrapolated by examining language
information that does exist. This evidence suggests that English, modern German, Dutch,
Afrikaans, Yiddish and the Scandinavian languages are all descended from the same
Either by conquest or in the search for better farming land, the I-E people spread to many
areas over time.
Old English (449 - 1066 A.D.)
The Celts had been living in what today is known as England when the Romans invaded
and in 43 A.D. and conquered the country. The Romans left in 410 A.D. as the Roman
Empire was collapsing, leaving the Celts defenseless.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the “birth” of a specific language, English as we know
it arrived on the northern coasts of England in the form of invaders by sea from Denmark
and from what today is Germany and the Netherlands. These invaders were the Angles,
Saxons, Jutes. and Frisians, and they pushed the Celts from their homes. These were the
descendants of the Germanic I-E speakers.
These Germanic tribes set up seven kingdoms: Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Wessex,
Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia. Four dialects were spoken in these kingdoms: West
Saxon, Kentish, Mercian, and Northumbrian.
The Celts, driven from their homes, moved north to Scotland, west to Ireland and south to
France, leaving the main area of Britain. There are few obvious traces of the Celtic
language in English today, beyond a few loan words.
On the shores of a new land, isolated from their mother tongues, the language spoken by
the immigrant Germanic tribes developed features independent from the Germanic
languages, and by 600 A.D., had become Anglo-Saxon, also called Old English.
Middle English (1066 - 1500 C.E.)
The period of Middle English begins with the Norman invasion of 1066 A.D. Normandy,
a region of France, had been settled by waves of Vikings from the north over the
preceding 200 years, and these Norseman, adopting many of the customs of their new
homelands, eventually came be called Northmen, or Normans, and their new settled lands
Normandy. Politics and war over the succeeding centuries would eventually lead to a
Norman conquest of England. An Anglo-Norman language took hold, displacing the
Anglo-Saxon language and filling the Old English language with borrowed words from
French and Latin.
By 1250 A.D., the French language began to lose its prestige. The upper class tried to
learn English, but they still used French words occasionally, which was considered
somewhat snobbish. The Black Death—the devastating plague that struck London—also
played a role in increasing English use with the emergence of the middle class. Several of
the workers cleaning up the dead were killed by the plague, which increased the status of
the peasants, who only spoke English. By 1362 A.D., English was the official spoken
language of the courts. By 1385 A.D., English was the language of instruction in schools.
1350 to 1400 A.D. is known as The Period of Great Individual Writers—including
Chaucer—who wrote in English; however, their works often included an apology for
writing in English.
Early Modern English (1500 - 1650/1700 C.E.)
The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440s, its introduction
in England by William Caxton in 1476, and the publication of the first English dictionary
in 1623 by Henry Cockeram were all factors that contributed to the standardization of the
spelling of English words. Thousands of words were added to English during this time, as
writers created new words by using Greek and Latin affixes. (Some words, such as
devulgate, attemptate and dispraise, are no longer used in English,)
Several other dictionaries followed, along with grammar books. Refining the language
became the focus of grammarians. Early authorities felt that language should be logical,
therefore, the double negative was considered incorrect (two negatives equal one
positive) and should not be used. They also didn't like shortened or redundant words,
words borrowed from languages other than Latin and Greek, split infinitives, or
prepositions at the end of the sentence.
A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles was proposed in 1858—a factual
account of every word in the English language since 1000 which would include
information about word forms, pronunciation, spelling variations, part of speech,
etymology, meanings in chronological order, and illustrative quotations. The project
began in 1860 under its first editor, Herbert Coleridge, and was nearly completed by
Coleridge’s successors, James Murray and Henry Bradley, both of whom died before the
work was first published in a complete volume in 1928, under the title The Oxford
English Dictionary (OED). The OED is arguably the best-respected source of information
on the English language today.
Immigrants from Southeastern England began arriving on the North American continent
in the early 1600's. By the mid-1800's, 3.5 million immigrants had left the British Isles
for the United States. The American English language is characterized by archaisms
(words that changed meaning in Britain, but remained in the colonies) and innovations in
vocabulary (borrowing from the French and Spanish who were also settling in North
Noah Webster was convinced of the need for an American national identity with regards
to the American English language. He wrote an American spelling book, The Blueback
Speller, in 1788 and changed several spellings from British English (colour became
color, theatre became theater). In 1828, he published the American Dictionary of the
Dialects in the United States resulted from different waves of immigration of English
speakers, contact with other languages, and the slave trade, which had a profound impact
on African American English.
English around the World
An estimated 341 million people speak English as their first language. Nearly 167 million
are estimated to speak English as their second language. Although the United Kingdom,
Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have English as an official language, the
United States does not have an official language. This is how it's possible to become a
U.S. citizen without speaking English. Canada also has French as an official language,
though it is mostly spoken in the province of Quebec. Because many of the English
speakers who originally inhabited Canada came from the U.S., there is little difference in
the American and Canadian dialects of English. Similarly, Australian and New Zealand
English have few differences, and most of those relates to the countries’ foundings.
Australia was originally settled as a penal colony and New Zealand was not. New
Zealanders were more attached to the Received Pronunciation of the upper class in
England, so their dialect is considered closer to British English.
British colonialism spread English all over the world, and it still holds prestige in South
Africa, India, and Singapore, among other nations. In South Africa, English became an
official language, along with Afrikaans and 9 African languages, in the 1996 constitution.
However, only 3 percent of the country's 30 million people are native English speakers.
Twenty percent are descendants of Dutch farmers who speak Afrikaans, and the rest are
India became independent from Britain in 1947, and the English language was supposed
to be phased out by 1965. However, today English and Hindi are the official languages.
Indian English is characterized by treating mass nouns as count nouns, frequent use of the
"isn't it?" tag, use of more compounds, and a different use of prepositions.
In Singapore, Chinese, Malay, and Indian languages have an impact on the form of
English spoken. Everyone is taught English in the school system, but there are a few
differences from British English as well. Mass nouns are treated as count nouns, "use to"
means usually, and no articles are used before occupations.
Creoles of English can be found on the coast of West Africa, China, and on islands of the
Pacific and Caribbean (especially the West Indies.) Originally, these creoles were pidgins
so that English-speaking traders could conduct business. Over time, they became the
native languages of the children and evolved into creoles.
1. Chronology of Events in the History of English:
2. Krystal: The origins and History of the English Language:
3. AskOxford: History of English: http://www.askoxford.com/worldofwords/history/
4. Merriam-Webster Online: What are the origins of the English language?:
5. Origins of English: http://www.ingilish.com/orofeng.htm
Instructions: Log onto the Internet to do some research, then answer the following
question: What are some factors that led to English being the most prominent second
language spoken around the world?
Now consider the way you speak. In what ways do you speak differently from your
friends and even family members? Make a list of as many differences as you can between
the way you speak and the way the announcer on your favorite national evening news
program speaks. (If you don’t have a favorite evening news program, choose CBS, NBC,
or ABC.) Focus on the grammar as well as the words that are used and they way they are
pronounced. How many differences can you list from just one broadcast?