FROM STREAM TO MIGHTY RIVER – THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH
The English language has many roots, and over the centuries, a number
of other languages and cultures have had a great influence on English,
so that today, English is a very diverse language.
Its roots date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, when today’s
Great Britain was populated by the Jutes, the Saxons and the Angles.
These peoples knew about 20,000 words, which partly derived from Latin
and the Celtic languages, and which were highly inflected, meaning that
English word endings were very complicated.
With the growing popularity of Christianity all over Europe, Latin
became ever more important and continued to influence the languages
on the British Isles. In the period from the 8th to the 11th centuries,
the Danish and Viking sailors who came to the area also left their tracks
and influenced the English language. Finally, the words’ endings
began to weaken a bit, making English at least a little easier.
At the same time, however, English got divided into two languages;
in the time between 1066 and 1399, you had to distinguish between the
language of the masses (Old English, Middle English) and the language
of the ruling classes (Norman French). In other words, the “normal”
people continued to talk in English, while the Kings and Lords and Noblemen
preferred to talk in French to show the masses that they were “more
But even after this time, when the ruling class talked in English again,
Latin and French words still influenced the English language.
In comparison to Old English, Middle English became simpler because
most word endings were finally lost. However, the word order became
When printing was invented in 1476, spelling was finally fixed. But
the pronunciation of the words still went on changing.
In the 16th century, the eras of Renaissance and Reformation brought
a new flood of Latin and also Greek words into the English language.
This marks the beginning of modern English. Other influences in this
period came from the traders and explorers, who – of course –
brought not only goods but also Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Native
American and Indian words to England.
The 20th century was a time when many new technical inventions were
made. Therefore, also new English words were invented. Most of them
derived from Latin or Greek.
Today, English has about 600,000 words. The vocabulary is a mixture
of Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin and Greek, with very many words taken
over from languages all over the world.
The structure of the English language is Anglo-Saxon.
Furthermore, there are some major differences between American and British
English continues to be a living language, which changes and grows
constantly. New words are brought in, the spelling sometimes changes,
and often, there are several ways to pronounce the same word.