Language Matters April 2009: English Language Development

Dear Language Friend,

Looking back at the history of English Language, it becomes evident that English has originated as a result of a long term battle and numerous invasions that happened on a little territory known today as the United Kingdom. Surrounded by water, this little island of approximately only 245 thousand square kilometres, has played a major role in the development of the world. Driving our attention on the road towards the historical contexts of the English language, it is important to make stops at the fascinating attractions such as literary examples and emergence of the new words to fully appreciate the evolution of such a wonderful tongue.

Contributed by Kristina Bobrova. Thanks for reading.

Meet Our Guide

If the English Language was a person, he would probably be a strong old knight who has traveled to places all over the world and met Kings and Queens, presidents and vice-presidents, people of all cultures and ages. This adventurous traveler has met and had a coffee with Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson. He is an amazing storyteller and is always happy to take you on a journey back in time to tell you the story of his adventurous life that started in the world full of daring discoverers and life-risking invaders. But the reader has nothing to worry about, the experienced English Language is an excellent guide who can take you through all the hidden paths and fascinating monuments completely unharmed.

Welcome to the Old English Valley

First we will take a bumpy road full of unexpected rocks and trenches. Readers beware! You are now entering a dangerous and spine-tingling zone of the Old English language – please be careful while using jokes about Vikings. The Old English valley is occupied by four language tribes: the first one is the oldest and mysterious Celtic tribe, the second one is the smart and inventive Latin tribe, the third is the dangerous Norse tribe and the fourth is the largest and powerful Germanic tribe. The English Language originated in 500 BC in the Celtic language tribe, a tribe that has watched the English Language take his first steps. However, together with English Language, a Roman Emperor Claudius was also born. He decided to persuade Britain in a brutal battle to join the Roman Empire. Thus, since the early childhood, the English Language became aware of the smart Latin tribe whose merchants and soldiers have taught the English Language words like win (wine) and candel (candle), and whose imposed religious influence has brought into English words like mass and monk.

Meet the Germans

The encounter with the new tribe was only the beginning. Later, in 449 AD, the little English Language came into contact with the powerful Germanic language tribe, also known as the Anglo-Saxon language tribe, because it was composed of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The Germanic tribe was very persistent on getting to know the young English Language and through long conversations about the heroic journeys and wild battles, the English Language has acquired new words such as house and night.

Meet the Vikings

The journey through the valley of the Old English concluded with the introduction of the most dangerous tribe of all—the Norse tribe. Norse tribe has brought Vikings to the shores of Anglia and has given the English Language new words like awkward and anger.

What To Do With All These Languages?

The reader probably thinks that it would be impossible to combine so many different languages and dialects into a meaningful conversation! However, the valley of Old English did better than a simple conversation, it managed to come up with one of the greatest literary works in English Language—Beowulf. Similar to the invading tribes, Beowulf is all about the courageous battles with the mysterious monsters and the kings fighting for rich territories.

There Is More To Come…

Our English Language companion insists on continuing the journey through time. In the next newsletter we will follow our fearless English Language into the depths of the Middle English town and Modern English city. By tracing the transformation of our beloved English Language, we will become familiar with the origins of more English words while referring to the historical events such as  Renaissance period, Industrial Revolution and the Emergence of the Printing Press. Please continue your journey with us and our English Language companion next month.