The English Language
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The English language is a culmination of many influences that Britain (and later north America) has had over at least the last two thousand years. During the stages of its development the old was mixed with the new forming another new version of the language. Today with over 300 million people speaking it as their first language it is continuing to develop.


Britain was once a powerful sea nation ruling numerous countries throughout the world (the British Empire). Through this English spread around the globe.

The British Empire in 1921

Hence all various forms of modern English whether it be spoken and used in the North America  or Australasia or Africa or elsewhere as a mother tongue, have derived from the original English as spoken at the time these areas of the world were being explored and exploited by European settlers and has developed along different routes since. Therefore, today these variants have developed their own characteristics giving us a difference in spelling, meaning and usage.

To be able to appreciate this you have to go back in time and see what events helped to make this happen.

English is basically a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian and Lower Saxon dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers and Roman auxiliary troops from various parts of what is now northwest Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands in the 5th century. One of these Germanic tribes was the Angles, who may have come from Angeln, and Bede wrote that their whole nation came to Britain, leaving their former land empty. The names 'England' (from Engla land "Land of the Angles") and English (Old English Englisc) are derived from the name of this tribe.

The Anglo-Saxons began invading Britain around 449 AD from the regions of Denmark and Jutland. Especially the coastal regions were affected by numerous attacks and small invasions. These all left a large impression on the English language. Before the Anglo-Saxons started arriving in England the native population spoke Brythonic, a Celtic language which, in various flavours, have survived in Wales and Ireland and large parts of Scotland and even in some parts of England.

Dane invasion preparations

The Norman invasion of 1066 in the Battle of Hastings made possibly the most significant changes in dialect but the language retained its name. The Norman language was based on an old northern dialect of French. The English variety was called Anglo-Norman and became the language of the ruling classes. Over the centuries, this lost the specifically Norman element under the influence of Parisian French and, later, of English, eventually turning into a distinctive dialect of Anglo-French.

Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings

The pre-Norman invasion dialect is now known as Old English which, initially, was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Great Britain. One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate.

Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a lexical supplementation of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and a huge vocabulary.

One of the most prevalent forces in the evolution of the English language, though, was the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning with the Rule of St Benedict in 530 and continuing until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the Roman Catholic Church instructed monasteries and Catholic officials like Augustine of Canterbury to preserve intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria, and libraries.

Medieval ManuscriptDuring the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had a monopoly on intellectual property in British society, which they used to exert great influence on the English language. Catholic monks mainly wrote or copied text in Latin, which was the prevalent Medieval lingua franca of Europe. When monks occasionally wrote in the vernacular, it was common to substitute or derive English-like words from Latin to describe or refer to things in which there was no English word. Extensive vocabulary, a derivative of Latin vocabularium, in the English language largely comprises Latin word derivatives. It is believed that the intellectual elite in British society over the years perpetuated vocabulary that Catholic monks contributed to English; furthermore, they continued the custom of deriving new words from Latin long after the waning of Catholic Church.

Romeo and JulietAnother immense influence on the English language which appeared at the time of expansion into the "New World" around the reign of Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) was the popularity of such writers as William Shakespeare. He was not the only one but certainly became one of the most popular, even to this day.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries revelled in introducing a vast number of new words and phrases into the English language through their poems and plays, most of which has lasted over the centuries even up to today. An interesting fact is that a lot of change in the language never occurred in the USA because that influence came too late for them to be introduced by the original settlers.

Since the first Europeans and Asians settled in north American there has been a melting pot of native languages influencing the development of the main stream language. During the 20th century the USA experienced a radical change in its form of English. Due to many populists supported by newspaper campaigns American English was formalised.

During the last century the English language has evolved as the prodominant global business language also due to the great economic power of the USA. Because of the ever increasing popularity of radio and television as well as musical and film productions (also widely watched on video tapes/discs) accompanied by a flood of American English productions (see Hollywood) the various forms of English are tending to melt into one vast language. Especially in England where original film soundtracks are left untouched the American English influence is great. Here there is a general trend away from local dialects leading to a "mid-Atlantic dialect". Modern forms of telecommunications such as Internet, Email, Blog etc. and mobile phone text messages have increased the requirement for a common world language even further and it looks as though English will dominate the scene for a while to come.


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