1 February 2023, Wednesday





The History of English

The main phases of the language

The history of the English language is a complex tapestry of gradual developments and short, sharp shocks, of isolation and mutual influences, of borrowings and obsolescences.

The main phases can be conveniently (if a little simplistically) divided into:

  • Before English (Prehistory - c. 500 AD) (including Indo-European, Spread of Indo-European Languages, Germanic, The Celts, The Romans)
  • Old English (c. 500 - c. 1100) (including Invasions of Germanic Tribes, The Coming of Christianity and Literacy, The Anglo-Saxon or Old English Language, The Vikings, Old English after the Vikings)
  • Middle English (c. 1100 - c. 1500) (including Norman Conquest, French (Anglo-Norman) Influence, Middle English After the Normans, Resurgence of English, Chaucer and the Birth of English Literature)
  • Early Modern English (c. 1500 - c. 1800) (including Great Vowel Shift, The English Renaissance, Printing Press, The Bible, Dictionaries and Grammars, Golden Age of English Literature, William Shakespeare, International Trade)
  • Late Modern English (c. 1800 - Present) (including The Industrial and Scientific Revolution, Colonialism and the British Empire, The New World, American Dialect, Black English, Britain’s Other Colonies, Language Reform, Later Developments, 20th Century)
  • English Today (including Who Speaks English?, English as a Lingua Franca, Reverse Loanwords, Modern English Vocabulary, Modern English Spelling)

The figure below shows the timeline of the history of the English language.

The earliest known residents of the British Isles were the Celts, who spoke Celtic languages - a separate branch of the Indo-European language family tree. Over the centuries the British Isles were invaded and conquered by various peoples, who brought their languages and customs with them as they settled in their new lives. There is now very little Celtic influence left in English. The earliest time when we can say that English was spoken was in the 5th century CE (Common Era - a politically correct term used to replace AD).




2012-02-03 (Read 8683 times. )