British American Group

Language

Posted on: November 19, 2006

English is a West Germanic language, part of the Indo-European family of languages. The history of the present-day English language starts with the three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. They were the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, and they crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany to settle in Britain.

At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. Many of the Anglo-Saxons found it difficult to pronounce the Celtic tounge, and instead replaced many of the words and place names with their own. The Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It is believed that the Celtic language spoken by these three countries is the original British language.

The Angles (from which Anglo-Saxon is derived) came from England and their language was called Englisch, from which ‘England’ and ‘English’ were born.

Middle English, which lasted from 1100-1500, was actually a Norman language (a type of French) used in Britain for a time.

William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. He was crowned King on Christmas Day of 1066 and the language of the Royal Court became French. It was the preferred speech of the ruling and business classes.

In the 14th century, English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added to the mix. This language is what is known as “Middle English”. It was the language of the great poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), but it would be difficult to understand today.

With the end of Middle English came Early Modern English. A sudden change in pronunciation happened, called “the Great Vowel Shift“, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, coupled with the Renaissance of Classical learning, resulted in many new words and phrases entering the language.

Early Modern English gave way to Late Modern English, which had many more words. This was due to two principal factors: first, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; second, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth’s surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries.

The English colonization of North America resulted in the creation of a distinct “American” way of speaking. Some English pronunciations and words “froze” when they reached America. In some ways, American English is more like the English of Shakespeare than modern British English! Some expressions that the British call “Americanisms” are actually original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies, while lost for a time in Britain.

English is the most widely learned and used foreign language in Europe (%32.6), followed by French and German.

Many Thanks to The English Club! See their website about the English language, too!

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