Moments that Defined the English Language
Today, English is the third most spoken language in the world (behind Spanish and Mandarin). But, when you factor in both native and non-native speakers, it shoots to top spot. The global influence of English is undeniable — from music and movies to the Internet (where it’s the main language). However, it wasn’t always this way. Here’s a look at some of the moments that helped create English, as we know it today.
The Very Beginning
English roots, reports ThoughtCo, come from a family that includes most of the languages of Europe plus those of Iran, the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia. But because not much is known about ancient Indo-Europe, they think it begin in Britain in the first century A.D., when the Romans invaded. After they held the island for 400 years, the first Germanic tribes arrived when the Goths sacked Rome. This set off an influx of settlers including Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisians, who spoke West Germanic dialects.
The Era of Old English
Over time, West Germanic dialects merged into what we refer to as "Old English." When, during the seventh century, St. Augustine and Irish missionaries converted Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, new religious words borrowed from Latin and Greek came into play. Then, in 700, the earliest manuscript records of Old English appeared. Conquests and settlers such as the Scandinavians and the Danes (in parts of Ireland in the late eighth century and again when they raided England in the mid-ninth century) shaped much of the language. Alfred the Great, for example, after leading the Anglo-Saxons to victory over the Vikings in the late ninth century, established the writing of prose in English and used the language to foster a national identity. This type of development through invasions, vocabulary expansion, borrowed words (think sister, wish, skin, die) from Old Norse (Scandinavian) and poems (remember the epic Beowulf?) continued to 1066. Then, William of Normandy became king and Norman French took over as the language of the courts and upper classes. English, while it remained the majority language of the masses, ceased to be written.
In the Middle
During this period, from 1150 to 1500, English vocabulary expanded and the Old English system broke down. In the late 13th century, under Edward I, English became the dominant language of all classes and then, in the mid to late 14th century, it became the law courts’ official language. Around the same time, English also replaced Latin as the medium of instruction at most schools. It finally became England’s official language of in 1362, and in 1399, at his coronation, King Henry IV was the first English monarch to deliver a speech in English. With literacy rates increasing in the late 15th century and printing presses becoming common, printers began to standardize English spelling. It was during this time, says ThoughtCo, that the monk Galfridus Grammaticus (also known as Geoffrey the Grammarian) published Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae, the first English-to-Latin wordbook.
A Modern Take
It may sound odd to call the 1500s "modern" but that’s when English as we know it started to take shape. During this time, Britain’s exploration and overseas trade sped up the acquisition of loanwords from many other languages. That, in turn, caused the publication of a slew English language books such as The Art of Rhetorique in 1553, the first English grammar book in 1586 and the first English dictionary in 1604. By 1662, a committee was appointed to consider ways to "improve" English as a language of science. The grammarians continued to have their rise throughout the 1700s and by 1783 there was even an American Spelling Book (think "color" instead of "colour"). The language continued to be tweaked into the 1800s, with more dictionaries, thesauruses, novels and other print materials being published. By 1950, the number of speakers using English as a second language exceeded the number of native speakers.
How will the English language continue to change in the world of "LOL" and "IDK?" That remains to be seen. But, at Centennial College, international students in the English Language Learning program improve their English language skills with the latest techniques to succeed in college, university or career.
By Izabela Szydlo