Many philologists and linguists divide the history of the English language into three periods: Old English, Middle English, and New English. However, this division is rather arbitrary, because the language existed among the tribes inhabiting the British Isles, long before the conquest of Britain by Caesar or the spread of Christianity in the country.
Celtic culture at the origins of the history of the English language
The first mentions in ancient chronicles of the inhabitants of the British Isles date back to 800 BC. At this time, a tribe of the Indo-European people – the Celts – moved to the island. Those tribes that lived on the islands before the arrival of the Celtic people left no trace in history.
From 800 BC begins the era of the British Celts and, accordingly, the Celtic language in Britain. Many linguists are of the opinion that the word “Britain” comes from a word with a Celtic root – brith “painted”. In the annals, you can find a mention that the Celts really painted their faces and bodies when they were going to war or hunting. There are also mentions in the annals that the British Celts already had a developed culture at the time of the conquest of the British Isles by the great Caesar. Patriarchy flourished in the tribes. The men had 8-10 wives. Children were raised by women until a certain age, then the boys were taken under the care of men, who taught them to hunt and wield weapons.
Also in the annals it is mentioned that the British Celts spoke a special dialect.
And words such as whiskey, plaid, slogan entered the English language much later from the Celtic languages, which were widespread during that period: whiskey (Irish uisce beathadh “living water”), slogan (from the Scottish sluagh-ghairm “battle cry “).
The influence of the Roman Empire on the development of the English language
A century after the conquest of the British Isles by Caesar, in 44 BC. The British Isles were visited by the Roman emperor Claudius, after which Britain was considered a Roman province. During this period, there is a close communication between the Celtic people and the Romans, which, of course, is reflected in the language.
Thus, many words in modern English have Latin roots. For example, the word castra (from Latin ″ camp ″). This root is found in many place names of modern Britain – Lancaster, Manchester, Leicester.
There are also such common words as street “street” (from the Latin expression via strata “paved road”) and wall “wall” (from vallum “shaft”).
There are many common nouns borrowed from Latin: wine “wine” – from Lat. vinum “wine”; pear “pear” – from lat. pirum “pear”; pepper “pepper” – from lat. piper.
Old English period (450 – 1066 g) in the history of the English language
The immediate ancestors of the English people are the Germanic tribes of the Saxons, Jutes, Angles and Frisians, who penetrated the territory of Britain in 449. Since the number of these tribes far outnumbered the Celtic ones, gradually the Anglo-Saxon dialect completely supplanted the Celtic dialect from use.
Thanks to the Anglo-Saxon tribes, many names of geographical objects that have survived to this day appeared in the English language. Also, words such as butter, pound, cheese, alum, silk, inch, chalk, mile, mint have common Germanic roots borrowed from Latin. Or the word Saturday – stands for “the day of Saturn” – the father of the god Jupiter in ancient Roman mythology.
In 597 A.D. the general Christianization of Britain begins. Prior to this, the tribes of the Anglo-Saxons were pagans. The Roman church sent a monk Augustine to the island, who gradually began to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity through diplomatic means. The activities of Augustine and his followers brought tangible results: by the beginning of 700 AD. a significant part of the population of the British Isles professed Christianity.
This close fusion of cultures is reflected in the language. Many words appeared that were borrowed at this particular time. For example, school “school” – from lat. schola “school”, Bishop “bishop” – from lat. Episcopus “watching”, mount “mountain” – from lat. montis (genus pad.) “mountain”, pea “pea” – from lat. pisum “peas”, Priest “priest” – from lat. presbyter “presbyter”.
According to rough estimates of linguists in this era, the English language borrowed from Latin more than 6 hundred words, not counting their derivatives. Basically, these are words related to religion, church, and government.
The work of the Venerable Beda (Beda Venerabilis), the first English historian and educator, who was the first to translate the Gospel from Latin into Anglo-Saxon, dates back to this time. The work of the Venerable Bede had a significant impact on the development of the language and is an important stage in the history of the English language.
Influence of the Scandinavian group of languages
In 878, the conquest of the Anglo-Saxon lands by the Danes begins. For many years, the Danes lived in the lands of Britain, entered into marriages with representatives of the Anglo-Saxons. As a result, a number of loanwords from the Scandinavian languages appeared in the English language. For example, amiss “is wrong”, anger “anger”, auk “auk”, awe “awe”, axle “axis”, aye “always”.
The combination of letters sk- or sc- at the beginning of a word in modern English is also very often an indicator that the word is a Scandinavian loan. For example, sky “sky” (in native English heaven), skin “skin” (in native English hide “skin”), skull “skull” (in native English shell “shell; shell”).
Middle English Period (1066-1500) History of the English Language
Development of the English language in the Middle Ages
In the middle of the 11th century, the inhabitants of northern France conquered Britain. William the Conqueror becomes king, a Norman by birth. Since that time, the era of three languages begins in the history of the people. The language of the aristocracy, the courts became French, the language of science remained Latin, and the common people continued to speak Anglo-Saxon. It was the mixing of these three languages that gave rise to the formation of modern English.
Modern English – mixed
Linguists treat modern English as a mixed language. This is due to the fact that many words, in a general sense, do not have common roots. Let us compare, for example, a number of words in Russian: head – head – main. In English, the same row is represented by the words: head – chapter – chief. Why did it happen? Everything is explained by the confusion of the three languages. Anglo-Saxon words refer to specific objects, hence the word head. From Latin – the language of science and education, the word chapter remained. From the French remained the word that was in the everyday life of the nobility, chief.
The same distinction can be found in many semantic lines in the English language. For example, there are differences between the words denoting the name of an animal (words of Germanic origin) and the name of the meat of this animal (these words originated from Old French). So, ox is a bull, cow is a cow, calf is a calf, sheep is a sheep, pig is a pig; but beef is beef, veal is veal, mutton is lamb, pork is pork, etc.
During this period of the history of the English language, there are changes in the grammatical structure. Many verb endings disappear. Adjectives acquire degrees of comparison, including supplementary degrees (with the addition of the words more, most). The phonetics of the language also undergoes significant changes. By the end of 1500, the London dialect is gaining more and more popularity in the country, in which 90% of native speakers begin to speak.
First books in English
The first British printer is considered to be William Caxton, who in 1474 published the first book in English. It was a translation of Raoul Lefebvre’s Collection of Stories of Troy. During his life, Caxton has published over 100 books, many of which were his own translations. It should be noted that thanks to his activities, many English words finally took on their finished form.
As for grammatical rules, Caxton often invented his own rules, which, after publication, became publicly available and were considered the only correct ones.
New English Period (1500 – Present) History of the English Language
The founder of the English literary language is rightfully considered the great William Shakespeare (1564-1616). He is credited with the origin of many idiomatic expressions that are used in modern English. In addition, Shakespeare invented many new words that have taken root in the language.
For example, the word swagger “swagger; swagger” is first encountered in the history of the English language in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
History of the English language during the Enlightenment
In 1712, for the first time in history, an image appeared, personifying Great Britain and the national character of the British. This year was born the hero of John Abertnot’s political pamphlets – John Bull. And to this day, the image of Bull is a satirical depiction of an Englishman.
In 1795, the first textbook “English grammar” by Lindley Murray was published. For nearly two centuries, this textbook has been fundamental to the grammar of the English language. All educated people studied Murray grammar.
The modern language in the British Isles is by no means static. The language lives on, neologisms constantly appear, some words go into the past.
However, the main difference between English and many European languages is that there are no static norms in the UK. On the contrary, it is the various dialects and adverbs that are in great use. Not only the pronunciation of words differs at the phonetic level, but there are also completely different words denoting the same concept.
The media and government officials communicate in British English. But the most popular is American English. There are Australian English, Canadian English and many other dialects. On the territory of Great Britain itself, several dialects are used, which are spoken by the inhabitants of a particular province.
As you can see, the English language has retained its traditions of “mixing languages” in our days.
The popularity of the English language was greatly facilitated by the colonial policy of Great Britain, the colonization of Australia and North America.
After World War II, the importance of a country like the United States increased, which also contributed to the popularization of the English language.
In the modern world, the Internet community, people of science and culture mainly communicate in English.
It is difficult to name the exact number of people who speak English nowadays. The results of various studies differ by tens of percent. The figures are named and 600 million and 1.2 billion.
Definitely, English is the most important communication tool in the modern world.