In this learning packet you will learn:
1. the major groups and time periods in the history of the English language.
2. what kinds of words English borrowed from each influential group.
3. why languages are always changing.
4. why English spelling and grammar is so irregular.
This learning packet includes many video excerpts to explain the major historical groups and how they influenced the language.
From the native Celts to the British colonizers, the English language has changed tremendously throughout its evolution. Each section of this learning packet will concisely explain one of the major historical groups who influenced the language including examples of the kinds of words English borrowed from them. Most sections have a corresponding video to bring the information to life. The videos are very well done and often include examples of how the language sounded at the time. Enjoy!
Who? The Celts were the native inhabitants of Britain. They were oppressed by Roman soldiers and considered unsophisticated and backwards people.
When? Their history on the British Isles dates back to 500 BCE.
Although they were the native inhabitants, the Celtic influence on the English language is limited due to their low status in society. Celtic words include:
River and Place Names
Thames London Dover Avon
Watch this excerpt from the documentary "The Ancient Celts" to learn about how the Celts kept track of the year and why the native people were more sophisticated than the Romans believed.
Who? The Roman soldiers raided the British Isles and created the Roman colony of Brittania.
When? The Roman occupation lasted until 410 CE. As the Roman Empire was crumbling, the Romans retreated the British Isles leaving the Celts defenseless against the invading Germanic tribes.
During their occupation, the Roman soldiers contributed many Latin words including:
Words for Trade
Trade Bushel Pound
Who? The Anglo-Saxons were split into four main tribes: the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. They migrated from what is today northern Germany and Denmark.
When? The Anglo-Saxons occupied Britain in 449 CE.
The Anglo-Saxon influence on the English language was tremendous. Around 90% of common words in English come from Anglos-Saxon such as:
Drink Come Go
Sing Like Love
In On Into By From
Watch this video from BBC One to hear the spoken Anglo-Saxon.
Who? The Roman missionaries spread Christianity throughout Britain. They also contributed the Latin alphabet to the English language which allowed words to be written with ink and paper instead of carved into wood or stone like the Runic alphabet of the Anglo-Saxons. This helped in the creation of Christian Bibles which had a profound influence on the accessibility of the written language. For more information about how the Bible helped spread English literacy, watch the video under the section "Bizarre Spelling."
When? The Roman missionaries arrived in 597 CE.
Altar Organ Monk
Alms Pope Stole
Hymn Mass Martyr
School Master Verse
Who? Sometimes called Pagan Pirates, the Vikings settled in East Anglia and controlled Northern and Eastern England. They raided churches and villages and burned religious books. However, they were more than just ransacking barbarians. They were also a people who loved music and celebrated heroism through the telling of epic poems.
The arrival of the Danes and their language, Old Norse, threatened the English language. Alfred the Great, one of the most important figures in English history, saved England and the English language when he established a peace treaty with the Danes during what is now referred to as the Danelaw period. For more information about Alfred the Great, watch the video below.
When? The Vikings and Danes arrived around 787 CE.
The Danes and the English often traded and intermarried which contributed to a blending of English and Old Norse and simplified English grammar. Old Norse contributed words such as:
They Them Their
The Danes added the suffix –son onto the father’s name to create names such as Harrison or Richardson.
Watch this excerpt from the documentary series "The Adventure of English" to learn more about Alfred the Great and the blending of Old Norse and English.
Who? The Normans arrived in Britain from France. They brought with them the language of Old French which became the language of power, relegating the English language to the lower classes. At this time, any advanced person in society knew at least some French.
When? The arrival of the Normans marked the period of Middle English around 1066 CE.
It is estimated that around 10,000 French words were contributed to the English language at this time including words such as:
Words for Law and Government
Jail Attorney Court Crime Judge
Prison Tax Verdict Evidence
Words for Nobility
Count Countess Duke Noble Royal
Princess Prince Peasant
Culture and Fashion Words
Fur Jewel Clarinet Dance
Ruby Satin Pendant Painting Music
Watch this excerpt from The History Channel documentary “The Adventure of English” to learn more about the class system in Britain and the French influence on the English language.
What? The Renaissance was a time of new inventions, education, travel and cultural exploration. Shakespeare also wrote his plays at this time.
When? Early Modern English was ushered in with the Renaissance in 1500 CE.
Many Latin and Greek words were contributed to English during the Renaissance including:
Abdomen Anatomy Physician Gradual Skeleton Data
Tragedy History Climax Comedy
Watch this excerpt from the documentary series “The Story of English” to learn more about Shakespeare’s influence on the English language and to hear how Shakespeare's plays would have sounded during the Renaissance.
Around 1800 CE, Colonial expansion brought new Indian American, African, and Australian words to the English language. Many of these words were used because there was no existing word in English to describe what the colonizers saw and heard in the new colonies.
Moose Opossum Zebra Kangaroo Hickory
Jazz Jitterbug Jukebox Digeridoo
Today, immigration patterns and globalization are continually adding new words to the English language. English speakers often borrow words from other languages to describe favorite foods. Words such as tortilla, guacamole, and burrito were adopted from Spanish. Likewise, the words linguini, espresso, pasta, pizza, ravioli, and spaghetti were adopted from Italian.
There are also many rule governed dialects such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) which have their own grammar rules and are changing what we come to think of as English.
The English language is not finished evolving. Over the next century, new vocabulary and grammatical structures will change the language even more. If there is one language rule, it is that language is always changing. And that's a good thing!
Have you ever wondered why English spelling and grammar are so irregular? The answer lies in the history of English. Watch this video excerpt from the documentary series “The Adventure of English” to learn about how the printing press helped to standardize English and how the Bible promoted literacy across the country.