How the English language evolved and took over the planet.
The English language began in the fifth century in the form of Old English, at the time, England was occupied by the Saxons, Angles, Frisians and Jutes who each spoke different dialects of the same West Germanic language. These dialects merged together to form Old English which soon became the common language, displacing the previous Celtic languages.
During the eighth, ninth and tenth century, the Vikings settled in Northern part of Britain. They spoke old Norse, another dialect of the same West Germanic language which once again merged with the previous four, further developing the English language.
In 911 the Vikings invaded France and the French ruler allowed them an area of France if they promised to protect them from further Viking invasions. This area became know as Normandy and the Vikings began speaking Norman, a new version of the French language with some added old Norse words. This was essentially a precursor to the French we know today.
In 1066, the Normans conquered England. William the conqueror claimed the English throne and established French as the language of the monarchy. While the peasants continued to speak Old English, the upper classes began to adopt many French words in order to sound more sophisticated and using French words became a symbol of high status.
Over time, the French (Normans) left England and gradually English began to take over again, although French (Norman) had already shaped the English language by this point.
In 1476, Thomas Caxton invented the printing press which meant people developed a standard way of writing English as this hadn’t been present before as books had been hand written in small quantities since the ninth century. Another influence on the English language, shortly after this, was Shakespeare, he created many new English words by turning nouns into verbs and connecting multiple words together to form new words. The words he added to the English language are so significant that without them it would be harder to express feelings of despair, sorrow or love. For example, he came up with the words, lonely, unaware and lacklustre.
English continued to develop, after the industrial revolution many new words were created to give names to all of the new inventions and becoming a part of our everyday language.
The question now is how did English become the language that dominates the world? 360 million people speak English as a first language, a billion can speak it as their second language and it is an official language in 59 countries across the globe. No other language has ever been spoken so widely across all corners of the world.
What has been the secret to the popularity of the English language? Britain has always been a powerful trading nation, which meant that other countries wanted to speak English to trade with us. However, this is the way many languages have grown, through colonisation and trade. It is only during the last century, that the English language has really taken off. Due to our colonisation, English is spoken in Africa and India, but really its adoption in America has had the biggest effect of the dominance of the language. America was a country full of freedom, hope and prosperity, meaning people from all around the world were moving there to provide them with more opportunities in life. Of course, this led to many people learning English. America had become a hub for innovation, with the growth of Hollywood and the development of the Internet, it dominated the world culturally. Subsequently, speaking English became a sought after asset.
In effect, English is also quite a simple language to learn in many ways. The simpler the structure, the easier it is and the more likely people will be to learn it. The lack of cases or genders makes it far less complicated than most other languages, increasing the number of people learning it. The fact that English has an enormous number of words (between 250,000 and 1,000,000) makes it easier to express different concepts and makes it more flexible. As many of these words are cognates of words from other language, most people who learns English will be able to find some similarity to their own language.
Will it continue to evolve and will it remain the dominant language?
Mollie Bicknell, Year 12