How the History of the
English Language will Help
You Learn English

History of the english languageThe rich history of the English language means that there are likely to be a number of words shared with your own language, whatever that may be.

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English isn't an easy language to learn – it isn't phonetic, it has a huge vocabulary, and lots of exceptions to the grammar rules.

But the fact that it is spoken all over the world means that it is an international language, and one that is constantly evolving.

The origins

The roots of modern English are with the languages of northern Germany and the Netherlands.

People from these areas invaded the British Isles and settled there, bringing their languages.

Old English = the English language before about 1150.

Old English was not actually one language, but a group of dialects which were different from each other, and which became very regional.

These languages are almost impossible for modern English speakers to understand naturally, although as many as half of the words in use in English today have their origins in this Old English language.

The development

With the Viking invasions from Scandinavia, and the Norman (French) victory in 1066, new groups of settlers came to Britain.

They brought their languages and vocabulary, and the English language as we know it today began to emerge.

The growth of the Christian religion also brought influences from Latin and Greek.

Middle English = an old form of English that was used between about 1150  and 1500.

English in the early medieval period is known as Middle English, and Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" is an example of a text written in this form of English.

When medieval literature became popular, and certainly with the invention of the printing press, the language started to become a little more standardized.

London had more of an influence over the rest of the country, and different variations of English started to die out in favor of a simplified version.

By the early 15th century the language had evolved into something quite close to what we know today, and by the time Shakespeare wrote his plays in the 16th century, the language had changed into something very similar to today's language, albeit with some differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and pronouns.

Many influences

Apart from the Germanic, Scandinavian and French influences on the English language, the Renaissance brought classical influences to the cities of Britain and more new words were borrowed from languages such as Latin, Greek, Italian, and other European languages.

As travel became more common, words also appeared from Indian languages, and Persian.

Still evolving

Modern English = the English language in the form it has been used since about 1500.

The English language is now spoken all over the world and it is still changing.

Some of the differences between American and British English are becoming blurred, and influences from countries where English is an official but second language are also changing the grammar and vocabulary.

English is a living language and the grammar has changed in the past.

It will continue to change. What you are told is incorrect grammar now may be perfectly acceptable in 50 years' time.

How can this help you?

If you are studying English, it will help you if you have learned another language first.

Why? Well, you may find there is more in English that you recognize after studying another language it is linked to.

Also, some knowledge of the roots of a language can sometimes help you understand the origin of a word.

Thirdly, some knowledge of the history of the English language will help you understand the rich variety of English literature that is available.

Texts such as Shakespeare's plays, Chaucer's work, early poets such as John Donne, etc, can all help you understand more about English culture.

So don't neglect the history of the English language. It may be more useful and more interesting than you think.

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