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The History of the English Language

English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world today, but it was not always that way. The first form of the English language, called “Old English” was developed in Britain sometime around 450 AD. The language formed when Germanic tribes invaded from the east and settled Britain. These tribes spoke similar languages, and as they all started to coexist the languages became what we now know as Old English. Someone who speaks English today would look at Old English like it was a totally different language, and in many ways it was. However, a lot of the modern English words used today actually come from Old English roots.

Old English was spoken in Britain until around 1100 AD, when it began to develop into what is known as “Middle English”. The reason for this change was due to the invasion of the Normans from the south. The Normans spoke a language similar to French, and that language became dominant among the upper classes of Britain for some time. However, the lower classes still spoke English, though there were many of the Norman’s French-like words intermixed with the old language, transforming it into Middle English. While still difficult for modern-day English speakers to understand, Middle English is a little bit clearer than old English.

Around the year 1500, the “Great Vowel Shift” started. This was a trend that saw English speakers pronouncing their vowels much shorter than before. Around the same time, the British were coming into contact with an increased number of foreigners, and countless words or phrases were adopted into the language. When the printing press was invented, there was a larger focus on writing, so grammar and spelling rules were invented to make the English language easier to read. During this period of time, the language was called “Early Modern English.”

From 1800 on, English speakers were using what is called “Late Modern English”. What sets Late Modern English apart from Early Modern English is mainly vocabulary. Late Modern English possesses a lot more words than its earlier counterpart, which was because the British Empire at the time covered a massive amount of land, and many foreign words were absorbed into the English language.

Today, English speakers use Late Modern English, though there are different dialects spoken all around the world. For instance, British English speakers use different words than American English speakers and vice-versa.

Learn more about the History of Languages and the History of Sign-Language.


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