How old is the English language

History of the English language

The English language is assigned to the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. According to the linguistic-historical system, English can be divided into three development periods, albeit not exactly accurately: Old English (450 - 1100 AD), Middle English (1100 to approx. 1500 AD) and Modern English or New English (from 1500 AD).
It should be noted that English, like many other languages, has been influenced by many other languages ​​over the centuries.

Old English

The Germanic settlers spoke a dialect known as Anglo-Saxon, which is collectively referred to as Old English. This language increasingly supplanted the Latin of the former Roman rulers as well as the native, indigenous British-Celtic dialects, which were spoken in many areas of Britain, later the Kingdom of England. While many place names indicate this early mixing of Celtic with Germanic, the Celtic language has persisted in some regions of Cornwall, Wales and Scotland to this day. Variations colored by local dialects have influenced Old English again and again. Remnants of it are even traceable in modern English. The most important dialects of Old English were West Saxon, North Humbrian, Kentish and Merzisch (South Humbrian).

The Futhorc was a runic script used to write Old English texts. However, it was quickly replaced by the Latin alphabet, which was introduced by Irish missionaries in the 9th century. The early West Saxon under Alfred the Great and the later West Saxon were the most important languages ​​in the literature of the time. The poem Beowulf, created by an unknown author, is the most famous surviving work from the time of Old English. Due to the increasing Christianization from the year 600, the Old English was expanded by around 400 Latin loanwords. For example, some words introduced at this time are precursors to today's terms for paper, school and priest, and a number of words were also taken from Greek. The northern and eastern parts of England were under strong Norse influence through the settlers and the Scandinavian legal system.

Today, many native English speakers find Old English completely incomprehensible, despite the fact that naturally most of the terms in Modern English (New English) have their roots in Old English. Compared to New English, however, Old English grammar is characterized by strong inflections, very similar to Germanic.

Middle English

Middle English developed during the time of the Norman conquest of England from 1066 to the end of the 15th century. This stage of development of English, also known as Anglo-Norman, was spoken mainly by high-ranking officials and the Norman kings for several centuries after the conquest of England. It was also the official language in the British Isles. Members of the lower nobility and merchants, on the other hand, grew up bilingual and communicated in English and Anglo-Norman. The English language was considered to be the language of the common people. Anglo-Norman and Anglo-French had the greatest influence on the Middle English language. French and Anglo-Norman were used by the government and the judiciary well into the 14th century. With the decline of the Norman French, French was now considered a highly respected language.

By that time, more than 10,000 French words had been incorporated into Middle English, and most of them had more or less to do with food, the military, fashion, law, church, and government. Old Norse had just as much influence on Middle English as the British-Celtic dialects spoken by the locals. Some scholars advocated the thesis that Middle English was a Creole language that arose from the mix between Old English, Anglo-Norman and Old Norse.

The return of English literature in the 13th century marked changes in the political climate and a retreat of Anglo-Norman. This made the English language more important. In 1258, the Oxford legal system was published, the first government document in English since the Norman conquest of England. King Edward III addressed his address to Parliament initially in English. While official records continued to be in Latin, English became the compulsory language for legal proceedings in 1362. The first official documents in the English language date back to the 15th century. The ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer are considered the most famous literary work of the Middle English period.

Numerous changes in pronunciation, spelling and grammar influenced the English language during this period. Strongly inflected word endings have partially disappeared, some possibilities of distinction have been lost. Many adjectives and nouns now simply ended in "-e". The plural ending “-en” gave way to the “-s” and the grammatical gender was largely abolished.

New English

The beginnings of what we now call Modern English or New English were marked by many changes, particularly in terms of pronunciation. Conventions on spelling, however, were largely retained. The history of New English begins with the great phonetic shift that prevailed in the course of the early 15th century. Book printing acted as a unifying factor. The spread of the standard language spoken in the London area in administrative and government circles played a major role in the change in the English language. In the process, self-confident terms of dialect and accent emerged. The structure of modern English became clearly recognizable in the middle of the 16th and early 17th centuries, that is, in the time of William Shakespeare. The first English dictionary known as ‘Table Alphabeticall was published in 1604. Increasing literacy and more intensive travel by certain social groups led to the adoption of many foreign and loan words from the Greek and Latin languages ​​of the Renaissance into modern English. However, the high flexibility of the English spelling and the fact that numerous words from dozens of foreign languages ​​came in soon led to uncertainties in pronunciation.
And so, in 1755, the first official dictionary of the English language came out. It should help standardize the use, pronunciation and correct spelling of English terms. Works by Lowth, Murray and Priestly, to name but a few, also formed a reference for the use of New English during this period. Early New English (Early New English) and New English also differ in vocabulary. The later New English generally has a richer vocabulary, which was influenced by developments in technology and the industrial revolution. It was these advances that encouraged the English language to become more sophisticated and more international. This goes back, of course, to the colonial days of the British Empire, which was represented in more than a quarter of the world at the height of its power.

Today there are two main varieties of modern English: American English (AE) and British English (BE). It is estimated that more than a billion people speak English worldwide.