Origins of the English Language

The origins of the English language began with the invasion of Britain by Germanic tribes in 5th century AD. The Jutes, Saxons and Angles came from what is known today as northern Germany and Denmark. The Angles came from Engle, where English was spoken. The term English was derived from this word. British inhabitants fleeing the invaders brought the Celtic language to what is now modern day Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

Development of the English language follows three stages: Old English, Middle English, early and late Modern English. Old English spanned the 5th to 12th centuries. It was a blend of a number of Anglo-Saxon dialects. The Late West Saxon dialect eventually came to be the main dialect of the time. Scandinavian Vikings, who spoke their own Germanic language, conquered and colonized large parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries, adding to the development of Old English.

The Norman invasion in the 11th century was an episode that is widely considered to have heralded the development of Middle English. The Normans spoke old Norman, which was an Old French dialect. Norman and Anglo-Norman were widely used in the more formal royal court, while commoners continued using Old English. Nevertheless, the Norman language filtered down into the hoi polloi, influencing Old English lexicon and grammar. The arrival of Christianity, with its Greek and Latin words, further added to the origins of the English language. The Celtic languages displaced earlier also contributed toward its formation.

The age of Modern English was estimated to have begun in the 16th century, and is the form of English language spoken today. Change was dated from the Great Vowel Shift, which saw vowels being pronounced with increasingly shorter sounds. Latin and Greek words continued to be appropriated. The advent of printing presses also meant that a common language was needed. As most publishing houses were in London, the London dialect emerged as the standard form of English then and now. The Industrial Revolution contributed greatly to the vocabulary of late modern English from the 19th century onwards, which also continued borrowing terms and words from other cultures.

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