History of English

English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the mid 5th to 7th centuries AD by Anglo-Saxon settlers from what is now northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands, displacing the Celtic languages that previously predominated.

The Old English of the Anglo-Saxon era developed into Middle English, which was spoken from the Norman Conquest era to the late 15th century. A significant influence on the shaping of Middle English came from contact with the North Germanic languages spoken by the Scandinavians who conquered and colonized parts of Britain during the 8th and 9th centuries; this contact led to much lexical borrowing and grammatical simplification. Another important influence came from the conquering Normans, who spoke a Romance langue d'oïl called Old Norman, which in Britain developed into Anglo-Norman. Many Norman and French loanwords entered the language in this period, especially in vocabulary related to the church, the court system and the government. The system of orthography that was established during the Middle English period is largely still in use today – later changes in pronunciation, however, combined with the adoption of various foreign spellings, mean that the spelling of modern English words appears highly irregular.

Early Modern English – the language used by Shakespeare – is dated from around 1500. It incorporated many Renaissance-era loans from Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as borrowings from other European languages, including French, German and Dutch. Significant pronunciation changes in this period included the ongoing Great Vowel Shift, which affected the qualities of most long vowels. Modern English proper, similar in most respects to that spoken today, was in place by the late 17th century. The English language came to be exported to other parts of the world through British colonisation, and is now the dominant language in Britain and Ireland, the United States and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many smaller former colonies, as well as being widely spoken in India, parts of Africa, and elsewhere. Partially due to United States influence, English gradually took on the status of a global lingua franca in the second half of the 20th century. This is especially true in Europe, where English has largely taken over the former roles of French and (much earlier) Latin as a common language used to conduct business and diplomacy, share scientific and technological information, and otherwise communicate across national boundaries. The efforts of English-speaking Christian missionaries has resulted in English becoming a second language for many other groups.[citation needed]

Old English consisted of a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms established in different parts of Britain. The Late West Saxon dialect eventually became dominant; however, a greater input to Middle English came from the Anglian dialects. Global variation among different English dialects and accents remains significant today. Scots, a form of English traditionally spoken in parts of Scotland and the north of Ireland, is sometimes treated as a separate language.

Proto-English

English has its roots in the languages of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe. During the Roman Empire, most of the Germanic-inhabited area (Germania) remained independent from Rome, although some southwestern parts were within the empire. Some Germanics served in the Roman military, and troops from Germanic tribes such as the Tungri, Batavi, Menapii and Frisii served in Britain (Britannia) under Roman command. Germanic settlement and power expanded during the Migration Period, which saw the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Germanic settlement of Britain took place from the 5th to the 7th century, following the end of Roman rule on the island. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates that around the year 449 Vortigern, king of the Britons, invited the "Angle kin" (Angles allegedly led by the Germanic brothers Hengist and Horsa) to help repel invading Picts, in return for lands in the southeast of Britain. This led to waves of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms, known as the heptarchy. (The Chronicle was not a contemporaneous work, however, and cannot be regarded as an accurate record of such early events.)[1] Bede, who wrote his Ecclesiastical History in AD 731, writes of invasion by Angles, Saxons and Jutes, although the precise nature of the invasion and settlement and the contributions made by these particular groups are the subject of much dispute among historians.[2]

The languages spoken by the Germanic peoples who initially settled in Britain were part of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic language family. They consisted of dialects from the Ingvaeonic grouping, spoken mainly around the North Sea coast, in regions that lie within modern Denmark, north-west Germany and the Netherlands. Due to specific similarities between early English and Old Frisian, an Anglo-Frisian grouping is also identified.

These dialects had most of the typical West Germanic features, including a significant amount of grammatical inflection. Vocabulary came largely from the core Germanic stock, although due to the Germanic peoples' extensive contacts with the Roman world, the settlers' languages already included a number of loanwords from Latin.[3] For instance, the predecessor of Modern English wine had been borrowed into early Germanic from the Latin vinum.

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