Friday, May 27, 2011

A Brief History of the English Language

I found this interesting learning a little bit more about the land of my birth. I discovered the article while reading the George Mason Students' Magazine, and have added it word for word.

A Brief History of the English Language.

If you had decided to come to Britain in the year 450 to improve your English, you would have totally wasted your money.

Firstly, you would have had a hard time finding anyone. The population of Britain at this time was a little over 400,000, The people were isolated in settlements and between them were huge dense expanses of forest populated by wolves, bears, beavers and wild boar.

Secondly, if you did find anyone to talk to you, you would only be able to recognize a very small number of the words we know today. The language you would be listening to was mainly Celtic.

'The Celts' was the name given to the isolated populations of people then living in Britain. They were descended from the ancient Iron-Age hunters who walked across the land bridge from France thousands of years before. Over the centuries the language had become fragmented and specific to the individual populations, with the result that there was no simple unifying language spoken by everyone.

Life in Britain was soon to change forever. Across the channel our green and pleasant island was being greedily viewed as a highly desirable living space and shopping centre.

The first invaders came from Jutland, in the northern part of Denmark. They landed in the south-east and settled in what are now the counties of Kent and Hampshire. The Angles soon followed from the south of the Danish peninsula, and entered Britain along the east coast. They settled in Northumberland and East Anglia. Not being happy at being left behind and missing out on all the fun, the Saxons and Frisians decided to follow their continental cousins across from Germany, and from 477 settled in various parts of southern and south-eastern Britain. We still refer to these parts of England as Essex, Wessex, Sussex and Middlesex.

The invaders called the Celts 'wealas' (foreigners) from which we get the name 'Welsh'. The famous British friendliness and hospitality had not yet been born, so the Celts couldn't be bothered to be polite; they ended up calling the invaders 'Saxons' regardless of their origins.

Over the next two hundred years the population of Britain either migrated to Devon and Cornwall, crossed the sea to Ireland and the Isle of Man, or to Brittany in France, or integrated with the visitors to create a group of people known as the 'Angli'. To this day there are similarities between the Cornish, Breton and Gailic languages.

Only a handful of Celtic words have survived to modern times.


crag deep valley

torr peak

brock badger

dunn grey

eccles church (as in the town of Ecclestone)

caer fortified place (as in the city of Carlisle)

penn hilltop (as in the town of Pendle)

There are also a few Celtic-based river names:

Thames, Avon, Exe, Usk and Wye.

Added note: as it usually does when I come across anything I find interesting, I go on a google search to learn a little more and came across another article that was very similar. A small part of it states:

"Old English (500-1100 AD)

West Germanic invaders from Jutland and southern Denmark: the Angles (whose name is the source of the words England and English), Saxons and Jutes, began populating the British Isles in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. They spoke a mutually intelligible language, similar to modern Frisian - the language Northeastern region of the Netherlands - that is called Old English. Four major dialects of Old English emerged, Northumbrian in the north of England, Mercian in the Midlands, West Saxon in the south and west and Kentish in the Southeast.

These invaders pushed the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants out of what is now England into Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland, leaving behind a few Celtic words. These Celtic languages survive today in Gaelic languages of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Cornish, unfortunately, is now a dead language. (The last native Cornish speaker, Dolly Penreath, died in 1777 in the town of Mousehole, Cornwall.)

A very interesting article. You can find that here.


  1. Thank you for this very interesting lesson in English history. I guess English people today must be a blend of all those cultures.

  2. Kay we Brits are a real Mixture and I cannot understand Raceism because we are all multicultural and have mixed ancestory.

  3. A really interesting read Denise. I am of English and Scottish parents. I've always thought of myself as a mixture.But I suppose I'm not after all.

  4. Very interesting post especially as I am English too.The second comment is very true. We are all a mixture of peoples so why can't we get on better.

  5. diane b I cant understand it here in the UK the 'brits' dislike the Irish Welsh and Scots THEY INTURN DISLIKE THE OTHERS!!! why ? I have no idea in the USA its mexicans and anyone with black skin or Red Necks etc etc WE ARE ALL HUMANS

    GET USED TO IT WE ARE ONLY HERE ONCE, a good mate of mine always kept telling me THIS AINT A PRACTICE RUN

  6. Language is fascinating and your post just points up what a mongrel race we are:-)

  7. But they did pursue beer making. I made a Celtic beer years ago that was made with rosemary.

  8. My husband is 1/2 Irish, 1/4 English, 1/4 Scottish. He and I have both been to London, but would love to tour Scotland and Ireland someday.

  9. I'm surprised to learn I know very little about the past... or rather I didn't until today. Thanks for this, Denise.

  10. Dear Denise,
    I'm enchanted by this post,you have such a wonderful talent to put good feelings in your posts.This place is awesome and I think it's also interesting!Thanks for teaching us about this place! :)

  11. I see your article has very carefully picked it's date to be in that narrow gap before the arrival of European invaders but after the Romans had left (about 410)but hasn't mentioned the Romans what so ever. Interesting even if it does give a slightly false impression of the country.

    I agree with Don that we are indeed a right old mixture of peoples. Britain was populated before the Celts arrived (they're of Middle European origin), then the Romans, Anglosaxons as mentioned here, various viking types, the normans (who were really norse as well), and lots of little additions - what's so different if we now have Asians and africans.
    Don't worry it's only a small proportion (if horribly noisy) of Scots that hate the English. We're Brits the same as the rest of the island.

  12. Brill post my friend, and very interesting to read, a friend of mine says he's British thru and thru - as I say, nar never in a month of Sundays, after we were invaded time and time again, as in all Countries I reckon.

  13. What a fun post :) I am heading home to Cornwall next month to visit my parents.

  14. That is very interesting Denise.
    Speaking frankly, you would probably have a problem understanding anyone if you visited a lot of our Cities now, they certainly don't speak much English.{:)

  15. Interesting information, Denise! I took a course in the history of the English language once, years ago. It's a most fascinating subject.

  16. Great post. I loved it!

    Wouldn't it be fun to say "I am from Mousehole"? Makes me laugh!

  17. Wow, talk about a lot of info in a short space. Nicely done.

  18. Very, very interesting! I did not know any of that!