How did the English Language develop? Dr Dawn Gould

The English Language has a long history – a history that goes back many centuries. Its beginning appears to originate from the West German language during the 5th to the 7th centuries.  The Romans had also ruled for a certain period but this ended resulting in the Latin language losing its influence.

From about the mid 5th century colonists from northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands began to settle in what is today the British Isles and slowly began cultural domination until the 7th century. In the meanwhile people in England, southern and eastern Scotland began using the Anglo Saxon language, today known as Old English.  Further changes in language would come when Vikings conquered and colonized parts of Britain during the 8th and 9th centuries.  New dialects would begin to influence Middle English.

Eras passed and in 1066 the Normans conquered England. For a while Old English was replaced by Anglo Norman which was perceived to be used by the individuals of wealth and social standing.  Also the vocabulary entered into the church, the court system and government. Middle English would be spoken until the late 15th century. Changes in pronunciation and additional foreign spelling took place – Latin, ancient Greek, French, Dutch German – while politics and trade with Europe grew and developed.

Early modern English similar in some ways to what is spoken today was in place by the late 17th century.  As the greater world became known by the discoveries of various sea routes, so too was the English language extended by knowledge and colonization.  Further incorporation and borrowings took place from many other languages so much so that if one listens carefully one will hear these words: physics from Greek, chutzpah from Hebrew meaning supreme self confidence, chivalry, clergy from French. Antique, novice, nymph, gratitude are derived from Latin.  Apart from English and Afrikaans one will often hear a mixture of the two when the speaker is referring to something specific –    one will hear speech using words from Afrikaans such as veld meaning field, stoep referring to a verandah. The country also has  nine indigenous languages and  in the western Cape one will sometimes hear included in English the words molo Xhosa for hullo, good morning, enkosi for thank you.  In the future more words of these indigenous languages will add to the present English culture.

 In the 20th century today the English language is spoken world wide.