The history of the English language, 1066 – today

We’ve been covering the history of the English language and have looked at early language, Greek and Latin, now we come to the modern language development as English really starts to take shape.

In 1066 the Normans (what is now Northern France) invaded England and took over, they brought their language with them and created a language called ‘Anglo-Norman’ which was a sort of mix of Old English and Old French, but they had trouble making it stick, it was mostly spoken by the ruling classes but didn’t fully reach the common people. Britain was ruled by a Norman leader until 1214 when Philip Augustus of France took over Normandy and brought it under French rule, gaining England in the process. ‘Anglo-French’ was then the official language of the courts in Britain. The ruling classes really tried to push French as the language of the elite, which is why we have a lot of words from French but that generally relate to government, religion, law and the military.

Following the death of the obvious heir to the throne which was being held by a Norman Duke, Britain went into ‘The anarchy’ and there was a war of succession which eventually resulted in the French being out and the Magna Carta being created – this paved the way for the united kingdom. As soon as the French were out, English literature started to reappear and it wasn’t long until English was again the official language of the government. This version of English is generally called ‘Middle English’, the main changes being that most word endings which were e based (-el, -en) etc started to end in just ‘e’, and the way of denoting plurals became an ‘s’, with a few exceptions such as ‘Children’.

Middle English then went on to become ‘Early modern English’ in the 15th Century, during what is called ‘the great vowel shift’ where the pronunciation of so-called long vowels changed, for example, the word ‘bite’ would have been pronounced as we say ‘beat’ today, before the great vowel shift. This was the result of standardisation, the country was better connected and people became aware of dialects, the sense of a right and a wrong way to pronounce things came about.

The final step along our historical journey is ‘Modern English’, marked by the creation of the first dictionary by Samuel Johnson in 1755, now English was even more standardised, each word had an officially correct way to be spelt and pronounced, of course, dialect still existed. In the early 1800s, Britain underwent the ‘industrial revolution’ and the language grew dramatically as we needed new words for new inventions and concepts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s