The history of the English language, 4500 – 1700 BCE

Our story starts with Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, proto meaning ‘original’ – as in prototype; as the name suggests, it was the common tongue from which all modern Indian and European languages came. It was spoken in around 4500 BCE. The language was a lot more basic than what we have now and there were far fewer words; words would convey messages which were largely necessary for survival, ‘fire near cave’ and that sort of thing.

During the neolithic expansion (up to around 1700 BCE), the PIE language spread across Europe from its original home in and around what is now Ukraine. Most of the animals that hunted humans were wiped out by the last ice age allowing humans to switch from hunter-gatherers to farming civilisations, to advance and to expand. As we expanded local differences were created, much like the local dialects of today. Eventually, the changes became so marked that it was really the case that there were several different languages. The most important of these languages for us is ‘Proto-Germanic’, as this is the one from which most of modern English came. But it’s also worth noting ‘Hellenic’ which gave us Greek and ‘Italic’ which gave us Latin, both of which influenced our language dramatically.

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