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Essay: The English Language

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  • Published: 8 October 2015*
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English is a West Germanic language which was first spoken in early medieval England. The language is now on the third place of most spoken languages in the world and is an official language in almost 60 states. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union, the United Nations and many other world organisations.

The English language arose at the beginning of the 5th century, during the Migration Period. English was brought to England by the Germanic tribes, the Saxons and the Angles (Anglo-Saxons) from Northern Germany and the Jutes from Jutland, part of modern Denmark. When the Germanic tribes moved to the British island, they came in contact with Celtic tribes who already lived there. The Celtic language has had little influence on English. With the early church, Latin brought a lot of new words. The many invasions by the Normans, who later settled in, brought along Scandinavian influences. The Celts were further reduced by the arrival of the new Germanic tribes. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes merged into one group with their own language, Englisc. Over time, this term changed into the term we know now, English.

English is usually divided into periods as follows:

Old English, from mid-5th century to the mid-12th century.
Middle English, 12th-15th century.
Modern English, about mid-16th century to the present.

Old English
The language of this period (5th to 12th Century) is called the Old English. This Old English was very different from the English as we know it nowadays. It had a wider alphabet with letters, ?? ?? and ??. It was a highly inflected language, like the Latin. Words were used differently according to their function in the sentence. During the Old English period people did not wrote much literature. Especially the clergy wrote books, and they wrote in Latin. Beowulf is the most famous work from the Old English period. The poem is generally a work of fiction, but there are people for who may really have existed and events that probably took place between the years 450 and 600 in Denmark and southern Sweden. It is a source of information on Anglo-Saxon traditions. Probably the story transmitted orally by Danish immigrants to England, and was later written down. Old English differs so much from modern English, that whoever wants to read Old English texts, will first have to study a textbook Old English. Old English and modern English are two very different languages. The Old English period came to an end in 1066.

Middle English
A group of Vikings from Scandinavia settled in France, in Normandy. Their integration went well, within a century they spoke French. When they then moved to the British island they brought there Romanesque influences on the English language. In 1066 the Norman prince William the Conqueror set foot ashore in England after the Battle of Hastings. The Normans were originally Vikings, but they lived for over a century in Normandy and had himself mastered the French language. The Normans were a new elite in Medieval England. Their French language left its mark on the English language which had arise in the Old English period. Anglo-Saxons and Normans gradually fused into one group. The Norman influence, however, would leave a lasting impression on the English language. That’s why you’ll find anywhere in contemporary English many words of Norman-French origin, such as; competition, mountain, art, table, publicity, police, role, routine, machine and force. English from this period is called Middle English. The grammar of Old English has dramatically changed. Geoffrey Chaucer was the main writer of the Middle English period. With knowledge of modern English you already understand a lot of Middle English texts. An explanatory commentary for foreign words and expressions there is needed.

Modern English
From the 16th century one speaks of Modern English. The English of Shakespeare (16th century) is also called Early Modern English, to indicate that there are still differences between this English and contemporary English. From the 16th century a revolution in the shipping industry takes place. England, the Netherlands, Portugal, France and Spain build ships with which they explore the world’s oceans. Everywhere in the world, founded by these countries there are colonies. The language of the motherland is the language of the colony. The United Kingdom include the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. So the language in these colonies became English. In the 18th and 19th and 20th century England was a world power with many English colonies, so the English language became a lingua franca. This was further helped by the rise of the United States as political, but above all cultural, world power. During the 20th century the United States are the largest world power in the field of culture, science, economy and military power. English is the language of international commerce, science and diplomacy.

As a result of the adjusting of words from many other languageses troughout the history, Modern English has a very large vocabulary.. Modern English is not only influenced by word from other European states, but from all around the world. In the Oxfort English Dictionary contains more than 250.000 words, and many technical, scientific, and slang terms are not even in it.

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