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History of the English Language Essay

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Ms Howard-Bender


Period 1, 2, 3, 4, 6

History of the English Language Example Paper



English has had an extremely interesting history, though modern people might be unaware of it.  Because of countless encounters with other cultures and the changing needs of the people speaking it, the English language has morphed and been adapted for various needs throughout its history of about 1,500 years.  From the Germanic invaders of the fifth century C.E., to a Norman invasion, all the way to the introduction of texting technology, the English language has experienced its fair share of change.  From what historians and linguists report, a cross between the Celtic-speaking Britons and the Germanic tribes created the first "version" of English, which is known as Old English.

During the fifth century, three German tribes invaded and conquered the area now called England.  These tribes included the Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes.  The language of the primary tribe, the Angles, was called “Englisc,” from which the word English originates (Essberger 1).  The language of the invading tribes made up the basis for Old English, which was spoken in England from about 450 C.E. to about 1100 C.E., and over 5000 words remain in the version of English used today.  The people living in England during this time period also had many encounters with Viking invaders, which resulted in many vocabulary additions (Howard-Bender, “Old English,” 9/18/09).  Perhaps the most significant piece of Old English literature was the anonymous epic poem, Beowulf.  Upon inspection of this poem, one can observe the vast differences between Modern English and Old English: 

HwŠt! We Gardena         in geardagum,
■eodcyninga,         ■rym gefrunon,
hu ­a Š■elingas         ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing         scea■ena ■reatum (Lines 1-4).


There are some root words, like “be” and “water” that have remained unchanged since the time of Old English, but the vast majority of Old English is incomprehensible to a modern speaker of English.

            In 1066, William the Conqueror, the king of the Normans from France, did just what his title alludes to, and conquered the whole of England.  With this conquest came the introduction of yet another language—French.  This language “became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes” (Essberger 2). Furthermore, “(f)or a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French” (Essberger 2).  Out of this collision of languages came Middle English, which is a combination of primarily Anglo-Saxon words from Old English and French words (Howard-Bender, “Middle English,” 9/21/09).  Other than vocabulary additions, spelling and grammar experienced major changes.  For instance, the grammar of Middle English was now dependent on word order versus word endings (declensions) (Howard-Bender, “Middle English,” 9/21/09).

Toward the end of the Middle English period, a few major authors contributed to the elevation of English over the status enjoyed by the French language.  These included Geoffrey Chaucer and Margery Kempe.  Chaucer made a crucial contribution to English literature in using English at a time when much court poetry was still written in Anglo-Norman or Latin” (Jalic, Inc.).  Because Chaucer chose to write in English, versus the more "academic" languages of the time, he and others of his time assisted in the progression of the English language.  Middle English was widely used and spoken until approximately 1500, when William Shakespeare and his contemporaries really started to shake things up.

As England continued to establish itself as a self-sufficient empire, the language of England continued to adapt, but during the Early Modern English period, these changes were based on the needs and innovations of the English, versus based on any conquering peoples.  It was during this period that the printing press was invented by William Caxton, making literature, and therefore literacy, available to a much wider audience (Essberger  3).  The invention of the printing press also assisted in the standardization of grammar and spelling.  Furthermore, because the printing houses were mostly in London, the dialect of London was the one most commonly available throughout the country (Essberger 3).

After many years of instability and disease, England finally experienced a period of peace, allowing for the development of the arts to occur.  It was during this time period that William Shakespeare created his masterpieces, which left a major mark on the English language.  It has been estimated that Shakespeare had added an approximate 1,600 words to his native tongue (Howard-Bender, “Modern English,” 9/24/09). As the English people explored and conquered other lands, they brought with them their language to flourish and develop throughout the world.  Another major change during the Early Modern English period was the “Great Vowel Shift,” which vastly changed the pronunciation of English vowels, leading us into the Late Modern English period.

One major factor differentiates Early Modern English from Late Modern English, which came onto the scene between 1700-1800:  vocabulary.  This vocabulary difference comes from two sources:  technology and adoption of foreign words (Essberger 3 & Howard-Bender, “Modern English,” 9/24/09).  Contrary to a common misconception, a modern speaker of English is absolutely capable of speaking with and understanding a speaker of the Early Modern English period

The path of the English language has certainly been a rocky, interesting one.  As the people of the land of England encountered others from around the world, the English language has been modified to meet the needs of those speaking it.  There is little doubt that, as the modern speakers of English become more and more globally interconnected and technologically dependent, the English language is far from stagnant.  It will most certainly continue to change and develop so long as people continue to use it.

Works Cited

  1. Beowulf.  Georgetown University, 2007. August 30, 2009.  [http://www8.georgetown.edu/departments/medieval/labyrinth/library/oe/texts/a4.1.html]
  2. Chaucer, Geoffrey. "Gentilesse" The Norton Anthology of English literature Volume 1 Ed. MH Abrams . New York: WW Norton & Company, 1993. 198.
  3. Essberger, Josef.  “History of the English Language” 1997-2009.  EnglishClub.com. August 25, 2009.  [http://www.englishclub.com/english-language-history.htm]
  4. Online Literature.com.  “Geoffrey Chaucer.” Jalic, Inc.  2000.  August 25, 2009. [http://www.online-literature.com/chaucer/]



History of the English Language Paper

“Point Recovery” Assignment



       If you complete the assignment, your grade would increase by approximately 10 percentage points…

      0-55% would increase to a D (63%)

      56-65% would increase to a C  (73%)

      66-75% would increase to a B (83%)

      76-85% would increase to an A (93%)



Ř  Re-read your paper

Ř  Read the example paper that Ms HB

Ř  Write a 1 page (2-3 paragraphs) paper:             

o   analyzing the differences and/or similarities between your paper and the example paper

o   planning out what you will do next time to improve



Monday, October 26, 2009 by 8:10 AM



ě  Your 1 page analysis

ě  Your essay




Some links for further information

History of English Language Link 1

History of English Language Link 2

History of English Language Link 3

History of English Language Link 4 (VERY COMPREHENSIVE)

History of English Language Link 5

History of English Language Link 6

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