The modern English language has become the most spoken language in the world, with nearly of billion people who learn it as a second language. The history of this language is as interesting as the language itself as it has experienced many changes on its way to becoming the international language that the world speaks today. There are three main periods of the evolution of English, Old English, Middle-English, and modern English. This informative essay describes those periods and the factors that influenced the changes in the language.
The first written documents in the Old language are traced back to the beginning of the VII century. It is called “The law code of Æthelberht of Kent,” and for the modern English speaker, it is indeed incomprehensible. Initially, British islands were a part of a Roman Empire, which introduced Latin to local inhabitants who were also speaking Celtic. After the Empire left, the island was settled by the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. This established the West Germanic linguistic influence, which replaced the tradition of a Common Brittonic, a Celtic language and Latin, introduced by the Roman invasion. As a result, the language of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes has become prevalent on the island and formed Old English.
The Old English language developed into four main dialects, which were spoken in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Only Mercian and Northumbrian dialects would continue to develop in Modern English, while dialects of north and east of the island will be affected by Old Norse imposed by Viking invasion. Invasions, in general, determined the history of the English language as in 1066, the Norman invasion on the British island had ended the era of Old English and began the era of Middle-English. Medieval England was characterized by its use of French, a noble and prestigious language; therefore, Middle English was not as prominently developed. Due to its foreign influence, Middle English had much more local variations than Old English. This has resulted in the fragmented and regional nature of the language, which represented a lack of unity on the island.
However, the invention of the printing press has ended the era of Middle-English by selecting London dialects as a standard for printing language. This standardization established the process of unification of language, and this was the foundation of the Early Modern English language. A crucial point for the formation of Modern English was the great vowel shift, which took place from XIV to the XVII centuries. Language experts attribute this change to the population’s migration and borrowings of words from the French language. Hence, most vowels that were pronounced long in Middle English were shortened in Modern English.
The British Empire has contributed to the popularization of the English language worldwide. As such, English has been the main language of the United States, which also became one of the leading world powers in the XIX and XX centuries. The political and economic influence of those countries made English a language of science, negotiation, navigation, and international law. As a result, English has undergone some changes to make it simpler to learn and use worldwide. Nowadays, there are more people who know English as a second language than people who know it as a native language. By knowing the history of English, it is evident that this language was frequently adapting to foreign influences, which made it one of the easiest languages to learn.