English is a polyglot, meaning: many tounges.

History of the English language

  1. Before English

    5000 BC – 500 AD

    1. A depiction of the migration patterns of the Indo-Europeans throughout Europe

      Half of all languages stem from the Indo-Europeans. In fact, they are the largest language family and account for almost half of all languages in the world.

      • mouse in English
      • maus in German
      • muis in Dutch
      • mus in Latin
      • mus in Sanskrit
    2. 3500 BC The Indo-Europeans began to spread out into groups. English comes from the Germanic branch.

    3. A group of Celts hunting with bows and arrows

      800 BC The Celts, early inhabitants of Britain, are the most widespread group of Indo-europeans. Little is known about these early hunter/gatherers.

    4. An illustration of Roman soldiers

      55 BC – 410 AD The Romans invaded Britain in 55 BC under the rule of Julius Ceasar and the Roman Empire. Although they stayed until 410 AD, there was not a lot of influence on English language at this time.

  2. Old English

    500 – 1100 AD

    1. A depiction of the settlement routes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into Britian

      Without the protection of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded Britian, including the Jutes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Frisians.

    2. 450 AD While the Celts were pushed north and west, the Anglo-Saxons became the dominant tribe and spoke Old English.

    3. What category would you give to each list of words below?

      Are these common or uncommon words?

      What syllable patterns do you see?

      • man
      • wife
      • child
      • son
      • daughter
      • brother
      • friend
      • sun
      • moon
      • earth
      • ground
      • wood
      • field
      • house
      • what
      • when
      • which
      • where
    4. Some of the Anglo-Saxon runes

      597 AD Roman missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet to the Celts to replace their Anglo-Saxon runes.

    5. 658 ADCaedmon’s Hymn” is the oldest text from Old English.

    6. A Viking ship on the sea

      700 AD The Vikings invaded Britain.

    7. King Alfred the Great

      871 AD Alfred the Great became king and united the Anglo-Saxons.

    8. 878 AD The Vikings and King Alfred agreed to a treaty. Over 1,000 new words were added to English from the Vikings.

  3. Middle English

    1100 – 1500 AD

    1. An illustration of William the Conqueror holding a sword

      1066 AD William the Conqueror, from France, led the Norman Conquest of England.

    2. What category would you give to each list of words below?

      • mansion
      • money
      • gown
      • boot
      • beauty
      • mirror
      • jewel
      • court
      • judge
      • justice
      • accuse
      • arrest
      • sentence
      • crown
      • castle
      • prince
      • count
      • duke

      What is the sound of ch in these words?

      • chef
      • chenille
      • chauffer
      • chivalry

      What is the sound of i in these words?

      • machine
      • routine
      • magazine
    3. How many morphemes do you see in each word?

      What syllable patterns do you see?

      • inspection
      • reactive
      • detector
      • intersection

      What do you notice about these prefixes and the root that follows?

      • irregular
      • illegal
      • community
      • support

      What final blends do you see?

      • tractor
      • act
      • script
      • inept
    4. The people of England suffering from the Black Death

      1348 AD The Black Death arrived in England and killed about ⅓ of the people.

    5. 1362 AD English became the official language of England.

    6. A page from the Canterbury Tales

      1380 AD Books were written in English including the Canterbury Tales and the Bible.

  4. Early Modern English

    1500 – 1800 AD

    1. An illustration of an early printing press

      1476 AD The Printing Press arrived in England.

    2. 1400 - 1700 AD During the Great Vowel Shift, long vowel sounds shifted from low and back in the mouth to high and in the front.

    3. 1500 - 1600 AD During the English Renaissance, many Greek, Latin, and French words were added to English.

    4. How many morphemes do you see in each word?

      • photograph
      • telescope
      • microphone
      • kilometer

      What is the sound of ch in these words?

      • chorus
      • Christmas
      • chaos
      • echo
    5. A picture of Shakespeare holding a book

      1589 AD Shakespeare wrote many plays and created new words.

    6. A Table Alphabeticall

      1604 AD The first English dictionary was written.

    7. 1400 - 1800 AD International trade increased the number of words used from other cultures.

  5. Late Modern English

    1800 – Present

      • train
      • camera
      • vacuum
      • locomotive
      • railway
      • horsepower
    1. The British on the shore of Australia

      1700 - 1900 AD British Colonialism added more words from places like Australia and India.

    2. A screenshot of the Urban Dictionary entry for selfie

      Present English has the largest vocabulary in the world, with new words added every year.

After reading through the timeline above, I hope you can see the way in which many other languages have helped shape English as a the polyglot we know.

Test your knowledge of the four major layers of English: