English is currently one of the most prolific languages in the world, with recent figures from the British Council showing approximately two billion people speaking it in at least seventy-five countries (British Council, 2014). Often referred to as a borrowing language, English has loaned and continues to loan words from nearly every language it encounters, with a majority of the words coming from Latin, French, and Greek (Durkin, “Borrowed Words” 2014). This lingual promiscuity has led to the English language’s somewhat brutal nickname, “the bastard tongue” (Nordquist, n.d.). In this essay we’ll be discussing the history of English, following its origins in Germanic languages, influence from Latin and other European languages, and the standardization that occurred in Early Modern English.
The origins of English have been traced back with relative certainty to the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., when an assortment of three mainland European tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, invaded Britain. While brothers Hengest and Horsa were originally invited to Briton by the king Wurtgern for the purpose of defeating the Picts, a tribe from North Eastern Scotland, they later decided to fight against the Britons for their rich land, deeming the original inhabitants worthless and weak. The brothers then called for assistance in the form of the three major powers of Germany at the time, the Angles, Saxons, and the Jutes; this migration of Germanic peoples to Britain is what most scholars agree was the first step in the genesis of the English language (Ingram, 2008; Durkin, “History,” 2014; English Club, 2014; Merriam-Webster, 2014).
While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s veracity is dubious because it was written hundreds of years after the events it describes occurred, it is highly likely that some version of these events did happen either by invasion or possibly less violent contact, like trade. It’s interesting to note that very little of the Celtic language influenced English and that only a handful of known Celtic words are present in English today, such as “coomb,” a type of valley, and “brock,” another word for badger (Durkin, “History,” 2014). The lack of any prominent traces of the Celtic language in English today suggests that the Germanic peoples held a palpable dominance on the continent after their introduction. The Oxford Dictionary’s History of English relates that “some scholars have suggested that the Celtic tongue might have had an underlying influence on the grammatical development of English,” but that this idea is “highly speculative” (Durkin, “History,” 2014). This hypothetical connection is shrouded in uncertainty because of the lack of writings we have from the Celtic peoples; they lacked a written language before and during these events, and studying the exact correlations between the languages has proved to be extremely difficult, if not impossible (“Ancient Celts”).
The next wave of people to physically invade Britain...