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The Shortest History of the English Language

(in the History of the English Language)

The English language has gone through multiple periods of occupation and cultural exchanges that shaped the way we talk today. Here is a brief history of the evolution of the language through the centuries.

In England, English was an Anglo-Saxon import from Germanic and Scandinavian tribes who came to inhabit the island between the 5th and 11th century, replacing the earlier Celtic languages.

The Roman occupation prior to that event (from the 1st century to the 5th century AD) probably had some sort of influence, but its precise impact is uncertain.

In the first millennium, the language shifted from its Celtic roots to what we call Old English. Multiple words still in usage today are from this period, such as "food" or "man."

English evolved once again at the end of the 11th century. Indeed, William the Conqueror managed to conquer Britain and brought a "French," or Norman, dialect with him and this became the language of noblemen for the next 150 years. The word "beef" (boeuf) has French origins for instance. Some linguists think that nearly 50% of today's vocabulary comes from French. Old English evolved into Middle English at this time.

At the beginning of the 14th century, the French influence was overthrown, and English once again became the language of government. Towards the 16th century, because of this social transformation, what we now call Modern English came into existence. Texts from this period are still somewhat readable even for neophytes.

Even though we are still technically in the Modern English period, everyone can attest that the English we use in 2022 is rather different from the English that Shakespeare used. We probably are already in another age of the English language, but haven't acknowledged it yet.

Thus, we can see that the English language has gone through multiple periods of occupation and cultural exchanges that shaped the way we talk today. This is also why English grammar seems so easy to a lot of people.

In fact, English grammar was far more complex in its olden days. After all, when all sorts of people meet together, a sort of pidgin tends to develop, and when this creole starts becoming the language of the newer generation, that's when you have a new type of language emerge.

Of course, regional particularities exist such as in the USA or in Australia, where the vocabulary isn't always the same. Moreover, the globalisation of the world, future migrations and else, are not done with changing English for the (near?) future.

Texte par : Jean-Simon Guay

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Paul. W Justice, Relevant Linguistics: an introduction to the structure and use of English for teachers — 2nd edition revised and expanded, Stanford, CSLI publications, 2004, p. 273.

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