History of English

English belongs to the Germanic Branch of Indo-European

English has changed more than most IE languages

INDO-EUROPEAN PERIOD (? 8,000 to 4,000BC ?)

Indo-Europeans were some of the world's first farmers

homeland - probably western half of the Black Sea

Kentum languages spread through Europe, Inner Asia by 3,000BC

Satem languages - Indo-Iranians, after 4,000 BC

Proto-Germanic was a Kentum language that started spreading north from Black Sea, reaching the North Sea by 2,000BC


Proto-Germans mix with aboriginal farming peoples in Northern Europe

North Sea Aborigine words and traits borrowed into Germanic:

1. Toponyms:  Sweden (Sverige), Scandi and Finn

2. Nature: sea, land, strand, mew, eider, auk, seal, sturgeon, herring.    New coinages: swan (<sing), flounder (<flat)

3. Sea travel: ship, keel, sail, oar

4. Religionhel, ragnarok.

5. Society: wife, bride, groom, husa replaces domo, folk replaces manni, which replaces vir/wer, aboriginal words sometimes survive in negative meaning

knapa (youth)->knave       karl (man) became churl.

6. farming or animal husbandryhafur (oats;  haversack) mare.  Also:  ram, lamb, sheep, kid, bitch, hound, dung

7. Other basic wordsrisan, rise, hlaupan, leap, lagjiz, leg, handuz, hand, skuldar, shoulder, bainam, bone, seukaz, sick, hairsaz, hoarse, newhiz, near, lik, like, ibnaz, even, kak, a round object, hence cake, kr -> crooked, cripple, creek, etc.

Probably two replacements in North Europe: 

Non-IE hunter-gatherer (before 5,000 BC) replaced by

First IE farmers (who borrowed heavily from them)

Second IE farmers (Proto-Germans) mixed with the first farmers

Germanic is more changed than many other IE branches, probably due to this double dose of mixing.  Germanic has many unique words, grammatical and phonological patterns.


Germanic spreads, develops three main dialects:

North Germanic - Scandinavia free from Roman, Celtic influence,          later becomes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian

East Germanic - Gothic, moves into E. Europe, destroyed by Huns

West Germanic - yields Modern German, Dutch, English

   West Germans called themselves Teutes (<Teuton, Dutch, Deutsch)

All modern Germanic languages are closely related:

sing, sang, sung
zingen, zong, gezongen
sjunga, sjo:ng, sjungit

West Germanic influenced by Latin (Roman) culture and vocab.

First Latin borrowing into what became English (100BC to 400AD):

1. Foodstuffs: oleum-> oil, olive, butirum-> butter, caseus -> (cheese/Kase, replaces yustas/ost), piper-> pepper, coquina-> kitchen, panna-> pan, cuppa->cup, discas->dish, kaula-> cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, coleslaw; petrosileum->parsely.

2. Time: yarum -> year, mannoth -> month, langtinus -> Lent

weekday names are Germanic calques (loan translations) based on Latin:

sol-dinus lun-dinus mar-dinus mercur-dinus (Jupiter) (Venus)
sun-day moon-day Tiw's-day Wotan's-day Thor's-day Freya's-day

Saturday was borrowed, since Germans had no god equivalent to Saturn       

EARLY ANGLO-SAXON, or Early Old English (430-800 AD)

By 430 AD the Celts had lost out to the Germans and Romans, refuge was in Britain (Welsh) and Ireland (Irish, later Scots Gaelic)

By 600 AD Celts and Romans (Latin speakers) lose out to Germans

After 430 AD Germanic tribes - Angles, Saxons, Jutes move to Britain, begin displacing Celts there. 

Their dialects partly merge to become Anglo-Saxon (OLd English)

The growth of Anglo-Saxon

1. Celtic borrowings: very few in number, town <-tun (fortified hill) iron, crag, rix ->king (cf. regal, Reich, rex, bishopric), curse, cross (original Germanic gives us crutch), ass (borrowed earlier by the Celts from the Latin asinus)

2. Aboriginal borrowings (perhaps through Celtic)  dog, girl, boy, Britain, Ire (Eire) land

3. Drift of /sk/ to /S/ by 600 AD:  scield -> shield, scip -> ship, disc -> dish, scirt -> shirt

4. 587AD conversion to Christianity, Second Latinate Borrowing:

   Cultural, religious words from Old French: preost, biscup, nonne, monoc, diafol, engel;   

   Calque based on Old French:  par-don -> for-give.

   Some Anglo-Saxon words gained new, Christian meaning: synn, hel, God, Easter

OLD ENGLISH, or Late Anglo-Saxon (800-1066 AD)

Late 700's to 900 AD Norse invasions, many Vikings settle North England, mingle with Anglo-Saxons.  Anglo-Saxon mixes with Old Norse (Old Danish) creates a new language called either Late Anglo-Saxon or Old English.  Two major effects:

1. Many new lexical doublets (synonyms from different sources:

Early Anglo-Saxon Old Norse
rear raise
carve cut
craft  skill
hide  skin
from  fro
no  nay
heaven sky

Some lexical doublets are also Cognates - words with a single origin found in different languages

Early Anglo-Saxon /S/ Old Norse reintroduces /sk/
shin skin
shirt skirt
ship skipper
shatter scatter

2. Anglo-Saxon inflectional system collapses (most endings lost)

a. Most plurals regularized:  stan/stanas, nama/namen,     ship/shipu,  sunu/suna.  A few remain: ox/oxen; foot/feet.

b. Many strong verbs regularized:  help -> helped (not holp)

c. Grammatical endings drop:  stan, stanas, stanu, stanam,         stanum, stanos, etc.  -> stone, stone's, stones, stones'

Old English in 1066 was still mostly Germanic; Latin/French words limited to food, religion.  Old English sounded more like modern Icelandic than modern English:

Fæder ure, Du De eart on heofunum

Si Din nama gehalgod,

Tobecume Din rice

GewurD Din wille

On eorDan swa swa on heofonum

MIDDLE ENGLISH (1066 - 1450-ish)

William defeats Harold at Hastings in 1066.  Norman French kings rule England in place of Anglo-Saxons

Diglossia -Norman French spoken by upper class, Anglo-Saxon by lower. 

The two languages gradually merge into one, called Middle English

Impact of Norman French vocabulary (Third Latinate borrowing)

is enormous:

    1) governmental:  count, heraldry, fine, noble, parliament.

    2) military:  battle, ally, alliance, ensign, admiral, navy, aid, gallant, march, enemy, escape, peace, war (cf. guerilla).

    3) judicial system: judge, jury, plaintiff, justice, court, suit, defendant, crime, felony, murder, petty/petit, attorney, marriage (Anglo-Saxon wedding), heir.

    4) ecclesiastical:  clergy, altar, miracle, preach, pray, sermon, virgin, saint, friar/frere.

    5) cuisine:  sauce, boil, filet, soup, pastry, fry, roast, toast.

   6) personal names: John, Mary (Biblical Hebrew or Greek) and Norman French (Charles, William, Richard)

New lexical doublets (stylistically marked)

Anglo-Saxon Norman French
cow beef
calf veal
swine  pork
sheep   mutton
deer  venison
sweat perspire

Doublet phrases:  law and order, lord and master, love and cherish, ways and means.

New derivational morphology:

many suffixes: -or vs. -er;  -tion,  -ment, -ee,  -able

most prefixes:  ex-, pre, pro, dis, re, anti- inter

Anglo-Saxon:  be- in besmirch, or for- in forgive, forstall;   

Phonology:  Norman French phonemes /z/ and /v/ borrowed

More than 50% of modern English words are Norman French

But most function words and basic vocabulary are Anglo-Saxon

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  With this ring I thee wed, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse. . . in sickness and in health. . . Thank God.  Go to hell. Drop dead!   I love you.  Up yours!  .


Anglo-Saxon/Norman French completely merge

English becomes a world language, overseas dialects develop

Changes in Early Modern English 1450-1600

1. Phonological:

a. velar fricative [x] drops or becomes /f/: night, light, though, enough 

b. velar +nasal clusters simplify:  know, gnat, knee, gnome .

c. GREAT VOWEL SHIFT - all tense vowels change pronunciation

2. Vocabulary -Fourth Latinate Borrowing -mostly learned terms ( enormous, action, item, suicide, etc.)

Latin, Greek plurals: datum/data;  cactus/cacti, formula/formulae.    

New lexical doublets
Older Norman French New "artificial" Latin
example exemplary
pensive  ponder

Aspects of English artificially made to follow Latin

No split infinitives

painture  ->picturedette ->debt, verdit ->verdict.  

Minor grammatical changes after 1600

a) some irregular verbs became regularized:  spake>spoke

b) 3rd person singular verb ending:  he doest/doth/does.

c) thou, thee, thy/thine replaced by: you, your.

d) plural /es/ to /s/ or /z/ except after sibilants.

English after 1600 - only major changes are

1) dialect development
2) vocabulary expansion

mosquito (Portuguese or Spanish); pajamas (Hindi); bungalo (Bengali); tulip, turban (Turkish); taboo (Tahitian); okay (Chocktaw?); So long (Malay)

Origin of Modern English vocabulary

1) North European aboriginal terms into Common Germanic (before 2000BC)

2) Latin terms from Romans into West Germanic (100BC-400AD)

3) Christianized Latin terms into Anglo Saxon (after 587AD)

4) Old Norse into Anglo Saxon (700-900AD)

5) Norman French into Old English (1066-1300AD)

6) Ancient Latin and Greek into Modern English 1500- through the present)

Lexical doublets

forgive/pardon Latin borrowing from the Christianization vs. Norman French borrowing
shirt/skirt Native Anglo-Saxon word vs. Old Norse borrowing
cow/beef Native Anglo-Saxon vs. Norman French borrowing
dish/disk Older Latin borrowing vs. later Latin borrowing
chief/chef  Older Norman French borrowing vs. recent borrowing from French