A Brief History of the
English Language,
or Why English is Hard to
How did English get to
Prepare to fill in the spaces on
your notes sheet.
How did English get to
North America?
English immigrants to
Jamestown, Plymouth,. . . In
the early 1600’s
English is a member of the
West Germanic group of the
 Germanic subfamily of the
 Indo-European family of languages.
Think of it as the Family Tree
of our Language!
 One of the leaves is our
language, English.
 The branch it has come
from is West Germanic,
which grows out of
 Germanic, which comes
from the roots of
 The Indo-European
family of languages.
English is the official language of
___?__ nations.
English is the official language of
___?__ nations.
English is spoken by how many
more than
English is spoken by how many
more than
English is one of the two
working languages of the
United Nations. The other
one is __?___.French!
English is the mother tongue of
the British Isles.
English spread because of
British exploration, colonization, and empire building
during the
 Seventeenth
 Eighteenth
 And Ninteenth centuries
The history of the English
parallels the
history of the
people and
the British
In the middle of the fifth century
• Tribes of Germanic
invaders -- Angles,
Saxons, and Jutes - brought their
languages across the
English Channel to the
British Isles.
In the sixth century
• Christian missionaries
arrived in England and
brought Latin with
• Other invaders from
established settlements
in Britain.
By the ninth century
• Anglo-Saxon (a
dialect spoken in
Southern England) had
become standard
• One fifth of the
English words we
use derive from
this Anglo-Saxon
But in the eleventh century
• The Norman
Conquest of Britain
brought foreign
rulers whose native
language was
For more than three hundred
• French was the official
language of England.
• French was the language of
the court.
• English was spoken only by
• For example, consider the
words “pig” and “pork.”
Another half of our English
vocabulary is
• of French and
Romance origins.
•No, not that kind!
In the fourteenth century,
• English/Wessex again became the language
of the English upper class.
• The new standard was a London dialect
since London was now the capital city.
• During the three hundred years kings of
England had spoken French, the English
language had changed greatly.
• The French spoken by nobles became more
like English. The English of the common
people was now full of French words.
There are three periods of
1. Old English or Anglo-Saxon to c. 1150.
2. Middle English to c. 1500.
3. Modern English to today.
 An Englishman of 1300 wouldn’t have
understood the English of 500; nor would
he understand the English we speak today.
Here’s an example of changes in
English pronunciation:
• The word name
• In Old English was pronounced
nämä (the a as in fäther)
• In Middle English was pronounced
näme (fäther) + (sofa)
In Modern English, is pronounced
Vocabulary Sources of
the English Language
Words come from all over!
From Anglo-Saxon English
bread, good, shower,
home, stones, fox
From Latin Christianity
priest, bishop, anthem, candle,
epistle, hymn
From Scandinavian Settlers
Husband, sky, skin, club, gape,
root, egg, take, give, window,
leg, skin, crawl, die, sister
From Norman French
and Vulgar Latin
Legal terms: judge, jury, tort,
attorney, crime, assault
Terms of rank: prince, duke,
baron, parliament,
Others: honor, courage,
season, manner, study,
castle. . .
From Latin and Greek during the
Renaissance and after
Words for science,
invention, and
technology: conifer,
cyclamen, helium,
halogen, intravenous,
isotope, metronome,
polymer, telephone
Word Parts from Greek and Latin
Prefixes: (“Pre” from Latin means earlier or
“bi-” from Latin means _____
“extra” from Latin means _________
“fore” from Old English means _____
“il” from _______ means ______
“mis” from Latin means ________
“pre” and “post” mean ___________
Word Parts from Greek and Latin
Suffixes: ( from Latin for “to fasten beneath”)
For example: “-ment” from Latin is a word part that
indicates product, means, action, or state.
We often use “-ment” to turn a verb into a noun:
Excitement is the state of being excited.
Encouragement is the action of encouraging.
Discouragement is the product of being
Want to know lots more words?
One of the best ways to increase your vocabulary
is to learn word parts (prefixes, suffixes, and roots)
that are often used in English.
“bio” (life) + “logy” (study of) =
biology which is the study of life
What about
geology, hydrology, psychology?
Words from everywhere over the
past three hundred years
tobacco, banana,
pajamas, squash,
raccoon, prairie,
chowder, canyon,
ranch, chop suey,
kudzu, pretzel,
kindergarten, bagel,
pizza coleslaw,
bedspread, tomato,
jazz, yams
The origins of a word is called its
Use a good
dictionary to find
out where the
words you use
come from.
Part 2: The Etymology
of a Few Words
The word “tobacco”
comes from the
Arabic for “euphoriacausing herb.”
Euphoria (from the
Greek) means a
feeling of happiness
or well-being.
Tell that to someone
in the hospital with
lung cancer from
smoking cigarettes!
Then again, perhaps
that’s why people
have such a hard
time quitting once
they start smoking.
This comes from
Hindi from a Persian
word for “leg or foot”
combined with
another for
This word comes
through Portuguese
and Spanish from a
native West African
This comes from a
Native American
Can you wrap your
tongue around this
I looked up the Etymology of
the word “like” as in “I sure like
I found out it comes
from the Old English
word “lician,” which
means “to please, to
be sufficient.”
English is hard to spell,
but it is a wonderful,
versatile, expanding
Expand your vocabulary!

A Brief History of the English Language,