The Story of English
Alan D. DeSantis
In The Beginning . . .
Indo-European Language
• 1) The Start of the Indo-European Language
– 6000 BC, Indo-European language started in a cold, northern climate
of the forests north of the Black Sea (in what is now Ukraine) during
the Neolithic period.
• 2) The Spread of Indo-European Language
– By 3500 BC, these IE speakers began to travel.
– We get the start of many of the world’s languages
– These people spread:
West to Europe (German, English, French)
South to the Mediterranean (Italian, Spanish, Greek)
North to Scandinavia (Polish, Russian)
East to India and Iran (Iranian, Hindi)
The Spread of Indo-European Languages
A look at the spread and dominance of the Indo-European Languages
The Great Language Tree
Ancient Greek
English, German,
Dutch, Swedish
Italian, Spanish,
Russian, Polish,
Scottish, Welch,
Modern Greek
Hindi, Bengali
New Jersey-ian
The First English (kind of)
• 3) The Celtics
• A. The first of these groups to go to England were the
– Celtic initially developed in mainland to France
• B. Only about a dozen words are still in use
– Geographical terms for UK
– Avon and Thames
• C. After a few early invasions, the Celts pushed West
– They formed the languages of Welsh, Ireland, Scotland
The Italians (thank God!!!)
• 4) The Invading Romans
• A. The Romans invaded UK and the Celts
• B. Roman invasion in Britain left only 5 words.
– -chester in Manchester and the –caster in Lancaster (means camps)
– Interestingly, the Romans gave birth to a whole new group of Romantic
languages in Europe (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.).
• C. The Romans soon left (why stay in England when you have Italy!)
– Stayed for 367 years
• D. The Real Shocker:
– Everywhere the Roman Empire went, they left the “Latin” language
Left Latin in France and it became Latin French (evolving into French)
Left Latin in Italy and it became Latin Italian (evolving into Italian)
Left Latin in Spain and it become Latin Spanish (evolving into Spanish)
Left Latin in Portugal and it became Late Portuguese (evolving into Portuguese)
The Invasion of England by the Germanic Tribes
The Germans are Coming!
• 5) The Anglos, Saxons, and Jutes
• A. Around 450 AD, The Angles (gave us “A[E]nglish”),
Saxons (dominant group), and the Jutes came from Holland,
Germany, and Denmark.
– They were unrefined and barbaric compared to the Celts
• B. After years of being isolate, their 3 languages started to
blend together and develop into a brand new language--Old
– It sounded much more like German than English
• There are still places in Germany where people speak a version of Anglo and
Saxon that sound very much like Old English.
The Germans are Coming!
• C. What is left from old Anglo/Saxon (Old English) :
– Most of Anglo/Saxon died out
• Today, only about 1% of the words in the Oxford English Dictionary are A/S
(old English)
– Yet, those surviving words are the most fundamental
• Man, wife, child, brother, sister, live, fight, love, drink, sleep, eat, house,
through, look, walk, shoot, ground, meat, today, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday, to, for, but, and, at, in, on.
• Four of the tribe’s gods: Tue, Wardon, Thor, Frick
– Saturday, Sunday, and Monday come from the planets
– In fact, everyone of the 100 most common words spoken today are
– Of the next 100 words, 83 are of A/S origins
The Christians
• 6) The Christians with their Latin
• A. In 597 AD, Christianity brought its huge Latin
vocabulary to England (thanks to Augustine).
– We get Angel, disciple, litany, martyr, mass, relic, shrift, shrine,
alter, psalm, etc.
• B. We also get . . . our dominant religion
– Remember, the A/S were pagans (Tue, Wardon, Thor, Frick)
– Thus, America was founded as a Christian State, not a pagan one
Here Comes Trouble, again!
• 7) Vikings (750-1050 AD)
• A. The Vikings invaded the Northern part of England
– Spoke old Norse
• B. The Vikings were very aggressive
– They killed the Anglos, Saxons, Christian monks, land owners, etc.
• C. English almost died out without a trace
– Then, in 878 AD, in an 11th hour victory, Alfred the Great won many decisive
• Dane Treaty was signed—English got the South, the Danes got the North
– Without this victory, we may be speaking Viking!
• D. To this day, the treaty line divides Northern and Southern English
– To hear Northern-English speakers, one can hear Viking terms and accents.
– In fact, Northern England is filled with over 1,400 town names that are Viking
• E. Over 1500 Viking words still survive:
• Anger, bag, bait, birth, club, die, dirt, egg, husband, knife, law, skate, skill, skin, sky,
they, their, ugly, want, weak, window
They gave us more than just French Fries
• 8) The French Normans
• A. The Famous 1066 invasion of William the Conqueror
– The “Norman French” came to England and kicked butt
• B. They Became the New Elite Leaders of England
– For 300 years, England did not have a King who spoke English (until 1399)
• They took all the seats of power (church, government, law)
– The common English continued to speak their A/S German (AKA, Old English)
• C. Their addition to English:
– The French speaking Normans gave English 10,000 words (3/4 of which are still in use)
– Just about all our words related to government (except King and Queen), the law, the arts,
medicine, high fashion, and the military are French
• Bacon, beef, butcher, button, court, crime, curfew, defeat, eagle, fashion, felony,
fraud, gallon, grammar, injury, joy, judge, jury, justice, lever, liberty, marriage, noun,
nurse, parliament, pork, prison, question, rape, river, salary, shop, spy, squirrel,
syllable, tax, virgin
• D. The Blending of the Two Worlds (and languages)
– Slowly, Norman French began a break with Parisian French
– Many felt no alliance with “real” French anymore and began to embrace English (as a
new language and a culture)
• Lots of intermarriages between the Normans and the English
– This blending is the start of Middle English
Some Other Influences
that Changed English
(and you)
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Shakespeare
– Used 34,000 words—8% were never used before
• Average educated 16,000 / King James Bible 8,000
– Coined 2,000 words: barefaced, critical, leapfrog, monumental,
castigate, majestic, obscene, frugal, radiance, dwindle, countless,
submerged, excellent, fretful, gust, hint, hurry, lonely, summit,
pendant, obscene, and some 1, 685 others
– Coined many Phrases: One fell swoop, In my minds eye, To be
in a pickle, Vanish into thin air, Budge an inch, Play fast and
loose, Flesh and Blood, To be or not to be, Foul play, Cruel to be
• No single person has ever done more for any language
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Algonquin
• Arabic
• Caribou, Massachusetts,
Missouri, moccasins,
Oregon, pecan, raccoon,
tomahawk, Wisconsin,
• Albatross, alcohol,
algebra, almanac, assassin,
average, caramel, coffee,
cork, cotton, garbage,
giraffe, jar, magazine,
mattress, mirror, monkey,
safari, sheriff, soda, sofa,
syrup, tariff, zenith, zero
• Iroquois
• Kentucky, Ohio, Canada
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Dutch
• Parisian French
• Bluff, boom, booze, boss,
brandy, Brooklyn, bully,
caboose, coleslaw, cookie,
deck, decoy, dock, dot,
drill, drug, grab, Harlem,
hustle, jeer, landscape,
lottery, pickle, plug,
plump, poll, Poppycock,
quack, Santa Claus, cab,
stove, tub, waffle, wagon,
yacht, Yankee
• A la cart, ballet, biscuit,
cache, camouflage, crayon,
dentist, espionage, laissez
faire, lieutenant, maroon,
mayonnaise, nasal,
parachute, picnic, pioneer,
renaissance, rendezvous,
restaurant, sabotage, soup,
souvenir, sport, tampon,
tangerine, traffic, umpire,
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Modern German
• Spanish
• Blitz, brake, clock,
clown, dollar,
hamburger, heroin,
kindergarten, lager,
luck, muffin, nickel,
noodle, pretzel, quartz,
rocket, vitamin, waltz
• Argentina, bonanza, canyon,
Colorado, embargo, Florida,
guitar, lunch, patio, ranch,
rodeo, stampede, tornado, tuna,
• Sanskrit
• Brilliant, candy, hemp, nirvana,
opal, orange, pepper, sugar,
swastika, yoga
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Italian
• Kongo (West Africa)
• A cappella, alarm, America,
bank, bankrupt, bravo,
broccoli, buffoon, canon,
cartoon, casino, desk, ditto,
escort, ghetto, graffiti,
macaroni, Mafia, manager,
opera, pasta, piano, pizza,
risk, semolina, solo, soprano,
studio, spaghetti, umbrella,
violin, volcano
• Bongo, boogie,
chimpanzee, funky,
gorilla, mojo, zebra,
• Portuguese
• Bossa Nova, breeze, caste,
cobra, Creole, embarrass,
fetish, flamingo, massage
Other Worldly Contributions to
• Hebrew
• Provençal (S. France)
• Amen, cider,
cinnamon, elephant,
gopher, hallelujah,
Israel, Jew, jockey,
jug, messiah, Nimrod,
rabbi, Sabbath,
sapphire, Satan,
• Ballad, boutique, cabin,
cavalier, cocoon, crusade,
fig, Harlequin, limousine,
lingo, mascot, nutmeg,
perfume, pilgrim, salad,
Other Worldly Contributions to
English (the 2 biggies)
• Latin
• Greek
• Agitator, album, animal,
• Academy, acrobat, alphabet,
August, autumn, calendar,
aristocrat, athlete, barbarian,
circus, data, doctor, December,
bishop, buffalo, cathedral, catholic,
educator, February, France,
cemetery, chorus, Christ,
Germany, Greece, inch, joke,
democracy, dinosaur, diploma,
July, June, Jupiter, liberator,
drama, economy, genesis,
London, March, Mars, May,
gymnasium, helicopter, history,
Mercury, mile, November,
horizon, idea, mathematics,
October, parent, pastor,
method, museum, mystery, ocean,
picture, penis, refrigerate,
Olympic, panic, prophet, psalm,
religion, republic, satellite,
psycho-, pyramid, rhythm,
September, Spain, stadium,
symphony, tele-, theater, theatre,
study, stupid, suburb, table,
tavern, vagina
– Many of these also appear in the
Romance Languages
Other Worldly Contributions to
Afrikaans: Slim
Avestan (extinct from Iran): Magic and Paradise
Bilti (Pakistan): Polo
Benton (West France): Billiards
Carib (Caribbean): Barbecue
Czech: Robot
Flemish (North Belgium): Gas
Hindi: Shampoo
Latvian: Sleazy
Maya: Cigar
Nahuatl (Mexico): Chocolate & Tomato
Tongan (South Pacific): Taboo
Some Closing thoughts
on English up to 1500
• 1) English is a mongrel language made up of a little of
everything from everywhere
• 2) English is a NEW language.
– Not until 1600s do we get a language that we could recognize
• 3) The English Vocabulary Huge (or big, large, ample, great, prodigious,
immense, elephantine, elephantine, towering, gargantuan, gigantic, massive, monolithic, voluminous,
tremendous, Herculean)
– That is in larger part due to all the invasions & borrowing
– We have a synonyms for everything
Russian Vocabulary: 150,000 words
French Vocabulary: 180,000 words
Chinese Vocabulary: 221,000 words (2nd largest)
English Vocabulary: Over 600,000 words (1st, by a mile)
– Although the average 8th grader only uses 890 words a day
Now. . . To America!!!

The First Thousand Years of English Alan D. DeSantis