History of the English
History of the English
 A language develops over
centuries of time; as it
develops, it changes. We
have no idea when English
language started.
The Stonehenge People
Around 1900 B.C., Stonehenge
was built. The Stonehenge people
had a language; however, they left
no written records. These people
left a remarkable monument to
their culture in the form of huge
stone circles with cap stones. These
guide stones align with the sun
during solstices.
Dictionary skill: Solstice
 Huge stones were moved
from miles away, raised to a
vertical position, and capped
with huge stones. The method
used to transport and raise the
stones is uncertain. Stonehenge
stands today as an awesome
accomplishment; although,
many stones have been removed
and used in other structures.
Celtic People
The Celts immigrated to England
in the 5th century B.C. and drove out
the Stonehenge people. The Celtic
tribes wandered widely from Spain to
Russia and Britain. Therefore, the
Celtic language was spoken over a
vast area of the European continent.
Pronunciation guide: Celt (hard c, K)
A Druid was the
priestly class in
ancient in Celtic
Dictionary skills:
Celtic Tribes
The Celtic tribes spoke a language
that survives today in Scotch Gaelic,
Irish, Welsh, and Breton. It also survives
in the names of many places in Britain.
There is a town with the following
Celtic name: Lian \ vire \ pooll \
guin \ gill \ go \ ger \ u \
queem \ drop \ ooll \ llandus\
illo \ gogo \ goch!
This village has the longest train station
name in the world! The name of the
village means:
St Mary's Church by the white
hazel tree near the fierce whirlpool
by the Church of St. Tysilio of the
red cave.
It was reputedly invented by an
innkeeper during the last century to drum
up more trade from train travelers.
Dictionary skills: reputedly
The Romans
In 43 A.D., an army of 40,000
Roman soldiers invaded Celtic Britain
and made it part of the Roman Empire.
During the 400 year Roman rule, the
Romans introduced Christianity, Latin,
built roads, established Roman laws, and
kept the fierce Picts and Scots on the
north side of Hadrian’s Wall.
The Romans
Internet skills:
Who was Julius Caesar?
Who was Claudius?
Who was Boudica (also spelled
Who was Hadrian?
BBC History of Britain
Time Line
Wall was
built across
the narrow
part of
England to
keep the
Pics and
Scots from
invading the
Hadrian’s Wall
spoke Latin. *
Roman soldiers
were also
engineers and
built roads to
link Rome with
the Roman
*Internet search: BBC,
Why is it important to
the way we speak that
Romans spoke Latin?
Roman Soldier
The Romans
The Romans (Italy)
Romans soldiers
came from the area we
call Italy today. Rome
is still the capital city
of Italy.
After serving in the
army, many soldiers
married Celtic women
and settled down in
Britain was the western edge
of the Roman Empire.
End of Roman Rule
410 A.D.
The Romans began to pull her
legions out of Britain in 410 A.D. after
400 years of Roman rule. Rome was
crumbling from the attacks of the
barbarians. The Celts were left without
the protection of the Roman army and
had no weapons to defend themselves.
left, the
Picts and
Bands of Vikings
came south from
After 400 years of having
Roman protection, the Celts
were civilized, peace- loving,
and accustomed to Roman laws.
They had not needed to fight
for a long time. They needed
help against the Pict, Scots, and
Viking raiders.
The Jutes
A Celtic chieftain, Vortigern, had a
plan. He hired Jutes, a Germanic tribe,
to come over and fight the Picts and
Scots. Vortigern promised the Jutes the
isle of Thanet. After the Jutes defeated
the Picts and Scots, they liked England
better than the island of Thanet or their
old home in Germany. They stayed in
England in an area called Kent.
Why did the Jutes want to stay?
England is a beautiful island. It is located in
the path of the warm Gulf Stream waters that
make a warmer climate than one would expect
at that latitude. It provides excellent grazing
and farm land. It is a land worth conquering.
The Gulf Stream is an ocean
current that moves north from the
Gulf of Mexico at the equator. It
brings warm, moist air to Britain.
The Angles and Saxons
The Angles and Saxons were
Germanic cousins of the Jutes. They
invaded Britain and drove the Celts
far to the west of Britain. They added
insult to injury by calling them
“Wealas” (Welsh), which means
“foreigners”. Among these “Wealas”
was probably King Arthur from the
legends of chivalry.
Jutes, Angles, and Saxons
These German
tribes spoke
German although
each spoke a
different dialect.
Dictionary skills:
The Celts,
renamed Wealas
(foreigners), were
driven west by the
Angles and Saxons
and settled in
Wales. The heir to
the English throne,
Prince Charles, is
titled the Prince of
Wales. Welch is a
form of the Celtic
(Angleish, English, speech of the Angles)
By the middle of the 6th century, the
Jutes, Angles, and Saxons were settled
on the land they had taken from the
An error was made by historians when
they determined that the Angles’ dialect
was the origin of Angleish; therefore,
English was the name used for all three
Germanic tribes.
Scholar, statesman, and general, King
Alfred the Great, ruled the West Saxons from
871 to 899 A.D. He learned Latin and had the
most important Latin books translated into
Saxon, collected folk tales and history, and
taught his people to read and write, too. His
love of reading and language preserved
English during the Dark Ages.
Because of Alfred the Great’s love of
learning, we speak Saxonish not Anglish.
Angles and Saxons, etc.*
*Etc.(et cetera) – and so forth (L) Latin
The language known as Old English
was spoken 450 A.D. – 1150 A.D. Most
surviving Old English documents are in
West Saxon dialect. Beowulf is one of
King Alfred foughtViking raiders
who had been attacking English towns
off and on for a century. First, they
came in small bands to loot, murder, and
burn; but later, they brought in armies to
seize the land. Alfred dealt them a
smashing defeat in 878 A.D..
The Vikings
The Vikings came from
Scandinavia. There were many
places on the British island to
beach their boats and raid the
English countryside.
Internet – Interactive game: Be
a Viking Raider. Decide your
•How large will your ship be?
• Who will you include in the
•Plan and execute a raid on
Lindisfarne monastery on the
coast of Britain in Northumbria.
For another century, the
Viking invaders kept coming.
Finally, in 1014, a Danish Viking
named Canute was crowned King
of England. He was wise and
humble king.
Once, he took all his
flattering courtiers down to the
sea. He asked, “Am I so
powerful that I can stop the tide
from coming in?”
They answered, “Oh, yes!”
So, he commanded the tide to
stay out. Of course, they all got
their feet wet.
The Vikings gradually stopped
speaking Danish or Norse and
learned English. However, they
gave us such words as:
they, their, them, are, skirt, sky,
skin, scrub, whisk,
and names ending in –son.
French Vikings, the Normans
Scandinavian Viking bands
invaded the northern coast of
France, settled there, and learned
French. They forced the French king
to name their leader the Duke of
Normandy and to give them the
province of Normandy (Northman
lands). They were called Normans
Meanwhile, England … 1066
Edward the Confessor, a
descendant of King Canute, died
with no heir to claim the throne of
England. Two Viking nobles,
Harold of England and William,
Duke of Normandy, claimed the
right to the throne. Harold was in
England and had himself crowned.
1066, the Battle of Hastings
William, Duke of Normandy, and his
French Vikings crossed the English
Channel, invaded England, and attacked
army of newly crowned King Harold of
England. Harold was killed when an
arrow entered his visor and pierced his
eye. William the Conqueror became
King of England.
The Normans built
towers and castles
style quite different
from the old Celtic
hill forts.
The Normans
nobles spoke
French with a
Viking accent.
The peasants
spoke the
English of the
German Saxon
For 200 hundred years after 1066,
French was the language in the
government, church, education, and the
arts. English was spoken, but only by
the lower classes. Often, modern English
has inherited two different words for the
same item. The peasant called the beast
a cow (Engl.), but the Norman lord
called it beef (FR.).
English Became Classy
In 1204, the Anglo-Normans
and the French king fought once
more for possession of
Normandy. The Anglo-Normans
lost the battle and their
possessions in Normandy to the
French king.
English Became Classy
The King of France added insult to
the loss of Normandy. He said, “The
King of England can’t fight or speak
French well.” This angered the English
king, and he ordered all his subjects to
speak English. English moved up the
social scale.
The Anglo-Normans learned English
but kept to more than 10,000 of their
French words.
The result was neither Old English
nor Norman French, but a new
combination: Middle English.
Geoffrey Chaucer
The most famous writer of Middle
English during this period (1150 –
1500) is Geoffrey Chaucer. The next
slide has an excerpt of a Chaucer
poem. Listen to the poem. What does
it say?
Dictionary skills: excerpt
“The Pardoner’s Tale”
(an excerpt)
“Now, sires,” quod he, “if that ye be so leef
To fynds Deeth, turne up this croked wey,
For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey,
Under a tree, and there he wole abyde;
Noght for youre boost he wole him no thyng hyde.
Se ye that ook? Right there ye shal hym fynde.”
Modern English
Three foolish men set out to kill
Death. They are helped in their
search for Death by a mysterious old
man in a long black cloak.
Who was he?
What do you predict happened when
the foolish men found Death?
Interesting Facts about modern English
• We use Germanic words when we talk about
everyday, essential things of life:
sleeping, walking, loving, hating,
the sun, moon, and stars; house and hearth, floor
and roof, the parts of the human body.
•These Germanic words are the most
frequently used, but they make up only one
Interesting Facts about modern English
About three fifths of the
vocabulary came originally from
Latin and Greek, usually passing
through French on the way. The rest
of the English word stock consists of
borrowings from dozens of other
The Language Family Tree
The Indo-European languages are
called a language family because they are
believed to be the descendants of a
parent language spoken in Central
Europe in the late Stone Age. There are
no written records; but similar words in
many languages have made it possible to
reconstruct the possible original forms.
On the next slide there are some common
Indo-European words.
Sanskrit Russian Greek
Bharami …
Bear (verb)
Amery, Tucking, and Cartwright. The First 1,000
Words in German: Edc Publishers,1988.
Bryson, Bill. Mother Tongue, English & How It Got
That Way: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Chart. “History of the English Language”. No
origin shown.
Glencoe, Writer’s Choice Grammar and
Composition, Glencoe,2001.

History of the English Language