A timeline of the history of English

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  • Created by: natwhite0
  • Created on: 17-10-15 20:32

The History of English

Old/Anglo-Saxon English

  • Germanic tribes gradually invaded from the east over several generations, pushing Celts west into Scotland, Wales, and Ireland

  • Saxons took dominance - new Anglo-Saxon nation became known as ‘Anglaland’/‘Englaland’ (the Land of the Angles)

  • English began to distinguish itself from Germanic dialects around 600 AD

  • Four major dialects - Northumbrian (north), Mercian (midlands), West Saxon (west and southwest), and Kentish (southeast)

  • Oldest surviving text from Old English literature is Cædmon’s Hymn, composed  between 658 and 680 AD

  • Became a fully developed poetic language by the 11th century, with particular emphasis on alliteration and percussive effects

  • Included a lot of synonyms - popular Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf uses 36 different words for ‘hero’, 20 for ‘man’, 12 for ‘battle’, and 11 for ‘ship’

  • Contains many interesting ‘kennings’ (allusive compound nouns) e.g. “hronrad” (whale road/sea), “banhus” (bone house/body), and “beadoleoma” (battle light/sword)

  • Nouns had three genders - male, female, neuter - and there were up to 5 different cases for inflection

  • Adjectives could have up to 11 forms

  • Word order was looser - semantics was mainly influenced by inflections

  • Once punctuation and spelling orthography is taken into account, many Old English words become similar to today’s version of the language

  • Many common English words come from Anglo-Saxon English, such as the, a, be, of, he, she, you, no, not, water, earth, house, food, drink, sleep, sing, night, and strong

  • A lot of words are similar to Old English words, but have changed significantly in spelling/meaning, such as ‘wif’ (now ‘wife’, but originally meaning any woman)

  • Anglo-Saxon consonant cluster ‘sk’ became ‘sh’ at some point in the sixth century - ‘skield’ became ‘shield’, ‘disk’ became ‘dish’ etc.

  • A  vowel shift influencing pronunciation occurred in the 7th century, when vowels began to be pronounced more to the front of the mouth

  • Plural forms of nouns began to be represented by pronunciation rather than inflections

  • These changes resulted in revised spellings, which have led to inconsistencies e.g. ‘foot’ and ‘feet’, ‘goose’ and ‘geese’, ‘mouse’ and ‘mice’ etc.

  • Around 85% of 30,000 Anglo-Saxon words died out under Viking and Norman invasions, leaving only around 4,500

  • Of the 100 most commonly used words in Late Modern English, it is thought that all of them are of Anglo-Saxon origin, although many have changed significantly in spelling and/or meaning

Viking English

  • Vikings invaded the east from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in the late 8th century

  • A treaty between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings establishing the Danelaw was signed in 878, which split the country along a line from London to Chester (Norsemen in the north, Anglo-Saxons in the south and west)

  • Vikings introduced ‘-son’ ending of family surnames e.g. ‘Johnson’ and ‘Harrison’

  • Accents/pronunciations in northern England are heavily influenced by Old Norse

  • Old Norse merged into the English language over time, introducing many Scandinavian terms to the lexicon

  • Only around 150 Norse words feature in manuscripts from the period, as most only came into usage in the following centuries

  • Up to 1,000 Norse

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