Two thousand years ago the British Isles were inhabited by speakers of Celtic languages. These languages still survive in parts of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany in France. The Celts were conquered by the Romans, and from 43 BC to about AD 410 the areas which are now England and Wales were part of the Roman Empire, and Latin was the language of government.
Between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D., the Anglo-Saxons arrived from what is now northern Germany, Holland and Denmark, and occupied most of England, and parts of southern Scotland. In some parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, people still speak Celtic languages. The Anglo-Saxons spoke a Germanic language which forms the basis of modern English.
This language was modified by the arrival of Viking invaders in the north and east of the country, who came from Norway and Denmark between the eighth and eleventh centuries. These Scandinavian settlers spoke Old Norse, which was related to Anglo-Saxon, and which is the parent language of modern Danish. The mixing of the two languages greatly enriched the vocabulary of English. By the middle of the tenth century England had become a unified country under one king.
In 1066 England was conquered by the French-speaking Normans, and French became the language of government. For the next three hundred years three languages co-existed. The aristocracy spoke French, the ordinary people spoke English, while Latin was used in the church. Modern English evolved from the mingling of the three tongues. Today English vocabulary is approximately half Germanic (from the Saxons and Vikings) and half Romance (from French and Latin). There are however considerable borrowings from other languages.
Some derived words
- Old English: shirt, life, death, heaven, earth, love, hate
- Old Norse: skirt, birth, window, ugly, wrong, they, their, them
- French: boil, roast, veal, beef, pork, village, painter, tailor
- Latin: index, item, major, memorandum
Features of the English language
This flexibility, together with a flexibility towards the assimilation of words borrowed from other languages and the spontaneous creationof new words have made English what it is today, an effective medium of international communication. English has achieved this in spite of the difficulties caused by written English, which is not systematically phonetic.
Some loan words
- Arabic admiral, algebra, mattress
- Spanish mosquito, cigar, canyon
- Italian piano, violin, spaghetti
- Dutch yacht, boss, deck
- Hindi pyjamas, shampoo, bungalow
- Turkish yoghurt, kiosk
- Japanese tycoon, karate
- Malay bamboo, compound
- Nahuatl (Aztec) tomato, chocolate
- Quechua (Inca) coca, quinine
- Hungarian coach,''paprika
- Classical Greek theatre, astronomy, logic
- Gaelic whisky
- Russian vodka, sputnik
- Finnish sauna
- Chinese tea, silk
- Portuguese marmalade
- Eskimo anorak
- Czech robot
- Farsi (Iranian) lilac
- Basque bizarre
- Carib canoe
- Australian Aborigine kangaroo Boomerang
- Modern French rendezvous, cafe
- Modern German kindergarten
Some 'created' wordsxerox, to xerox, xeroxed; a hoover, to hoover, hoovered; mackintosh, sandwich, submarine, helicopter, pop, rock'n roll, x-ray, astronaut, hot dog.
Approximately 380 million people speak English as their first language. About the same number use it as a second language. It is the language of aviation, international sport and pop music. 75% of the world's mail is in English, 60% of the world's radio stations broadcast in English and more than half of the world's periodicals are printed in English. It is an official language in 44 countries. In many others it is the language of business, commerce, technology and the Internet.
There are many varieties of English, but Scottish, Texan, Australian, Indian and Jamaican speakers of English, in spite of the differences in pronunciation, structure and vocabulary, would recognize that they are all speaking the same basic language.