A Language on Foot: English to England
It would be interesting to know that English did not originate in England; like many of us might think (I did for a while, if not you!). English is a flower though blossomed and spread its fragrance on the land of Great Briton, has its roots far away. Leafing through the pages of History we find English in its crudest form came along with the Germanic invaders during 5th century. In the historical time line it falls along with the fall of the Roman Empire. Although these groups of tribes are popularly referred to have considerably the reason behind the fall of the empire, there is divided opinion over this amongst Historians and Archeologists. The inhabitants then in England spoke Celtish.
Those Germanic invaders were from, what is now North West Germany and Denmark. The invaders were mainly farmers and fishermen by profession and spoke mainly the Anglo-Frisian and Anglo-Saxon dialects. These dialects are in fact the mother of English. Historians and Linguists now refer that it is these dialects that evolved into Old English. The invasion forced the Celtish speaking native settlers to migrate west and northwards. They settled in Whales, Ireland and Scotland of today. In fact the history of English language is inseparably entwined with the History of the Origins of England. In fact the name ‘England’ was a derivative of ‘Angles’.
The early or Old English never had any resemblances with the alphabets of modern English, for people like us familiar with modern English would never be able to recognize them. Like many other languages the early literature has mainly originated from oral traditions. Beowulf is considered as the most important written work of the Anglo-Saxon era. This poem, resembling the heroic epics is estimated to have been written around 700 to 1000 AD. The authorship remains unknown.
The language spoken by the Rulers had always been the Royal language throughout history. Things changed when the political scene changed in England. The era of the Angles ended with the Norman invasion in 1066 AD. William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of Modern France) invaded and claimed the thrown. With him the French language came and became the Language of the Royal court. Soon French became the Royal language with English taking the back seat.
This resulted in linguistic class separation, with the Government officials and the business elites spoke French while still the lower classes had English in their tongues. French, during this period, diffused much into English and much of the French vocabulary found its way to English. Hence the literature of this era, what is termed as ‘Middle English Literature’ too would be hard for most of us to understand, unless we’re familiar with French of that period. It took around three centuries for English to reclaim its position as the Language of Law replacing French and was first used in the British parliament around 1362 AD.
In the history of modern English, William Caxton is one name, inevitable. This English merchant, writer and diplomat is considered as the first pioneering printer of England. In 1476 he introduced the first printing press in England. He is said to have printed over 100 titles and has also translated works from other languages to English. He, having been chosen as one of the 100 great Britons in a BBC poll, ensures his place in the history of English. Needless to say, the arrival of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in the literary universe became the next big game changer.
This piece of writing throws a glimpse of the evolution of English as a language from its origins. But wait. The interesting twist is yet to come. Can you guess when was English begun to be taught as a subject in Britain? You can google it now, or wait for tomorrow.