Assignment: The Story of English
For each of the three major periods in the development of the English
language, find the following on the internet and create a brief PowerPoint
- A brief description
of the culture of that period in English History
- A map of England at
- A recording of what
the language sounded like at that time.
- Some pictures
(artifacts that will give us a sense of the time and place.)
Prehistory of English and Britain:
1. Common Origin of Western Languages (6000-4500 BC): Indo European
The invention of the wheel and domestication of the horse enable Indo
European tribes to migrate east and west from their original territories
in the area near the Crimean Sea.- father (English); vater (German); pitar
- snow, bee, beech, wolf
- Find a map of the Indo European nomad migrations.
2. The Celts (1000 BC)
3. The Romans (55 BC)
Old English and Anglo-Saxon England:
4. Old English: Anglo-Saxon England (5th c. AD)
Germanic tribes, the Anglii, the Frisii, and the Jutes, cross the sea from
- The invasion drives the Celts west into Wales and into Ireland.
- Old English contains few Celtic words: crag, tor (a high
rock), combe (a deep valley: Wycombe). This paucity of Celtic in
modern English is indicative of the hatred between the Celts and the
Anglo-Saxon conquerors; despite cultural antipathy, many of the finest
writers in English are of Celtic origin.
- Anglo-Saxon words:
- sheep, shepherd, ox, earth, plough, swine,
dog, wood, field, work: reflections of the
lives of these farmers. Glee, laughter, mirth.
- The building blocks of English: the, is, you
- Old English dialects
- Anglo-Saxon love of wordplay: analogous to intricate, interlacing,
embellishments of art
5. The Conversion to Christianity (597 AD)
The conversion of Britain to Christianity created a new collision of Old
English with Latin.
- The mission of St. Augustine to Britain began a gradual conversion to
Christianity which was completed by 635 AD.
- This was the time of the construction of churches and monasteries and the
great monk teachers.
- Old English gains the capacity for abstract thought:
- Greek and Latin words like angel, discipline, litany,
martyr, mass, relic, shrift, shrine and psalm
- Sabbath from Hebrew; Eastern words from the Bible: camel, lion,
cedar, myrrh ; also from the Bible came more exotic words
from the East: orange, pepper, oyster, mussel, ginger…
- God, heaven and hell: (OE) Halig Gast- Holy Ghost; feond-
fiend, Doomsday- Judgement Day
- The impact of this infusion of new words from Latin gave Old English new flexibility:
one of the fundamental characteristics of our language is its flexibility:
we have many synonyms for one word.
6. The Viking Invasions (750-1050 AD)
The Viking invasion and settlement of Eastern Britain is one of the great migrations
in European history; what began as plunder-raids ended as conquest and
- The interaction between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings melded Old
English and Viking, both Germanic languages, and helped simplify the
- Old Norse words: get, hit, leg, low, root,
skin, same, want, wrong, sk- words like sky:
- Old Norse enriched the language by providing more synonyms: rear
or raise a child; wish and want; craft and skill,
hide and skin.
- Beowulf, the greatest single work of Old English: a fusion of
Saxon and Viking
Norman Conquest and Middle English Period:
7. The Norman Invasion (1066 AD: the Battle of Hastings)
When England was conquered by the Normans in 1066, the French language
becomes the official language of the ruling class: the aristocracy and the
- Legal language: felony, perjury, attorney, bailiff, nobility
- French literary, courtly culture provided the language of chivalry:
the brave, honorable, and courteous character attributed to the ideal
- English, however, survived as the language of the common man, too hardy
by this point to be obliterated.
- Another layer to enrich the language: King (OE) and now royal, regal,
- Synonym Word groups: rise-mount-ascend; ask-question-interrogate,
time-age-epoch: a rich treasure chest of synonyms for writers
8. Middle English (1150-1450 AD)
Anglo-Normans were cut off from their previous homeland on the continent.
- English was revived as the official court language as a political tool to
inspire patriotic feeling
- 100 Years War with France: war and plague make labor scarce; common men
achieve higher status, a new generation of non-French speakers assume
positions of power in the church and government
- We have a record in writing of the changes that had taken place in spoken
English over this long period
- Observe the loss of Old English word endings and the rise of prepositions
like by, with, and from.
Chaucer (1400 AD)
- This poet made a conscious choice to write in English and not French, symbolic
of the rebirth of English as a national language: a patriotic statement.
- subject matter: individuals from all classes of English society
- Chaucer was alive to the energy and potential of the language of everyday
- The richness of Middle English, Latinized and Frenchified by
Christianity and Conquest inspires Chaucer.
Welcome, my knyght: English
Suffisance: French from Latin roots
- The variety of Middle English enables the talented poet to invent
language appropriate to character so that an individual emerges whose
autonomy expresses itself in unique linguistic forms; without flexibility
of language, expressions of character are limited.
is icumen in" - manuscript
image (London, British Library, Harley MS 978, f. 11v); RealAudio
(Elly van Gelderen's audio page)