THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
First of all, please note that the English language is in fact a Germanic language from the Indo European group. If it was born in England, it has its roots from peoples from the North. Also, English is a pluricentric language which is not ruled by any authority such as the Académie Française in France. As for the latter, we can find there a wide range of accents spoken in the UK and English speaking world. According to the country, these are more or less easy to catch. If the variation in accents is decreasing in England, accents still can vary a lot. This, even between towns and counties in the same region. Would you like to have some fun with accents? Just watch this great video.
In order to have an easy undestanding of the evolution of the English language, we can refer to four parts, as follows:
- First, Old English, from the 5th to the 12th century.
- Second, Middle English, from the 12th to the 16th century.
- Third, Early Modern English, or Elizabethan English, from the 16th to the 17th century. Of course, this one refers to the Golden Age of England, embodied by the very famous and great Elizabeth I, also called the Virgin Queen.
- Fourth, Modern English, from the late 17th century to the present day.
More than a thousand years ago, Europe was divided into three different areas. First, tribes speaking Slavic languages in the East. Second, tribes speaking Germanic languages in the middle. And third, ethnic groups speaking languages of Romanic origin in the South and West. Without forgotten Celtic languages, such as Gaelic, spoken in the far west of Europe.
At that time, the main Germanic peoples from North Europe were the Angles, the Saxons and the Friesians. With the Saxons, the Angles settled in the island of Great Britain in the post Roman period. By the way, as the latter was the main tribe, they are the ones who named England. The closest living dialects to English then were Friesian and Scots. However, England had to face to many Viking invasions. That was not with no consequence. Indeed, the Vikings spoke Old Norse and this blended to Old English as a result.
A strong Romance influence, first through the Normans
While the Angles and the Saxons just settled in England, French boomed already. This, through the Frankish kingdom, current France, formed 500 years earlier. In 1066, the Normans conquered England. They came from France and brought with them their own language, Norman French, a Romance language. This is how Norman French became the official language, daily spoken in the court. Over the following centuries, Old English blended with French, spoken by the nobles, to produce a new language, English. Thus, English is quite special in that it is partly Germanic (grammar and structures), partly Romanic (lexicon). The Celtic languages largely escaped this process and remained alive in Cornwall and the West of the British Isles. But today, Norman words still compose quasi 30% of the English language.
Then, through the French
Finally, due to strong civil wars, the Normans failed to keep the throne. This one was then taken by Richard Cœur de Lion, from the French family Plantagenets, for more than three centuries. If French came into its own, it is because the Normans were vassals of the French Kings. As a result, the new monarchs of England were his vassals too. This is how came a millenar of wars between the two nations... Well, French enriched English of syntax, grammar and lexicon. Today, still two thirds of English come from French.
Til the end of the Modern period
Wars led by other families and the Black Death, which killed half of England's inhabitants, put an end to the reign of the French. The Tudors and Stuart dynasties ruled England until the first years of the 18th century. This is how English came back into force. But, to respect the royal heritage, the English monarchs have kept some pure French. For instance, "Dieu Et Mon Droit" remains the motto of the British crown. Thanks to the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707, English then came to its own in Scottland and Ireland.
Once upon a time, a poet...
English was given new impetus by the development of English literature and culture. Who has never heard about the most famous poet of all time, William Shakespeare? He was a major contributor to the spread of English. His influence is hard to grasp but he probably created no less than 1,700 words.
AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD
How only a few years have changed the face of the world
First, the British won the Seven Years' War in 1763 against the French in Canada. This date marks the dominance of the British, and so, English, over the world.
Second, France lost total power in India in favor of the British. That happened at the same time as the Seven Years' War. As France focused on North America, it sends its military forces there. In spite of low means in India, France still managed very well there. However, for an unknown reason, it sent Lally in India. This senior civil servant ruled very badly and led the country to lose everything.
Third, France sold Louisiana for a cheap price to the very new United States, in 1803. The USA were then born thanks to France which helped them to win and signed their independance few years earlier. However, at that time, this land was about a third of the surface area of the United States. While we could think that the USA turns to France for its future, it is finally to England that it turned. And so, English. With the growth of the British empire, from the 17th to the 20th century, and the rise of the United States, English spread throughout the world.
Some world records
Did you know that English is the first language in the world with more than 1 billion speakers? Admittedly, Chinese if the first one in terms of native speakers. But the latter is spoken in China only, while English wells spread over the world. Of course, it is the most second language learned in the world. Also, 53 countries uses English as official language. In other words, the double compared to French which is the second one. Here is the list. Finally, it is one of the six official, as well as one of the two working languages of the United Nations. It is also the official language of several international or regional organizations. As well as the most used on the web. The fact that it is much easier than French fosters its power.
What about the future
All stats show that English will stabilize. On the contrary, Spanish and French will boom. It is a fact that Spanish is expanding in the USA while French is booming in Africa. As the world population will boom, English will then decrease. However, due to the number of people speaking and learning it, English still has a bright future ahead of it. Also, as it is the first language in the world, many foreign cultures then borrow some of its words daily.