The language mix that makes up modern English
“Why is that word like that?” - Every English teacher and student has had this thought at some point, and it’s our topic for today’s blog. Unlike Spanish or Italian, the English language shows integration of other languages at many different stages of its history!
Today I’ll tell you about how Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman influences changed how we speak English today.
At RKA Valencia, we love to explore English teaching, showing our students how to speak, how to pass exams, how to have fun learning and more. Check out our classes here, find out more about us here, and learn about our other blogs here. Our last one was all about when the Normans invaded England, and changed its history forever!
Even before the first Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain, the Celts in England were invaded by the Romans. Julius Cesar introduced the Latin language to these early tribes, and many words survive from this relatively brief, but important contact, from around 55 BCE. Themes like trade, military and travel were most of what we still use. Words like wine, cheap, street, cook and kitchen all have their base in the Latin spoken by the invading Romans.
Latin also had a second influence later, when England was mostly Catholic from the 8th or 9th Centuries, through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. There’s lots of religious words like Pope, altar, mass and martyr that come from this period.
Anglo-Saxon – what does it mean?
When we use the expression Anglo-Saxon, we’re talking about a group of people who started in northern Germany, who eventually made up most of the population of England. They replaced the Celtic languages and people who were there before. They arrived in England in the 7th Century, and took over most of the lands.
You’ll find lots of towns with Anglo-Saxon names still, and often using the ‘bury’ ending. Places like Salisbury, Glastonbury and Canterbury all show their Anglo-Saxon origins. My surname is ‘Thorpe’ (pronounced with an almost ‘Spanish c’ for the ‘th’ sound), and this word is connected with a farm or small group of houses in Anglo-Saxon history. It’s likely my family were farmers more than 1500 years ago!
Viking raiding and more
Just when the Anglo-Saxons were getting comfortable in England, the next problem/opportunity for the English language arrived. The aggressive and curious Vikings from the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden started to raid the coast of eastern England.
Words like Thursday (Thor’s Day), skull, club, slaughter, husband, skill and saga all come from the Viking invasions of this time. The Vikings are also considered the reason we do not have gendered nouns in English, as the Scandinavian languages had lost this over their history, and brought that into English too.
The final part of the story, is the influence of Norman French on the English language, as well as further French connections. The Normans were a Germanic group that invaded France, and settled in Normandy (hence their name). The influence on English began in 1066, the year of the Norman invasion of Britain (seen above in the Bayeaux Tapestry, created at that time).
They were very successful, and from then on, Anglo-Norman was the language of the wealthy, and English (the older more Germanic version) was for the poor people.
Words like crown, joust, flirt, fiancé, purchase, bargain, champion, boutique, conceal and many more all come from the Norman French, which became Anglo-Norman, which became modern English. It’s estimated there are around 170,000 words in the English language, and around 10,000 are thought to be from French.
At RKA Valencia, we believe that learning English means learning about the culture, history and people that speak English, as well as the grammar. If you want to improve your English and learn how to communicate with native speakers, get in touch with RKA Valencia at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us here.