Most people know that the English language is spoken by many millions of people around the world. However, few people are aware of the history of the English language. Today, English is one language, but in some ways it is a mixture of many different languages.
The English language is most closely related to a group of languages called the Germanic languages. This group also includes languages such as German and Dutch. About 1500 years ago, these languages were not yet distinct from each other. Some of the people of Germany and the Netherlands then moved to England. Those people were called the Anglo-Saxons, and their language then evolved into English. Most of the basic words of the English language are derived from these very old Anglo-Saxon languages. For example, the words for the parts of the body, for numbers, and for animals are mostly Anglo-Saxon words.
Some new words were brought to England over 1000 years ago by people who came from the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe. Many words that begin with the letters “sk”, such as skin and skill, are Scandinavian words.
A major change happened in the English language after the year 1066. In that year, England was conquered by a king from the northern part of France. He and his followers spoke French, so French became an important language in England. During the next few hundred years, the English language absorbed a very large number of French words. In fact, today’s English dictionaries contain more words of French origin than of Anglo-Saxon origin. Part of the reason why the English language has so many words is that it often has two words for each idea-one word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and one word of French origin.
Many more words entered the English language a few hundred years ago, when science and technology became more widespread. Most scientific and technical words are derived from words of the ancient languages of Latin and Greek. Because there are so many of these scientific and technical words in the English language today, the influence of Latin and Greek has been quite large.
Other languages have also contributed many words to the English language. Some words have come from the Celtic languages, spoken in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Many words have been added to the English language by immigrants who came to North America from various countries of Europe. Also, many more words have been adopted from the Native languages of North America, Australia, and the Pacific, and from the languages of peoples in Africa and Asia. All of these words have made English a very interesting language!