The English We Speak


The English language has been constantly evolving since its infancy. Over the centuries, travelers, conquerors, linguists, and writers have shaped and reshaped it. This paper will provide an overview of the major events in the development of the English language throughout history, including the involvement of the Celts and Romans, the Norman Conquest, and the Great Vowel Shift. This paper will highlight the influence of these events on the language and the evidence of their work that still exists in today’s English.


The English language has evolved over thousands of years. It initially descended from Indo-European roots, which eventually evolved into the three primary Germanic languages: English, Dutch, and German. The exact origin of English is debated, as is the point when Old English first appeared. It is generally accepted, however, that it is derived from a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Norse dialects with Dutch and French influences.

The Celts

The Celts were a group of Indo-European speaking tribes who originated in the central European region. They brought their language to Britain before the Roman invasion. Celtic languages were predominant in the British Isles until the Roman invasion. The Celts spoke a language known as Common Celtic, but there were variations of the language living in different regions. The most well known of the Celtic languages is Welsh, though others such as Breton, Cornish, and Gaelic were also spoken.

Despite the conquest of Britain by the Romans and their subsequent influence, the language of the Celts still has relevance today. Many place names found in Britain are derived from Celtic words, such as Cumbria, Cornwall, and Worchester. Other words, such as the common word ‘plaid’, have also been attributed to the Celtic language.

The Romanization

In 43 AD, the Romans invaded Britain with the ultimate goal of conquering and ruling it. While it is difficult to quantify, it is generally accepted that the Romans had a significant influence on the language. This influence is mainly evident in the form of Latin loanwords that have been assimilated into English. For example, words such as ‘amicus’ (friend), ‘collegium’ (school or college), and ‘medicus’ (doctor).

The Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic-speaking peoples who invaded Britain in the 5th century. They were the first major contributors to the development of the English language, and it is largely due to their influence that English is a Germanic language instead of a Latin-based one. The Anglo-Saxons spoke several dialects, including Old English, which is the oldest form of English.

Old English was heavily influenced by Germanic languages, with a few Latin loanwords sprinkled in. These words came from the limited Romanization of Britain, as well as Latin contact from Irish missionaries and scholars. Old English had a much more varied syntax than modern English, as a result of its Germanic and Latin influences.

The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest of 1066 significantly changed the course of English history. Most notably, the Normans began a process of Anglo-Normanization which would profoundly influence the language. The Normans, who were of French descent, spoke a French dialect called Norman French. This language was used in the courts and by the nobility and eventually began to replace Old English as the language of power, literature, and scholarship.

This shift in language changed the linguistic landscape of England. No longer were the Germanic dialects dominant, as the language of the ruling class was now a Romance language. This led to a profound change in the syntax and vocabulary of English, with a large influx of Latin derived words and French-based grammar rules.

The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift was a period of rapid change in the English language which took place between 1350 and 1600. During this time, the pronunciation of English vowels changed drastically. Old English had a stabilised six vowel system, but by the end of the Great Vowel Shift, English had a system of twelve vowels.

The cause of the Great Vowel Shift is still unknown, but several theories have been proposed. One possible explanation is the influence of Middle English, which had a more complex grammar and more varied syntax. This suggests that Middle English influenced the development of modern English, particularly in terms of its syntax, but more research is needed in order to make a more definitive conclusion.

The development of English language has its own extensive and fascinating history. While English itself is the result of the evolution of multiple languages, it is generally agreed that the language known today as “English” began to emerge around the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The introduction of the Norman Conquest of England brought with it immense changes to the English language. These changes had a profound and lasting effect that can still be seen in modern English today.

The primary changes to the English language during the Norman Conquest of England were the introduction of influences from Latin, French, and other Romance languages. The influence of Latin grammar was one of the most notable changes, as it guided the usage of nouns, verbs and adjectives. In addition, the formal features of Latin-influenced English grammar were considerably stricter than in the formative Old English. French was also added to the vocabulary, and it is this influence that can be seen in words such as ‘menu’, ‘bleu’, and ‘coup’.

The subsequent centuries saw the further development and adoption of English, though not without adjustments and redefinitions. During the Middle English period, English saw large-scale influences from other languages, including Latin, and this helped forge the language as it is known today. Scholars also credit the writings of English authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, and John Wyclif during this period with developing English beyond a purely transactional language and integrating it more fully within the intellectual world.

In addition to the external influences on the language, internal changes, such as the Great Vowel Shift and the spread of techniques such as rhyme and alliteration, can also be seen during this period. The Great Vowel Shift was a major event in the history of English, resulting in a gradual shift of the pronunciation of certain long vowels, and this has had much to do with how we now speak English. Rhyme and alliteration also became widely used, and this can be seen in the works of many English authors, most notably in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.

The further development of English during the modern period has seen a number of additional changes. The spread of English to North America, Africa, Australasia, and South Asia has resulted in dialectical and lexical changes, as the language has adapted and evolved to be more suited to different contexts. The Industrial Revolution and the era of colonialism saw the rise of the Standard English that we know today, and the development of new words and expressions to describe industrial processes and new concepts. The advance of technology and the birth of the internet have also seen the emergence of new words and expressions, particularly in the areas of computer science and IT.

In conclusion, it can be seen that the development of the English language has been heavily influence by outside sources, such as Latin and French, but also by internal changes, such as the Great Vowel Shift, adoption and integration of new words, and the development of new expressions. We can also see that subsequent movements and events, such as colonialism and the industrialization of the English speaking nations, have helped to shape the language further. All of these factors have contributed to the English language as we know it today and will continue to shape the language for years to come.