What we now know as English today has a long and complex history. With any subject that is complex, it is necessary to pick a starting point and work from there. For this post, we will date the origins of English from the early 5th century.
English was not born in England. Rather, it came to England through the invasion of Germanic warriors. These “barbarian” hoards push the indigenous Celts and Britons almost into the ocean.
However, it was not only war and conquest that brought English. The roots of English arrived also in the immigration of farmers. Either way, English slowly grew to be one of the prominent languages of England.
In the late sixth century, the Roman Catholic Church came to England. This left a mark on English in the various words taken from Latin and Greek. Such words as “angels”, “pope”, and “minister” all arrived through the Catholic Church.
Vikings and Alfred the Great
By the 8th and 9th century the Vikings were invading lands all over Europe. It was the Danes in particular that almost wiped out the inhabitants of England. However, thanks to the craftiness of Alfred the Great the Danes were defeated and their leader Guthrum was so shocked at Alfred’s comeback victory that he was baptized and became a Christian.
Alfred set to work using the English language to unite the people. He supported education in the English language and the use of language in general. Furthermore, to try and prevent future conflicts with the Danes, Alfred gave them some territory called “Dane Law” where they could live. Naturally, staying in the area meant that the Danish language had an effect on English as well.
Alfred also supported religion. Thanks to the Viking invasions, there was almost no priest left in the entire country. Alfred could barely find a priest who could read Latin. Without religious scholarship, there could be no passing on of religious teachings. This lead Alfred to encourage the translation books in other languages (like Latin) into English.
The story of English is not one continuous rise to prominence. There were several experiences of up and down as the language was in England. For example, there was a time when the French language almost overran the country. Yet this is a story for another day.