The History of the English Language

Abridged. Like, a lot.

English is, to be blunt, a stupid language. Think of the nurse that wound a bandage around a wound. Or the archer that dropped his bow so he could bow to his king. Stupid. And that’s just the start.

Part of the reason English is such a stupid language is that it’s made up of some many different bits of some many different languages. What follows is an amazing brief and hugely incomplete history of the language.

Join me first in Roman Britain, round about the 400s. Keith Richards was just a teenager trying his first taste of sweet sweet heroin and most of the country spoke the Emperors’ Latin. But, this was also around the time that the Roman Empire was beginning to decline, and the hold over the extremities (such as Britain) was starting to weaken.531px-Britain.Anglo.Saxon.homelands.settlements.400.500.0

Across what is now known as the North Sea, a host of Germanic tribes decided that their occasional trips to the British beaches should turn into something a bit more permanent. So, the Jutes, Angles, and the Saxons loaded up their boats with enough horses and mead (assuming here) to last them a good long while, and headed over. Along with the aforementioned horses and mead, they brought their language, Anglo-Saxon (sorry Jutes), which combined with the last remnant of Latin and a smattering of Celtic here and there developed into what we know call Old English.

 

 

Beowulf is one of the best (ie, oldest and longest) examples of poetry in Old English. It’s also an interesting piece for the fact that it illustrates the smashing together of cultures that occurred when the horses and mead and JutesAnglesSaxons arrived on the shores of Britain. In essence, Beowulf is a very traditional story of a superhuman rising through the ranks of his kingdom and there are hints throughout of the Nordic traditions that the story sprang from. It is also a story of the author doing his or her best to squeeze in as many Christian elements as possible. Think of it as an old Nordic story that got a Christian refresh as the country (and its people) try to move fully past its pagan history.

Regardless, it is a fascinating look at not only the sorts of tales these folks were telling, but a the very origin of English.  Next up, we are invaded by Normans!

A typical Norman.

A typical Norman.

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