Find out how the English Language has evolved through history...


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Where did the English we speak today come from? To find an answer we have to look at the history of the languages spoken in the British Isles because it takes a little while before it really becomes something we can call English.

Let's take a look at the timeline.

The Celts

The first languages we know about in the British Isles are the Celtic ones like Welsh and Scots Gaelic. These people probably settled here about 600BC, that is more than 2500 years ago.

English still has some borrowed Celtic words like corgi meaning 'little dog' from Welsh or whisky 'water of life' from Gaelic.

The Romans

In 55BC there was an invasion by the Romans who spoke Latin. They gave Latin names to places and some of these names are still used today. For instance any place name containing 'chester' is derived from the Roman name for that place. It comes from their word for 'camp'. I bet you can think of a place name that has 'chester' in it.


The first people who spoke the language which over time turned itself into English conquered England in about the Year 450. These people were known as Anglo-Saxon and their language is also often called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Many words from this time are still around in English: cow, house, bread and sword.


From about 800 the Vikings started to invade Britain. The Vikings came from countries like Denmark and Norway and spoke a language which later developed into Norwegian and Danish. The language the Vikings spoke left behind many words in English: you, husband, law and anger. Also places: Tenby and Grimsby in which the 'by' means village.


In 1066 Normans invaded England from Normandy in France. They spoke an earlier version of French and this became the high status language in England. It brought many new words into English such as cash, age and reward, for instance.

Middle English

There were no more invasions of England and gradually English took over again from French. The English spoken around this time is called middle English. A number of books were published in middle English, perhaps the most famous one being a book of cracking stories called The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Printing Press

Books have been written in English since the 9th century, but it was with the introduction of the printing press by Thomas Caxton in 1476 that publishing really took off. With the printing also came an interest in a standard way of writing English which had not been present before.

The English Bible

In 1520 the New Testament of the Bible was translated into English by William Tyndale. This was quite a big step since it meant that people who only knew English could read the Bible themselves. The church didn't like this at all and so the first Bibles were printed elsewhere and smuggled into England.

Invading words

England wasn't being attacked by armies anymore but words were still invading. In the 16th century there was great interest in studying as people read books written in Latin and Greek and they borrowed words from these languages. It is kind of strange since Latin was a dead language at this stage, no-one spoke it for day-to-day purposes.

Since this time, words have been coming into English in dribs and drabs For example the Dutch were pretty nifty with boats and so words like cruise and yacht were also borrowed.


There are many important authors in modern English, however one of the most well-known early writers is William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). He deserves a mention here since many words in English are first found in his plays. It could be that he invented words or that he took words that were only used in spoken English and put them in print.

Modern English

English has been shaped by many events and has been influenced by many different languages. One of the people playing a part in shaping English now is actually you! Every time you use a word or phrase that your parents would not have used you are helping to change English! For many languages, English is now the cool language to borrow from. French has le weekend, the word business is often used in Italian, Swedish cars now have an airbag and the Dutch word for goal is.. You guessed it - goal!