Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

History of the English Language

English belongs to the Indo-European family, Germanic group, West Germanic subgroup. Three main phases can be distinguished in the evolution of the English language.

From the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., the Celtics are believed to have lived in the place we now call Britain. Britain first appeared in the historical records as Julius Caesar campaigned there in 55-54 B.C. Britain was conquered in 43 A.D. and remained under the Roman occupation until 410 A.D. Then from the European Continent came the Germanic tribes, who spoke the languages belonging to the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. First the Jutes from Jutland (present-day Denmark) in the 3rd century A.D., then in the 5th century, the Saxons from Friesland, Frisian Islands and north-west Germany, finally the Angles, from present-day Schleswig-Holstein (a German Land) who settled north of the Thames. The words "England" and "English", come from the word, "Angles". During the Old English period of 450-1,100 A.D. (first phase), Britain experienced the spread of Christianity, and, from the 8th century, the invasion and occupation by the Vikings, called the "Danes."

The most important event of the second phase, the Middle English period (1100-1500 A.D.) was the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Normans were the North Men, meaning the Vikings from Scandinavia, settled in the Normandy region of France from the 9th century, who had assimilated themselves to the French language and culture. English was much influenced by French during this time.

During the third phase, the Modern English period (1500 onwards), English spread to the world as the British Empire colonised many lands. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) lived in this period, and in 1755 Samuel Johnson completed "A Dictionary of the English Language" with about 40,000 entries, which contributed to the standardisation of the English language. The English language, which spread to the world, created many of its variants, the most prominent of which is American English. The American English writing system is said to owe much to Noah Webster's "An American Dictionary of the English Language" which was completed in 1828. Other important varieties include Indian English, Australian English, and many English-based Creoles and Pidgins.