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Did you know English isn't native to England?

2016/01/21


The Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians brought their Germanic-based languages when they immigrated to (well... invaded) England, which had already been inhabited by the Celtic people (Welsh & Irish). The invaders were fewer in number, but they forced the natives to speak the Germanic-based language they brought with them, replacing the native language with... English, but certainly not as we know it today.


"English isn't native to England?"


There were major differences between the languages, for example, in the old Celtic language  verbs come first (came first the verb), and 'do' was added liberally to sentences to form a question, make a sentence negative, or just flesh out the sentence (Do you walk? I do walk. I do not walk.)


This use of 'do' in English today is derived from the original struggle the Celts made to speak the language of the Germanic invaders. To this day, besides English only Celtic languages continue to speak this way.


"English is a smorgasbord of many languages"


Their improper Old English became the standard for modern English, and started a trend that would happen again, as a new group of speakers would struggle with English. This time new "immigrants" (i.e. Vikings), would arrive in England speaking Old Norse, and their attempts to speak Old English influenced and further convoluted the language, but also simplified it. The Viking influence removed gendered nouns, leaving behind simpler words like 'the, these, those' (Thanks Odin!) and simplified conjugation further.


Like the Celts, who rendered English in a way that felt natural to them, with prepositions at the end of sentence (Where did you come from?), instead of (From where do you come?), a major influence of the Vikings was a large addition of their own words into the English vocabulary.


Multiple influxes of foreign vocabulary over the centuries helped create the rich variety of English expression we wax poetically with today. For most other languages etymology is pretty straight-forward, with a words rooting from an older version of the word from the same language. English vocabulary is a polyglot smorgasbord of migration and exchange between cultures, often with the words of many languages mixed within the same sentence.


So next time your students complain about English, let them know, they are not alone.


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