But, if you are hoping to blame the British, or more specifically, the English; you might be a little disappointed. In the 5th Century AD, three Germanic tribes (the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes) hailing from Germany and Denmark invaded Britain. Along with war and violence, they also brought their languages. Before their arrival, the inhabitants of Britain spoke mixture of Latin (courtesy of the earlier Roman invasion of course) and various Celtic languages.
Over the years, the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes made Britain their home and eventually began to mix their different Germanic dialects to form Old English (commonly known as Anglo-Saxon). The Angles came from “Engle” and their language was called “Englisc” – from which the words “England” and “English” are derived.
Of course, if you tried to understand Old English today, you would have great difficulty, despite the fact that about half the most common Modern English words have Old English roots. Let’s not forget that Middle English also brought some interesting developments, and can you guess the reason why?
That’s right, another invasion! Are you sensing a pattern yet? In 1066, the Normans (from Normandy in France) brought French to England and what followed was a linguist class division. The upper class spoke French, while the lower classes were stuck with English. Eventually, English won out, but this time with the addition of many French words. Middle English was also the time of the ‘Great Vowel Shift’, which to me sounds like a great mystery novel but was actually the change in the pronunciation of vowels.
Not surprisingly, the invention of printing in the time of Modern English meant that the language had to be standardised, and spelling and grammar rules were set. Since that time, however, English has vastly expanded its vocabulary and also adopted foreign words from many countries. With new words being added to the dictionary every year, who knows where English will be in another 1,400 years?