A basic or introductory course in History of English Language has been designed by Ravi Kumar, an editor with Ashvamegh. Read this and get important information.

I often come across the students of class 12th BSEB who seldom would have heard the book “Story of English” that has been prescribed in the course. For their benefit, a study material has been prepared that will prove very helpful and lead them to score good marks in their final examination. This study material covers each of the chapters in the book in a very concise way that can benefit them in a very short period of study. Each of the chapters will be entitled as questions.

  1. Was the English language native to England?

Answer: Of course not, English was not a native language of England. The words English and England did not exist even when great classical languages (Greek, Latin, Persian, Sanskrit etc.)  Were being spoken across the world. It carried by three Germanic tribes- Angles, Saxon and jutes together called Anglo-Saxon. Anglo-Saxon used to speak Teutonic language that was made of the words taken from the great classical languages.

The present form of England and English came from the words-

 Angles → Englisc→ English (English language)

Anglecynn→ Englaland →England (country name of England)

  1. Evolution of English language with the passage of time.

The English language that we use today has undergone many phases. Each of these phases has witnessed changes in spelling, pronunciation and meaning. Broadly, these phases can be divided be into three with a certain period.

  1. Old English (449 to 1066)


  1. Middle English (1150 to 1500)


  1. Modern English (1500 to till now)


  1. Old English (449 to 1066)


This period is marked by the invasion of tribal groups over England and their dialects. It had been very distinct from modern English in grammar, spelling and pronunciation. It was very difficult to read and understand. It had no single uniform language because different tribal groups in different regions spoke a variety of dialects. Particularly, the writing system of Anglo-Saxon was very different than we use today, they used to write using the Runic characters. Around the 6th century, the advent of Christianity gave a new form of English language. The language spoken by Anglo- Saxon was deeply influenced by Roman alphabet and some French letters were taken to the alphabet.

Latin, being an ancient language was in use in some European countries before the invasion of Anglo-Saxon over England thus many words derived from Latin to English. The Scandinavian, a neighbour of Anglo-Saxon also invaded over England and influenced the language to some extent.

Apart from the history of English language it had also a brief history of English literature. During the period, literature was religious in nature. In lack of formal language, many things were preserved in oral tradition. Further, with the passage of time, writings evolved in the forms of songs and poems. Some of the manuscripts are given below-

  1. The Beowulf
  2. The Junius
  3. The Exeter Book
  4. The Vercelli Book

Thus, the story of Old English ends with the Norman Conquest in 1066, a French rule and French language became the everyday language of England. And therefore, English was pushed to the outskirt of England for 150 years.

  1. Middle English (1150 – 1500)

The printing press of William Caxton was set up at Westminster Abbey in 1476. It played a vital role in the development of English. Still, Middle English was dialectical but it also had to undergo many shifts in which The Great Vowel Shift brought a series of changes in pronunciation. The most remarkable feature of this age were the dialects that existed in both spoken and written form. Mainly, there were four dialects during The Old English period across Northern, Southern, East Midland, and West Midland. The Dialects of East Midland became the major source of modern English. The influence of French and Latin was prevalent- the words related to princely state, administration and literature approx. 10,000 new words derived from English for example- history, index, intellect, legal, magnify, genius and so on. The middle English has also witnessed the shifts in English grammar and pronunciation. It became more systematic and the sequence of the words was fixed.

The literature of Middle English was rich in literary contents because it has seen some great writers:

Geoffrey Chaucer- The Canterbury Tales

John Gower- Meditantis, Vox Clamantis

William Langland- Piers the Plowman

The writings of middle English was secular in nature. Geoffrey Chaucer often considered the father of English literature because he was the first to walk on untrodden path i.e. he created a base for the writers of coming ages. In his works, we often notice the portrayal of social environment thus, he has mirrored his age very lucidly. William Langland a senior to Chaucer wrote mainly in middle English. His piers the Plowman considered the first satirical work.


  1. Modern English

The English language from the 15th century onwards is called Modern English. Further, this period also can be subdivided into two Modern English I and II. This division marked by social, technological and political development. These developments have influenced the structure and the use of English. Despite, these minor

x changes, has not affected much the basic fabrics of the language. The modern English links the countries of the world and has become the arena of literary activity. Now English has become official languages of international forums like UNO and its units.

Modern English-I relates to the development of printing technology. It helps in standardising the spelling and pronunciation. It also provided a golden opportunity to writers to write and circulate their works in different geographical location. Moreover, Modern English can be characterised by the rise of literacy and literary activities during 17th and 18th centuries. The prominence of Modern English-I was marked by an expansion of British Empire.

The all-round development could not find enough vocabulary to express or illustrate the new landscape. Thus, the English language adopted many new words from almost fifty different languages including Asia.

List of some borrowing words:

Latin/Greek               adapt, appropriate, capsule, lunar

French                          alloy, battery, chocolate, passport, ticket

Hindi                             guru, pundit, sepoy, sari, thug

Arabic                           sultan, sheikh, algebra hashish

Italian                           balcony, ballot, sonnet, lottery, fuse

Portuguese                buffalo, verandah, marmalade,

Persian                         bazaar, caravan, sofa, shah

Spanish                        banana, cockroach, guitar, potato

Dutch                            knapsack, landscape, frolic,

Turkish                         coffee, kiosk, yoghurt

Afrikaans                     trek, apartheid


Some Well-Known Works and Authors of the age:


Edmond Spenser                     Farie Queen

Christopher Marlowe            Dr. Faustus

Francis Bacon                            Essays

Ben Jonson                                 Volpone

Shakespeare                              King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice etc.


The above writers are great literary figures of Elizabethan Age but their creativity has made them timeless. Apart from these writers, the Authorised version of the Bible contributed a lot in the development of English language.

The 18th-century history of English language witnessed a shift in rational temperament, Augustan Age, an age of order and regulation. The standardised English was in demand. Correct usages of grammar were desirable so these all compelled to publish A Dictionary Of the English Language and it was made possible by Dr. Samuel Johnson. It was contained total 40,000 words and took seven years.

Here a list of some Grammarian:

William Loughton –                practical Grammar of the English Tongue

Joseph Priestly                         The Rudiments of English Grammar

Robert Lowth                            Short Introduction to English Grammar

James Buchanan                      The British Grammar

Lindley Murray                         English Grammar


These grammarians have strengthened the position of English; they have prescribed some certain rules and usages that are in use.

English as a World Language


Today English is spoken across the world still it possesses the first position in a number of English speaking countries. As for the matter of people it comes after Chinese. It is difficult to find the country where English is completely absent. Therefore, for ease English language can be categorised in these forms:

Mother tongue or first language (L1)

Second language (L2)

Foreign language(FL)

     English is the mother tongue of many countries for example- UK, USA, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Many countries use English as a second language for example – Asian and African Countries.

Now English has become the language of Science and Technology. Today English is the only language that could connect the world as a whole. The English language has become the language of trade and commerce, Academic and scientific writings, Airports and international sports meets.

English as Global Language

British English speech is known as Received Pronunciation (RP). The English language is the blend of many languages; unlike other languages as German formation of new words using existing elements, English has a tendency to borrow from other languages. This practice has shown unusual capacity for assimilating outside elements. English is a kind of well of language that has welcomed openly to other languages from all directions.

Thus, the words of other languages that came into English can be identified very easily.

America wanted to show distinct identity as a free country and named its language as American English. The British English and American English can be distinguished very easily.

BRITISH ENGLISH                                     AMERICAN ENGLISH


Ground floor                                              first floor

Rubbish                                                        Garbage

Petrol                                                            Gas

Trousers                                                      Pants


Have you got…?                                        Have you gotten…?

Really good                                                 Real good

It’s quarter to seven                               It’s quarter of seven


Cheque                                                        Check

Defence                                                       Defense

Colour                                                           color

As English spread across the world many varieties of English emerged, each country has some contribution to the development of English language. India has also a distinct set of words that given below:


Family member


Chalk piece


Key bunch


Backward class


Pin drop silence