Influence of Other Languages on the Development of English

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Bill Bryson

Mother Tongue

Chapter 4

Influence of other languages on the development of English

The development of the English language has been influenced by other languages, such as Celtic, Old Norse and Danish, and Anglo- Norman French. So much influence did not destroy the language, but made it even more interesting.

After 450A.D. when the Roman troops were withdrawn from Britain, Germanic people began settling in Angle- land. They drove Celtic speakers to the fringes of Britain and many Celts were slaughtered at that time. Considering Celts existed on the island for at least 1000 years they haven’t left much behind - no more than twenty geographical terms and a few place names.

Old Norse was brought by Vikings from Scandinavia and Denmark in the 8th century. Their influence was much greater - more than 1,400 place names in northern England are of Scandinavian origin, and 1,500 of their words survive in English to this day. Most remarkably of all, the English adopted certain grammatical forms, for example they, them and their are Scandinavian in origin. In the 8th century the control of Britain was divided between the Danes in the North, and the English in the South. Even to this day in Northern England there is a strong difference in how words are pronounced, all because of the influence of the Danes.

The Norman conquest of 1066 had a huge effect on the English language. This time the Vikings spoke not Norse, but French. This invasion had the most significant foreign influence on common vocabulary- 10,000 words. It also divided English in to two linguistic classes - English speaking peasantry and French speaking elite. English was enriched with French words in government, courts and fashion, which were of special interest to the elites. For example court, crime, defendant, evidence, government, jail, judge, jury, prison, revenue, state, tax and verdict are all French in origin.

In conclusion, English battered and bullied not only...
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