English has been spoken in England since around 450 (449 is the date given by the Venerable Bede in his history written in the early eighth century). To be more precise a set of varieties of West Germanic have been spoken. The three main groups were Angles, Saxons and Jutes. By and large, the Angles settled in the middle and north of England, the Saxon in the south and the Jutes in the area of present-day Kent. Map of Britain around 550 | Opening lines of the Beowulf manuscript | After the Anglo-Saxon invasion there was little awareness of England let alone of English. With the establishment of the West Saxon kingdom in later centuries and with the court which formed the pivot point of this kingdom a first inkling of the idea of English developed. With the invasion of England by the Danes (after 800) it became more clear that the Germanic tribes in England were separate from their fellows on the continent and in Scandinavia.
Among the different groupings in England in the Old English period different dialects (that is purely geographical variants) are recognizable: Northumbrian in the north, Anglian in the middle and West-Saxon in the south. Due to the political significance of West-Saxon in the late Old English period (after the 9th century) – it was this region which under King Alfred (c. 849-899) sucessfully resisted Viking expansion to the south – which the written form of this dialect developed into something like a standard. Map of Britain in the 9th century | Statue of King Alfred in Winchester | At this time it was Winchester and not London which was the political centre of the country. The term used for the West Saxon ‘standard’ is koiné which derives from Greek and means a common dialect, that is a variety which was used in monastaries in parts of England outside of West Saxony for the purpose of writing. | Old English|
After the invasion of England by the...