English language, which millions of people from hundreds of different countries speak or are trying to learn, has a deep-rooted history formed by the synthesis of different languages as well as different processes, like many other languages. Although English is evaluated as a separate category due to its global popularity, this language has various common points with other continental languages like German and French, for this language is derived from and influenced by those European languages. Therefore, while people of the same linguistic family can learn English easier, people of a completely different language family, such as Turkish, might struggle when learning English. In this sense, it is important to take a look at the history of English language in order to understand it better.
Old English Period
The Old English period, including years between 450-1100 AD, started when German tribes called Anglo, Saxon and Jut invaded Britannia. The term Anglo-Saxon, which is commonly used for English-speaking nations, comes from these tribes. German tribes who spoke a language similar to what is now defined as the Old English language pushed the Celtic language, which was the local language of the time and still widely used in the legends to the north and south parts of the island. That is the reason why Irish and Scottish people today have a command of the Celtic language and able to use it. The Celtic language, which was overruled by the German tribes who invaded the island over time, is replaced by a language called Englisc, and terms unique to the modern United Kingdom, such as England, British, English showed up.
Understanding the Old English is challenging not only for anyone who has been learning modern English, but also for anyone with an English origin. However, Old English, which has entirely different vocal and stylistic properties, lends almost half of the words we use in modern English. The roots of words such as “be”, “water”, “strong” that is commonly used in modern English date back to the Old English and to Beowulf, a poetic legend written in Old English and exemplary to understand this language. From the beginning of 1000s AD, the influence of Old English decreased due to historical developments, and it gave way to Middle English from 1100 AD.
Middle English Period
In 1066, William, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England and a new process began for both the British and English language. The language of Normandy, which is currently a part of France, was even then similar to Modern French, and Normans tried to impose their own language to the British territory they invaded. Since Normans were the dominant society, there was a two-language structure in this period; the upper class spoke French and the lower class spoke English. However, as these two languages were used constantly together, they merged over time, and from 14th century forward English became more dominant.
The poems of the famous poet, Chaucer, can be taken as the examples for the Middle English period. This poet who lived between 1340-1400 is one of the most well-known and important representatives of the Middle English. English interacted with different languages, after England opened to the world during 1500s; thus, a new period began. Just like the Old English, this English is also difficult to understand by native speakers.
Modern English Period
It is better to divide Modern English, which has been spoken for more than 400 years, into two periods as the Early Modern English Period and the Late Modern English Period, because in this process there are two separate periods that influence the linguistic structure. One of these periods is England’s opening to the world in 1500s and coming into contact with different continents and regions, and the other one is the Industrial Revolution, which started in 1800s. In these two periods, new words and phrases were added to the language and various changes from the vocabulary to pronunciation took place.
Early Modern English Period
There was a dramatic change of pronunciation in the transition from the Middle English to the Modern Language, because England gained more of an intercontinental status and was interacting with different languages all over the world. This was reflected to the pronunciation of the language the most. In addition to interacting with different languages, classical teachings of the Renaissance added various new words to the English language, especially in artistic and scientific terms. While grammar rules of the English language were fixed with the invention of the press, books were copied based on the London dialect, which made reading books easy, and first dictionary was printed in 1604, and thus, English is standardized.
The first name comes to mind when we talk about the Modern English is Shakespeare, who is representative of this period. Hamlet, which includes the famous “To be or not to be!” phrase, was written by Shakespeare in the Early Modern English Period. The famous poet, who wrote various other works, including Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello and Macbeth other than Hamlet, is accepted as the milestone of the Modern English, and he is widely accepted as the most important author of the English literature.
Late Modern English Period
The change that started with the expansion of the British language to the world took place only in terms of the vocabulary together with the Industrial Revolution and the following technological developments from the 1800s forward; new words were added to the language in line with these developments. The journey of the English language that had started from Great Britain spread to the entire world with expansion policies and went through various changes, and later different English accents with significant word and pronunciation differences emerged. From movies to technology, from business English to daily dialogues, the most preferred English language type by the entire world is the American English. These two separate and distinct English types are the most common English types today.
English Types in Modern Times
Previous British colonies like India, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa or autonomous regions have unique English dialects. These English dialects that are combined with local language or languages of that region can have large differences when compared to each other. There are also different pronunciations like American, Australian and New Zealand formed by the previous commonwealth countries. Since English has turned into a completely global language, there are many accents. Independent from fundamental English accents, there are many different accents like Indian English or Chinese English.
Today, the most common English accents are the American English and British English. These two accents have both similarities and great differences just like the Turkish in Turkey and the Turkish in Azerbaijan. While same words are used to describe certain things in both languages, meaning and pronunciation differences are common. Yet, speakers of these languages can understand each other. However, since both English accents are commonly used in learning English, English learners might be indecisive about which accent they should focus on. Your needs will determine your decision.
If you will settle in England or if you need to constantly contact with the British people, it is better to learn British English. But in other cases, learning American English will provide great advantages, especially in terms of educational options. Generally, the best way to improve English language skills or a specific type of English language is to directly communicate with native speakers. Luckily, today this is extremely easy: You can join English Ninjas platform now, and practice your English language skills by talking to native English speakers all around the world.