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Where does the English
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British and American culture
Where does the English language come from?

Next in a series of articles on the English language and
British and American culture.

500 AD: Origins

English has its roots in the Germanic languages, from which German and Dutch also developed, as well as having many influences from romance languages such as French. (Romance languages are so called because they are derived from Latin which was the language spoken in ancient Rome.)

The English word father is vater in German and pater in Latin.

500–1100 AD: Old English

Northern invaders begin to inhabit the British Isles. They speak Old English. Very few of the words spoken then remain today but the few that survive are very frequent terms.

Words like be, water and strong, for example, are derived from Old English terms.

1100–1600 AD: Middle English

From the Norman conquest of England in 1066, English starts to adopt French words, especially business and political terms and those related to power. Middle English emerged from this process.

The difference between beef, the veal eaten by Norman aristocrats and cow, the animal kept by English peasants stems from this period.

1600 ADtoday: Modern English

Modern English emerged around the time of William Shakespeare. There are a surprising number of set phrases in Shakespeare's works but we mustn't forget that they were first coined by him and they became fixed expressions later. With the arrival of the printing press in 1476, books became cheaper and more and more works got published which led to the need for grammatical and spelling rules to be developed.

The first English-language dictionary was published in 1604.

With the rise of technological advances, new words needed to be coined to describe new things. For this, English looked to Latin and Greek. It's not that terms like oxygen and protein already existed in classical languages but they provided the roots to form the new terms.

Cyberspace and microchip are good examples of very recent neologisms which have been formed in the same way.

Next in the series

In the next issue you can find out about some well-known UK and US cities.

A Spanish language version of the text above is available in the 'Guía Cultural' section of Macmillan Diccionario Pocket, a brand-new bilingual English-Spanish/Spanish-English dictionary.
Spanish text written by Paz Blanco Castro
Translated into English by Sinda Lopez