History of English

The English language has 1.5 million words. Contrast this with Spanish, which has 80,000 words. How did English get so rich in vocabulary?


The English language is full of contradictions, exceptions and inexplicable irregularities. It is maddeningly difficult to teach and to lean English, because of its many inconsistencies and blurred rules. Often a particular English construction can't really be explained: all the teacher can say is, "that's how it is."

Why is English grammar so complicated? Why so complex and flexible, compared with other languages whose strict sentence structure (for example, German) makes it easy to build correct sentences? The history of English reveals the wayward nature of its development.

If the English language were a dog, it would be a mutt, not a purebred. If it were an ear of corn, it would be a hybrid, not a heritage strain. If it were a religion, it would be wide open, not orthodox. If it were a restaurant, it would be fusion, not ethnic.


English has its roots in the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tongue (Anglish..English). This was the language spoken by the Angles, a tribe that "settled" parts of England not held by Celts or retreating Romans. Thus three languages were in the mix: Celtic, Latin, and Anglish. The Norman conquest of 1066 brought French across the Channel, adding another Latin-influenced language. Nobles, priests and the wealthy spoke Norman French (oddly enough, Normans were former Vikings--Northmen-- who'd been allowed to settle on coastal France in return for not invading the rest of the country). Peasants spoke Anglish. Over the centuries, these tongues became English.

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A lesson on English

English also has a history of freely borrowing words from other language: Caribbean Creole, Hindi, Native American languages, Greek, and so on.

So it's no surprise that with such a diverse and entertaining history, English, like Topsy, just grew!

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