Exellence in English Series Part 2: The Origins, Development, and Cultural Effects of the English Language

IULI’s English lecturer was amazed by the English skills of the students that showed in the results of their work in the classroom and the students were ready take on a new challenge.

The idea for an ‘Excellence in English’ group came from our students. The normal English syllabus covers writing and presentation skills, in particular, but a number of students were already proficient in those skills and ready for a bigger challenge. An experiment with one student in early 2019 proved to be successful so a number of students in 2020 took up the challenge of producing either a fiction or non-fiction paper or story.

This week, we are back with more excellent content and we would like to share the next piece, which is titled “The Origins, Development, and Cultural Effects of the English Language”. This non-fiction paper was written by Maganitri Putri from International Business Administration 2017, and discusses the origins and background of the English language and also what impact it had throughout history. Please spare some of your time to read this extraordinary work.

Title of Paper: The Origins, Development, and Cultural Effects of the English Language

Why I chose this topic: I enjoy history and I thought to research the historical development of a language, especially the English language, would be a fascinating topic to research. It is a very broad topic so I would not have an issue with running out of ideas and I would have a plethora of sources to use.

Problems faced and overcome: The biggest issue I had during this was picking and choosing which points of discussion I should focus on as it was such a large topic. The history of the English language was also not something I had any prior knowledge of and as it is a topic that spans hundreds and hundreds of years, it was quite overwhelming. Essentially, I overcame these issues by sticking with topics that were given to me by Michael. Another issue I had during this project was also finding sources and facts that were legitimate, I spent quite a lot of time cross-checking and making sure that what I found was true.

Overall feelings: I wish I had picked a less broad topic than the one I chose as there was quite a lot I had to omit and my research ended up being rather short and felt more like summaries of other people’s writings I found on the internet. I wished I had focused on a specific point in the history of the English language or perhaps chosen to explore the implication of language, oppression, and cultural impact rather than try to talk about every aspect of the English language at once.  I will say that researching the history of the English language was super interesting and I found a lot of things about the language that I did not know about. I also enjoyed the challenge of writing a research paper that was outside the confines of my study program.

Exellence in English Series Part 2

The Origins, Development, and Cultural Effects of the English Language

Written by:

Maganitri K. Putri
International Business Administration 2017

People of all walks of life, from every corner of the globe, use language as a way to interact and socialise with others and as a way to convey their emotions, ideas, and opinions. Language is an art form, a source of education, and it serves to inspire, unite, and motivate. Language is what sets us apart from other living things. Language allows us to relate to each other and allow others to understand us. Even those with limitations and disabilities have their own language as a way to interact and communicate with the non-disabled world; sign languages, in all its iterations (e.g. American Sign Language, Indonesian Sign Language), are legitimate languages that both disabled and non-disabled people are able to communicate through.

The linguistic history of any language is tied to the social and cultural background of the changing times. It is impossible to talk about the history of a language without also discussing the history of those who spoke the language. The story of the English language is the story of the people, the places, and the events which transformed the language from an Indo-European language spoken in Eastern Europe about four thousand years ago into the closest thing we have to a modern international language. Today, English is undoubtedly the most learned language in the world, with millions all over the world adopting it as an additional language. It is estimated that around 1.5 billion people, 20% of the human population, speak English today, and it is estimated that there are around 3 times as many non-native speakers as there are native speakers. People all over the globe have a desire to learn the English language. English is routinely used as the de facto international language, a common medium of communication amongst speakers of other languages. When German businessmen established a Volkswagen plant in China, the Germans and their Chinese counterparts used English to converse, despite the fact that it is not the native language of either country. A Russian airline pilot landing in Rome will communicate with the Italian traffic controller in English, not Russian nor Italian, because English is the international language of aviation.

The idea that English is the international language may seem obvious to most people. ‘Of course English is a global language’, they would say. You hear English on television spoken by politicians from all over the world. Wherever you travel, you see English signs and advertisements. Whenever you enter a hotel or restaurant in a foreign city, they will probably understand English, and there will be an English menu. But what does it mean for English to be the international language? Why is English the language which is usually cited in this connection? How did the situation arise? And could it change? Or is it the case that, once a language becomes a global language, it is there forever?


What is a Global Language?

A language achieves a global status when it is given a ‘special role’ in numerous countries around the world. To become a global language we are not only looking at countries where a large majority of the population speak the language as a first language- in the case of English, this would mean the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other commonwealth countries – but we must look at the role or place that it has in communities and countries even though they may have few, or no, mother-tongue speakers. Because no language has ever been spoken by a majority in more than a few countries, it is important to look at the usage of a language as a largely foreign language and how much value it holds internationally.

The global and international status of the English language becomes clearer when you consider the fact that English holds value even in countries where the United Kingdom – and the British Empire – has, historically, had little influence. The English language is learnt as the principal foreign language in plenty of schools in Western Europe and it is also part of some educational curricula in countries such as Japan and South Korea as well as becoming increasingly desirable for millions of speakers in China (Crystal, 2003).

There are two main ways in which a language can achieve a ‘special role’ within a country. One is through the official recognition of the language as the primary or official language of a country, to be used as a medium of communication in the government, the courts of law, the media, and academia despite the fact that it may not be the associated language with the region or the local people. To get on in these societies, it is essential to master the official language as early in life as possible. Such a language is often described as a ‘second language’, because it is seen as a complement to a person’s mother tongue, or ‘first language’. The role of an official language is today best illustrated by English, which now has some kind of special status in over seventy countries, for example Ghana, Nigeria, India, and Malaysia. Though French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic are languages that have developed official use in other countries no other language is as widespread as the English language (Crystal, 2003; Howson, 2013).

A language could also attain a ‘special role’ when it is made a priority in a country’s foreign-language teaching, even though this language has no official status in the country. It becomes the language children are most likely to be taught when they arrive in school and the one most available – and desirable – to adults who never learned it in their early educational years. English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language – in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil – and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools, often displacing another language in the process. In 1996, for example, English replaced French as the chief foreign language in schools in Algeria – a former French colony (Crystal, 2003).

What Makes a Global Language?

A language does not reach global status simply because of the number of speakers it has. In fact, why a language becomes a global language has little to do with the number of people who speak it. It is much more to do with who those speakers are. Latin did not become an international language throughout the Roman Empire because the Romans outnumbered the people they subjugated. They were simply more powerful. And later, when Roman military power declined, Latin remained for a millennium as the international language of education, thanks to the power – a different kind of power – of Roman Catholicism (Crystal, 2003).

The relationship between the dominance of a particular language and the economic and cultural power of its speakers is seen throughout history. And as we discuss the history of the English language, how it developed and changed throughout history and how it became the de facto international language, the connection will become increasingly clearer. Without a strong power-base, of whatever kind, no language can make progress as an international medium of communication. Language has no independent existence, living separately from the people who speak it. Language exists only in the brains and mouths and ears and hands and eyes of its users. When they succeed, on the international stage, their language succeeds and when they fail, their language fails. A language does not become a global language because of its syntax and grammar, or because of the size of its vocabulary, or because it has been a vehicle of a great literature in the past, or because it was once associated with a great culture or religion. These are all factors which can motivate someone to learn a language, of course, but none of them alone, or in combination, can ensure a language’s world spread (Crystal, 2003).

A language has more often than not become an international language through the power of its speakers – most commonly their political and military power. This is seen again and again throughout history. Greek did not become a language of international communication in the Middle East 2,000 years ago because of the intellectual prowess of Plato and Aristotle, but because of the armies of Alexander the Great. Latin was used throughout Europe because of the Roman Empire. Arabic came to be spoken widely across northern Africa and the Middle East through the spread of Islam by the Moorish armies in the eighth century. Spanish, Portuguese, and French find their way into the Americas, Africa and Asia through their colonial policies and the way these policies were implemented by armies and navies. The history of an international language can be traced through the travels of its speakers and the power that they have and the English language is no exception with the British Empire and the United States political and economic reach and influence in their respective periods (Crystal, 2003).

But international language dominance is not solely the result of military power. It may take a militarily powerful nation to establish a language, but it takes an economically powerful one to maintain and expand it. This has always been the case, but it became a particularly critical factor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with economic developments beginning to operate on a global scale, supported by the new communication technologies – telegraph, telephone, radio – and the emergence of massive businesses that are able to operate internationally. The growth of competitive industry and business brought an explosion of international marketing and advertising. The power of the press reached unprecedented levels, which were then surpassed by broadcasting media, with their ability to cross national boundaries with ease. Further technological advancements and expansion, chiefly in the form of movies and records, fuelled new mass entertainment industries which had a worldwide impact (Crystal, 2003).

This idea that a language gains power from a combination of military, economic, and technological power describes the rise of English in the nineteenth and twentieth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain had become the world’s leading industrial and trading country. By the end of the century, the population of the United States was larger than that of any of the countries of Western Europe, and its economy was the most productive and the fastest growing in the world. British political imperialism had sent English around the globe, during the nineteenth century and, in the twentieth century, this world presence was maintained and promoted almost single-handedly through the economic supremacy of the new American superpower. Economics replaced politics as the chief driving force. And the language behind the US dollar was English (Crystal, 2003).

Positives of an International Language

Having an international language is positive for many reasons. It allows people of all backgrounds to communicate with each other, breaking down the barriers between people that language can build. Translation has played a central role in human interaction for thousands of years. When monarchs or ambassadors met on the international stage, there would invariably be interpreters present. But there are limits to what can be done in this way. The more a community is linguistically mixed, the less it can rely on individuals to ensure communication between different groups. In communities where only two or three languages are in contact, bilingualism (or trilingualism) is a possible solution. Most young children can acquire more than one language easier than adults but in countries where there are many languages in contact, as in much of Africa and Southeast Asia, that option appears unfeasible (Crystal, 2003).

The barrier of language has often been solved through the usage of a lingua franca, or a ‘common language’.  Sometimes, when communities begin to trade with each other communication is done through the adoption of a simplified language, known as a pidgin, which combines elements of the various respective languages. The geographical reach of a lingua franca and the extent to which it can be used is entirely dictated by political factors. A great deal of lingua francas extend to a relatively small domain – used between a few ethnic groups in one particular country or as a link between the trading populations of a few countries. A lingua franca would also be used in several countries through its shared political or historical links. During the domination of the Roman Empire, Latin was a lingua franca in their various territories for government and administration purposes with very few of the subjugated population speaking much Latin in their day to day life. And in modern times Arabic, Spanish, French, Portuguese and several other languages have developed a major international role as a lingua franca due to their political history (Crystal, 2003).

The idea of a global language is the idea of having a lingua franca for every country on Earth, allowing people from every corner of the globe to communicate with each other. International organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank – which were both established in 1945, started establishing themselves as a way of international communication between countries, whether it was politically, socially, or economically. Never before have so many countries (around 190, in the case of some UN bodies) been represented in a single meeting to discuss topics with each other. The pressure to adopt a single lingua franca, to facilitate communication in such contexts, was considerable, the alternative being expensive and impracticable multi-way translation facilities (Crystal, 2003).

The need for a global language is also appreciated by the international academic and business communities, and it is here that the adoption of a single lingua franca is most commonly seen, having a common language is important for the transfer of information. A conversation between academic physicists in Sweden, Italy, and India is at present practicable only if a common language is available. A situation where a Japanese company director arranges to meet German and Saudi Arabian contacts in a Singapore hotel to plan a multi-national deal would not be impossible, if each plugged in to a 3-way translation support system, but it would be far more complicated than the alternative, which is for each to make use of the same language.

Having a global language could also act as an empowering force, allowing for the sharing of cultural information between cultures rather than for the elimination of individual cultural identities. The usage of a shared language allows us to understand each other and open up our perception and comprehension of others. A global language does not indicate that we are eliminating our own traditions and cultural identity but that we are sharing our identity with those who might not be aware of it (Plonski, Teferra, & Brady, 2013).

Negatives of an International Language

However, there are negatives to a global language. Having one powerful international language, English in this case, can have negative impacts and implications. It can lead to cultural colonisation, overpowering linguistic power, linguistic complacency, and the death of indigenous languages (Crystal, 2003).

A global language could accelerate the disappearance of minority languages, or make all other languages obsolete. A global language threatens a country’s cultural identity. As discussed, a language is inherently connected to its speakers and as the language spreads, so does the culture and identity of its speakers. Language is a form of cultural identity that shapes one’s perceptions and beliefs. If it is more beneficial for you to communicate and research in a particular language, you are probably going to be more inclined to learn that language than another. English threatens not only to make those who speak it more alike, but to mould them in the culturally specific Western – mainly American and British – image that it carries (Crystal, 2003; Plonski, Teferra, & Brady, 2013).

A global language also creates a hierarchy where people who are able to talk like a ‘native’ appear smarter and above those who cannot. It creates division and class divides on language abilities. It is also a little problematic that the one global language that we have, has been able to receive that status through a long history of colonisation and exploitation and all other options, be it Spanish or French, are also tainted with the same history. The language of colonisers carries with it the history of colonial language policies in order to perpetuate their own political power over the majority of citizens who are less proficient in those languages (Crystal, 2003; Plonski, Teferra, & Brady, 2013).

Having one singular global language also creates the issue of disproportionate linguistic power – those who speak the global language as their mother tongue will automatically be in a position of power in comparison to those who don’t speak it as their mother-tongue. It is a possibility that academics who write their research in languages other than English will have their work ignored by the international community. It is possible that senior managers who do not have English as a mother tongue could find themselves at a disadvantage compared with their mother-tongue colleagues, especially when meetings involve the use of informal speech. One global language overpowering the value of local languages creates a divide and cuts off the elite from the population and that by not understanding the language, the ordinary people can neither identify themselves with the state nor acquire even the most basic information about public affairs. Those who are unable to learn the language would then be relegated to being stuck in their social position.

There is also the question of whether a global language will eliminate the motivation for adults to learn other languages. The common archetype of British and American tourists who travel the world assuming that everyone speaks English – and that it is somehow the fault of the local people if they do not – shows that linguistic complacency is common among English speakers. Linguistic complacency is dangerous as it creates a precedent where people expect others to accommodate for their own personal limitations. This also allows those who speak one particular language to have a higher social standing than those who would have to learn it as an additional language, which, when considered on a global scale, creates a problem where the countries that uses the language as an official or first language would have more power than those who does not (Crystal, 2003).

In addition, the emergence of a global language could also lead to the disappearance of minority languages and cause widespread language death. The processes of language domination and loss have been known throughout linguistic history, and exist independently of the emergence of a global language. Historically, the death of languages around the world has been a result of an ethnic group coming to be assimilated within a more dominant society, and adopting its language. The situation continues today though the matter is being discussed with increasing urgency because of the unprecedented rate at which indigenous languages are being lost, especially in North America, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and parts of Africa. When a language dies, it is not only the language that dies but it is also the identity of those who spoke it. Especially in languages which have never been written down, or which have been written down only recently, language is the voice of the history of a community. Oral testimony, in the form of sagas, folktales, songs, rituals, proverbs, and many other practices, provides us with a unique view of our world and a diverse canon of literature. It is their legacy to the rest of humanity. Once lost, it can never be recaptured (Crystal, 2003).

It should also be noted that throughout history, all over the world, the use of a single language by a community does not equal social harmony or mutual understanding; not with the Americans during the American Civil War, not with the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, not with the Irish during the Irish War for Independence, and not with the Sri Lankans during their Civil War. Language does not dissolve differences but language does not always create barriers between communities, the presence of more than one language within a community does not equal infighting and conflict, as seen in several successful examples of peaceful multilingual coexistence such as Singapore and Switzerland (Crystal, 2003).

The History of the English Language

The history of the English language and its eventual rise to become the international language of the world is fascinatingly intertwined, with the events that altered the English language throughout history mirroring the events that spread the language later. The history of the English language is the history of economic, military, and cultural power altering the language throughout its history. It is the story of technological advancement and education that allows language to become standardised and become constant in its usage but also the story of migration and how people adapt aspects of a language to their own culture and identity.

Generally speaking, linguists divide the evolution of the English language into three eras: the Old English Era, the Middle English Era, and the Modern English era. Linguists generalise that a language would enter a new era every thousand years or so, marked by the idea that a speaker at the beginning of that period would not be able to speak with a speaker at the end of that period due to the natural language change.

The Old English Era

The written history of the English language and its origin is often marked by the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century. Emigrating from northern Europe, the Anglo-Saxons settled in England in the fifth and sixth centuries and developed what we now know as Old English. Initially comprising many small groups and divided into a number of kingdoms, the Anglo-Saxons were finally joined into a single political realm – the kingdom of England – during the reign of King Æthelstan, the first king of England, in 924 C.E (Chamonikolasova, 2014).

During this period, two events were vital to the creation of what is now known as Old English. One event was the Christianisation of England and the influence of the Latin language, which persisted for centuries beyond the Old English Era. Whilst the Romans have previously conquered the land in 43 C.E. – before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons – it was not until the conversion mission of St. Augustine in 597 C.E. that the Romans’ Latin language had an impact on the language of the people of the British Isles.

The introduction of Roman Christianity, which differs from the Irish Christianity that was present in the Island prior to St. Augustine’s arrival, meant the building of churches and monasteries as well as schools. Latin, the language of the clergy and of ecclesiastical learning, was introduced to and was used habitually by the local Anglo-Saxons. Latin words gradually made their way into Old English and thus, the English language. Understandably, the words that were introduced at this time were tied to Christianity and its external organisation. Words relating to religion were borrowed at this time of Christian evolution. Words with origins from this era, which has remained in the modern English vocabulary albeit in a slightly different form includes: ‘abbot’, ‘altar’, ‘angel’, ‘anthem’, ‘candle’, ‘chalice’, ‘cleric’, ‘cowl’, ‘deacon’, ‘disciple’, ‘hymn’, ‘martyr’, ‘mass’, ‘minster’, ‘noon’, ‘nun’, ‘offer’, ‘organ’, ‘palm’, ‘pope’, ‘priest’, ‘psalm’, ‘relic’, ‘rule’, ‘shrine’, ‘stole’, ‘temple’, and ‘tunic’ (Dima, 2019).

The other major vehicle for linguistic change during the Anglo-Saxon period came about as a result of the Norse migration into the British Isles beginning in the eighth century when King Canute, King of Denmark, united England and Denmark into a single kingdom.  Many Danes and Norwegians settled in England following the unification and quickly integrated with the Anglo-Saxons. Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse were spoken in congruence between 700 and 900 C.E., resulting in the merging of the two languages (Durkin, 2019; Smith & Reade, 1991).

The prolonged contact and mixing with Old Norse had two vital effects on the language of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain: the expansion of their vocabulary and a grammatical simplification of the language. Old Norse gave the Anglo-Saxons synonyms to pre-existing words, seen in Table 1, as well as new words from the different phonetics of the language, exemplified in Table 2. Along with new words, Old Norse also sped up the process of losing inflectional morphemes (suffixes added to a word which changes the grammatical property of the word) until eventually, the English language in its current iteration only has 8 inflectional morphemes: plural (s), possessive (‘s), comparative (er), superlative (est), present (s), past (ed), past participle (en), and present participle (ing) (Western Washington University, 2019)

The Norse arrived in the British Isles with an already simplified system of endings and it influenced the way the Anglo-Saxon language was structured. Many Anglo-Saxon and Old English plurals were lost and regularized as ‘es’ and plurals for Old English words such as ‘nama’ (namen), ‘scip’ (scipu), ‘sunu’ (suna). Currently, there are only a handful of words with irregular plurals such as ‘ox’ (oxen) and ‘foot’ (feet).

Table 1: Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Doublets


Old Norse
















Table 2: Words from Old Norse “SK”

Anglo-Saxon “sh”

Old Norse “sk”










As well as altering and expanding the language, the Norse also had an impact on the naming of places all over Britain. The Norse controlled an area known as the Danelaw which covered most of England north and east of a line from Liverpool to the Thames. Places bearing the mark of a Norse place names includes those ending with – by (Appleby, Ashby), -both/-booth (,-thorp/-thorpe (Donisthorpe), -toft (Lowestoft, Langtoft) , -keld (Threkeld), and -kirk (Ormskirk) (Harbeck, 2016; Jorvik Viking Centre, 2019).

The impact of the Norse culture and language on English is immortalised in perhaps the most famous well-known work from the Old English period, the epic poem “Beowulf.” Consisting of 3,182 lines and written in the alliterative verse style, “Beowulf” tells the story of Beowulf -a hero of the North Germanic tribe of Geats- as he fights a series of monsters and rule as King for approximately 50 years. Considered one of the oldest surviving poems in the English language, the poem covers different parts of Scandinavia and Norse culture over the course of the sixth Century.

Over 1,000 years has passed since the writing of the poem and the legacy of “Beowulf” is seen in the world of literature and entertainment. The core story of a hero battling fierce monsters and defending his country with the central theme of bravery, mortality, and social hierarchy is seen in stories of all sorts, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to the table top fantasy role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons.” The story of Beowulf has also been reprinted, reimagined, and adapted again and again. Tolkien – a professor of Anglo-Saxon English – completed his own translation of “Beowulf” in 1926, Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation became a best-seller, and children’s author Michael Morpurgo retold the story for young readers (Fiorentino, 2017).

In the Old English Era, the language and those who spoke it interacted with two cultures and languages with different backgrounds and origins that altered the language into something more familiar to us in the modern day. The North Germanic Old Norse and the Italic Latin exemplifies, through two different methods, how a language could be altered and adopted by the presence of a culturally and socially powerful group. The mass migration of Old Norse speakers eventually led to the assimilation of the language into Old English and the cultural influence of the Latin language of Roman Christianity transformed the English language. It shows how the language of another culture, regardless of how many people speak it in a particular area, has the power to change the structure of a language.

The Middle English Era

The Middle English Era is signified by the arrival of the Normans in 1066. Led by William of Normandy, known as William the Conqueror and eventually, William I of England, the Normans invaded the island of Britain from their homeland in northern France and settled in positions of power in Britain. The arrival of the Normans changed almost everything in England socially, economically, culturally, legally, and – of course – linguistically. The defeated Anglo-Saxons earls were removed from power and were replaced by Norman French earls and knights who fought alongside William. For the next three centuries, French – or the Norman dialect of French called Norman French or Anglo-Norman – became the language of the courts, the aristocracy, and the ruling class. It was not until the 1300s, around the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, that English was spoken exclusively by an English monarch (Mastin, 2011).

The conquering Normans – themselves descendants of Vikings with the name ‘Norman’ itself coming from the name ‘Norseman’- spoke a rural dialect of French with considerable Germanic influence, which differed from the standard French of Paris of the period known as Francien. As the Normans ruled England for 300 years, Anglo-Norman French became the language of the kings and nobility of England. It was not until Henry IV, who ascended to the throne in 1399, which the monarch was to have English as his mother tongue. Whilst Anglo-Norman was the language of the court, administration, and aristocracy, those in the lower class – which describes the vast majority of the English population at the time – continued to speak Old English. Considered by the Norman elites to be a low-class, vulgar language, English continued to develop in parallel with the development of Anglo-Norman, only gradually merging as Normans and Anglo-Saxons began to intermarry. It is this mixture of Old English and Anglo-Norman that is usually referred to as Middle English.

During these Norman-ruled centuries in which English as a language had no official status and no regulation, English became the third language in its own country. It was largely a spoken rather than written language, and effectively sank to the level of a patois or creole. The main dialect regions during this time are usually referred to as Northern, Midlands, Southern and Kentish, although they were really just natural developments from the Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon and Kentish dialects of Old English.

The Normans changed the English language greatly, expanding the vocabulary of the language by over 10,000 words – of which 75% are still in use today. Words ending with suffixes ‘-age’, ‘-ance/-ence’, ‘-ant/-ent’, ‘-ment’, ‘-ity’ and ‘-tion’, or starting with the prefixes ‘con-’, ‘de-’, ‘ex-’, ‘trans-’ and ‘pre-’ all came from the Normans. Many of the words that came from this period were related to high-class and luxury such as the monarchy, government, and fashion. Below are a list of words that has been given by the Normans, categorised by the group that they represent:

Crown and Nobility‘crown’, ‘castle’, ‘prince’, ‘count’, ‘duke’, ‘viscount’, ‘baron’,   ‘noble’, ‘sovereign’, ‘heraldry’

Government – ‘parliament’, ‘government’, ‘governor’, ‘city’

Court and Law‘court’, ‘judge’, ‘justice’, ‘accuse’, ‘arrest’, ‘sentence’, ‘appeal’, ‘condemn’, ‘plaintiff’, ‘bailiff’, ‘jury’, ‘felony’, ‘verdict’, ‘traitor’, ‘contract’, ‘damage’, ‘prison’

War and Military‘army’, ‘armour’, ‘archer’, ‘battle’, ‘soldier’, ‘guard’, ‘courage’, ‘peace’, ‘enemy’, ‘destroy’

Fashion and Lifestyle‘mansion’, ‘money’, ‘gown’, ‘boot’, ‘beauty’, ‘mirror’, ‘jewel’, ‘appetite’, ‘banquet’, ‘herb’, ‘spice’, ‘sauce’, ‘roast’, ‘biscuit’

Art and Literature‘art’, ‘colour’, ‘language’, ‘literature’, ‘poet’, ‘chapter’, ‘question’

While humble, lower class occupations – such as ‘baker’, ‘miller’, ‘shoemaker’ – retained their Anglo-Saxon names, more skilled and upper class occupations – such as ‘painter’, ‘tailor’, ‘merchant’ – adopted French names. Animals in the field generally kept their English names but, once cooked and served, their names became French. Examples of this transformation can be seen in Table 3.


Table 3: Animals and Food – English vs Norman-French

Old English (Animals)

Norman-French (Food)










Pork, Bacon


Sometimes, a Norman word would replace an Old English word – words such as ‘crime’, ‘people’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘uncle’ replaced their Old English counterparts. Sometimes Norman and Old English components would merge to form new words – the word ‘gentleman’, for example, is a combination of the Norman word ‘gentle’ and Germanic/Old English word ‘man’. And other times, both English and Norman words survived with different connotations – the Old English ‘house’ and the Norman-French ‘mansion’, for example. It should be noted that, as a Romance language, many French words, and thus Anglo-Norman words, derived from Latin (Mastin, 2011).

Rather than erasing existing words in the English language, different words with roughly the same meaning stayed and a whole host of new, French-based synonyms entered the English language. Over time, many near synonyms acquired subtle differences in meaning – with the Norman-French alternative suggesting a higher level of refinement than the Old English – which expanded the English vocabulary, adding nuances and complexities to the language. Even today, phrases combining Anglo-Saxon and Norman doublets are still in common use; phrases such as “law and order”, “lord and master”, “love and cherish” (Mastin, 2011).

French writing changed the common Old English letter pattern “hw” to “wh”, largely out of a desire for consistency with “ch” and “th”, and despite the actual pronunciation, so that ‘hwaer’ became ‘where’, ‘hwaenne’ became ‘when’ and ‘hwil’ became ‘while’.

During the reign of the Norman king Henry II and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in the second half of the twelfth Century, many more Francien words from central France were imported in addition to their Norman counterparts – the Francien ‘chase’ and the Norman ‘catch’; ‘royal’ and ‘real’; ‘regard’ and ‘reward’; ‘gauge’ and ‘wage’; ‘guile’ and ‘wile’; ‘guardian’ and ‘warden’; ‘guarantee’ and ‘warrant’. Regarded as the most cultured woman in Europe, Eleanor also championed many terms of romance and chivalry such as ‘romance’, ‘courtesy’, ‘honour’, ‘damsel’, ‘virtue’, ‘music’, ‘desire’, ‘passion’.

Following the Norman Conquest in the eleventh Century, England became more integrated and involved in the culture of mainland Europe with its Latin and Roman influence. The English Church was reformed according to Roman ideas: local assembly was revived, celibacy of the clergy was required, and the canon law of Western Europe was introduced in England. During this period, Anglo-Norman was the verbal language of the court, administration and culture and Latin was often used as the written language, especially by the Church and in official records. For example, the “Domesday Book”, in which William the Conqueror took stock of his new kingdom, was written in Latin to emphasize its legal authority.

Many Latin-derived words came into use during this period, largely connected with religion, law, medicine and literature, including ‘scripture’, ‘collect’, ‘meditation’, ‘immortal’, ‘oriental’, ‘client’, ‘adjacent’, ‘combine’, ‘expedition’, ‘moderate’, ‘nervous’, ‘private’, ‘popular’, ‘picture’, ‘legal’, ‘legitimate’, ‘testimony’, ‘prosecute’, ‘pauper’, ‘contradiction’, ‘history’, ‘library’, ‘comet’, ‘solar’, ‘recipe’, ‘scribe’, ‘scripture’, ‘tolerance’, ‘imaginary’, ‘infinite’, ‘index’, ‘intellect’, ‘magnify’ and ‘genius’.

Whilst Christianity – and the Roman variation of it – had been a part of English life, William I’s devotion to the Church led to the integration of religion with the government and the monarchy. When William of Normandy conquered England, he believed that it was important for the churches to come under Norman control, and for priests to take a lead in transforming the country into an Anglo-Norman territory. This interrelation between the monarchy and religion remained long after the Norman Conquest, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Church of England in 1534.

Anglo-Saxon churches were usually small wooden buildings in the villages of England, and only a few have remained. The Normans wanted to show that they had an authority in religion that would match their military authority, so stone churches were built as well as stone castles. The Normans built larger stone churches, and constructed basilicas – a Roman Catholic Church used for ceremonial purposes – in major towns, like London, Durham and York, which could hold hundreds of people worshipping at one time. One key feature of these large Norman basilicas was the rounded arch, and they would have been painted inside with religious art. This gave a clear message about the power of the church in people’s lives, and the leaders of the church were usually Norman. Along with churches, the Normans also built monasteries. The monasteries played a vital role in the limited amount of education that was available for people in England. Latin was the written language of both Church and State, so boys who wanted to become priests or government clerks had to learn Latin – and they were taught this in Anglo-Norman, not in English. Once the Normans settled fully in England, they established their Anglo-Norman language as the spoken language of everyday life (BBC Bitesize, 2019)

In 1384, John Wycliffe produced his translation of “The Bible” in vernacular English. This challenge to Latin as the language of God was considered a revolutionary act at that time, and the translation was banned by the Church. Wycliffe’s “Bible” was nevertheless a landmark in the English language. Over 1,000 English words were first recorded in it, most of them Latin-based, often via French, including ‘barbarian’, ‘birthday’, ‘canopy’, ‘child-bearing’, ‘communication’, ‘cradle’, ‘crime’, ‘dishonour’, ‘emperor’, ‘envy’, ‘godly’, ‘graven’, ‘humanity’, ‘glory’, ‘injury’, ‘justice’, ‘madness’, ‘multitude’, ‘novelty’, ‘oppressor’, ‘pollute’, ‘profession’, ‘puberty’, ‘suddenly’, ‘unfaithful’, ‘visitor’, ‘zeal’, as well as phrases like an “eye for an eye” and “woe is me”.

Texts in Middle English, as opposed to French or Latin, began to emerge in the thirteenth century, with works such as the debate poem “The Owl and the Nightingale” and the long historical poem known as Layamon’s “Brut”. But it was not until the latter part of the fourteenth century that the English language gained literary legitimacy.  Geoffrey Chaucer began writing his famous “Canterbury Tales” in the early 1380s, and crucially he chose to write it in English. Other important works written in English around the same time, if not earlier, includes William Langland’s “Piers Plowman” and the anonymous “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. But the “Canterbury Tales” is usually considered the first great work of English literature, and the first demonstration of the artistic legitimacy of vernacular Middle English, as opposed to French or Latin. Whilst he included words of Norman-French origin in his work, when Chaucer portrayed the earthy working man of England – such as the Miller – he deliberately used much more Old English vocabulary. Chaucer also reintroduced many old words that had fallen out of favour, such as ‘friendly’, ‘learning’, ‘loving’, ‘restless’, ‘wifely’, and ‘willingly’ (Mastin, 2011).

The Middle English period ended in the sixteenth century, often marked by the arrival of printing in Britain and by the cultural, social, and economic domination of the British Empire as it made its way around the world.

The Modern English Era

The Modern English Era saw less dramatic change in the English language. Whereas the Middle and Old era of the English language saw the English language go from a Germanic dialect into a pseudo-French language, the modern era sees less drastic changes as the language disperse all over the world and subtle, gradual changes in the language. The Early Modern English era saw the publishing of several major works as well as the first English dictionary. The widespread use of literature, through novels and other writings, is directly related to the invention of the printing press in 1440. The invention of the printing press saw the works of William Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift, among other authors, become available to the general public. Perhaps the most notable work in the days of early, modern English was the King James Bible which saw the introduction of many phrases and idioms that have become congruous with everyday speech. The modern English period also saw the spread of the English language and patriotism due to the British Empire’s colonisation and power over a majority of the world. This period of the English language had less to do with the way that the English language changed but more with the way the English language was used, the way it spread, and the way it was perceived. Whereas it was classified as a lowly, vulgar language under the Normans, English – with the British Empire behind it – was now the language of the most powerful military force on Earth.

During this period came the printing press, which standardised the language and helped spread literacy. Printing has existed for decades prior to the printing press but the most significant breakthrough came when German printer Johannes Gutenberg developed a new model of moveable type printing press and used it to print the Christian Bible on an unprecedented scale in the 1450s. Gutenberg’s press allowed for the first truly mass-scale publishing. The printing press arrived in England through English merchant and translator, William Caxton. With an interest in literature, Caxton was in France when he was introduced to the printing press. This was a much easier way for him to copy the books that he had been translating and re-writing by hand. Caxton bought his own printing press in Brugge and published the first printed book in the English language there in 1475, “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye”. A year later, in 1476, William Caxton returned to England and set up Britain’s first printing press at Westminster (Muscato, 2018).

The First English Dictionary

The early period of modern English was an era of growth and spread for the language. According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s record, the number of words ‘available’ to speakers of English more than doubled between 1500 and 1650. Many of the new words were borrowed into English from the Latin or Greek of the Renaissance or from foreign countries visited by travellers and traders, and must have seemed hard to understand to many of the population. At the same time, there were significant demographic shifts in Britain towards an urbanized culture based in the big cities, such as London where the population increased eightfold over these years. The growing availability of books and other printed matter as the period developed as well as the emergence of the grammar school as a focus for education (especially for boys) which allowed the English dictionary to thrive (Simpson, 2012).

The first English dictionary was published in 1604, titled “Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall” it listed approximately 3000 words with a definition and a brief description of each word. Robert Cawdrey was a schoolmaster and former Church of England clergyman. At this time the English language was expanding – influenced by trade, travel and new innovations in the fields of arts and sciences. The ‘Table Alphabeticall’ was an attempt to explain words that are unfamiliar to the general public.

In the preface to the dictionary Cawdrey criticised the poor standard of English spoken by people at the time: while some simplified their speech ‘so that the most ignorant may well understand them’, others decorated their sentences with fancy phrases and complicated words, ‘forgetting altogether their mothers language, so that if some of their mothers were alive, they were not able to tell or vnderstand what they say.’ He writes of how ‘far journied gentlemen’ collect words on their travels and, coming home, ‘pouder their talke with over-sea language.’ Cawdrey wanted the English language to be better organised and felt his book might help the reader to understand challenging words (Melieste, 2012; The British Library Board, 2019).

The King James Bible

During the Modern English period, the King James Bible was released. Introducing phrases and idioms that have been congruous with everyday speech, the King James Bible was published in 1611 during the reign of King James I. The King James Bible, written by 54 scholars – all of whom were members of the Church of England – were separated into 6 committees with each committee working on different sections of the Bible. Phrases such as “turned the world upside down,” “God forbid,” “wheels within wheels,” “the blind leading the blind,” “by the skin of one’s teeth,” “from strength to strength,” and many others were all introduced by the King James Bible (Petruzzello, 2017; McCrum, 2010; Dutta, 2019).

Prior to the King James Bible, many English versions of the bible were released – most notably William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament and the Pentateuch or the Torah. Translated from the original Hebrew, Tyndale’s New Testament – printed in Worms, Germany and smuggled into England – displeased the Church of England and Bishop Tunstall, the bishop of London at the time, resulting in the burning of the work. Tyndale continued to revise and publish his New Testament from its first run in 1526 until 1535, when he was executed for heresy (Page, 2003).

Following the execution of Tyndale, King Henry VIII authorised the first official English Bible in 1539. Dubbed The Great Bible, this version gained some popularity but its successive editions contained several inconsistencies. The Bishops’ Bible, released in 1568, was well regarded by the clergy but failed to gain acceptance by the general public or the official authorisation of Elizabeth I.

Before the publication of the King James Bible, the Geneva Bible – written by English Protestants living in exile in 1576 – was the most commonly used English Bible. With its anti-royalist content, the popularity of the Geneva Bible amongst his people forced James I to sanction his own, pro-monarchy translation.

Alister McGrath, professor of theology, ministry and education at King’s College in London, and the author of “In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture”, said that the Bible was “a very public text, it would have been read aloud in churches very, very extensively, which would have imprinted it on people’s minds.” An aspect of the King James Bible’s impact on the English language is the somewhat lacklustre translation. McGrath wrote that “The translators seem to have taken the view that the best translation was a literal one, so instead of adapting Hebrew and Greek to English forms of speaking they simply translated it literally. The result wouldn’t have made all that much sense to readers, but they got used to it, and so these fundamentally foreign ways of expressing yourself became accepted as normal English through the influence of this major public text.” This led to the creation and usage of many English idioms such as “by the skin of one’s teeth”, “the land of the living” and “from strength to strength”, which are directly translated from Hebrew idioms. This also exemplifies the way English adapts and incorporates from other languages, now Norse, French, Latin, and Hebrew have a hand in the development and broadening of the English language (BBC News, 2011; Hedges, 2011)

The story of the King James Bible and all the variations of an English Bible that preceded it is important in understanding the English language as it is today. The prose, idioms, and language used in the book is vital to the spread of the language in England and in the way sentences are structured. For example, the Bible has introduced superlatives, in the manner of the Hebrew language, into English.

Many authors, linguists, and academics have noted that, regardless of the contents and the religious nature of the work, the Bible is noteworthy for its usage of the English language. In a Guardian article, Richard Dawkins, former professor for public understanding of science at Oxford University and noted atheist, argued for the teaching of the King James Bible for its literary merits. He wrote “The whole King James Bible is littered with literary allusions, almost as many as Shakespeare,” noting that the impact of the writing should be studied similarly to the examination of other great literary works. Dawkins also noted in the article that in his book “The God Delusion”, that argues vehemently against the existence of God, the discussion around the idea of “religious education as a part of literary culture” had him listing 129 phrases directly lifted from the Bible which would be instantly recognised and used by any cultivated English speaker despite not knowing their origins. Phrases mentioned by Dawkins in his book and in the article includes “the salt of the earth,” “go the extra mile,” “I wash my hands of it,” “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and “how are the mighty fallen” (Dawkins, 2012).

The British Empire and the Legacy of the English Language Worldwide

Since it arrived in England from northern Europe, in the fifth century, the English language has always been spreading around the British Isles. It entered parts of Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria and southern Scotland, where Celtic languages resided. Following the Norman invasion in 1066 during the Middle English period, many nobles from England fled north to Scotland, where they were made welcome, and eventually the language (in a distinctive Scots variety) spread throughout the Scottish lowlands. From the twelfth century, Anglo-Norman knights were sent across the Irish Sea, and Ireland gradually fell under English rule. But it was not until towards the end of the sixteenth Century, with the rise of the British Empire, that English made its way to every corner of the world. Between the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1603, and the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II, in 1952, the number of native English speakers, those who spoke it as their mother-tongue, went from 7 million – with almost all of them living in the British Isles – to 250 million with the majority living outside the islands (Crystal, 2003).

Great Britain made its first tentative efforts to establish overseas settlements in the sixteenth century. Maritime expansion, driven by commercial ambitions and by competition with France, accelerated in the seventeenth century and resulted in the establishment of settlements in North America and the West Indies. By 1670 there were British American colonies in New England, Virginia, and Maryland and settlements in the Bermudas, Honduras, Antigua, Barbados, and Nova Scotia. Jamaica was obtained by conquest in 1655, and the Hudson’s Bay Company established itself in what became north-western Canada from the 1670s on. The East India Company began establishing trading posts in India in 1600, and the Straits Settlements (Penang, Singapore, Malacca, and Labuan) became British through an extension of that company’s activities. The first permanent British settlement on the African continent was made at James Island in the Gambia River in 1661. Slave trading had begun earlier in Sierra Leone, but that region did not become a British possession until 1787. Britain acquired the Cape of Good Hope (now in South Africa) in 1806, and the South African interior was opened up by Boer and British pioneers under British control. Early settlements – those established before the seventeenth century – were established by companies and organisations rather than the monarchy (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the crown exercised control over its colonies chiefly in the areas of trade and shipping. In accordance with the mercantilist philosophy of the time, the colonies were regarded as a source of necessary raw materials for England and were granted monopolies for their products, such as tobacco and sugar, in the British market. In return, they were expected to conduct all their trade by means of English ships and to serve as markets for British manufactured goods. The Navigation Act of 1651 and subsequent acts set up a closed economy between Britain and its colonies; all colonial exports had to be shipped on English ships to the British market, and all colonial imports had to come by way of England. This arrangement lasted until the combined effects of the Scottish economist Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), the loss of the American colonies, and the growth of a free-trade movement in Britain slowly brought it to an end in the first half of the nineteenth century (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).

During this time, the English language was the language of power – and it could be argued that that power still exists today although in a different, less forceful way. Colonialism, by definition, is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It means the expansion of a nation’s sovereignty over foreign territories through forcible occupation. As a result, the social structure, government and economy of the colony are changed by the colonizers. The colonisers exploit the resources of colonies and impose their culture and language on these colonies. Colonialism impacts education, government, economy, and social status. With English, the British Empire promoted the use of the language as the language of administration and social power; introducing it into education curriculums and pushing the language onto the locals whilst diminishing the validity, and value, of their own native language (Sehkar, 2012).

As English teaching spreads, the English language is no longer the sole possession of the English – and it has not been since it started spreading since before the British Empire. When even the largest English-speaking nation, the United States, turns out to have only around 20% of the world’s English speakers, it is evident that no one has ownership over the language – its history, development, and legacy spread throughout the world. This shows just how global the English language is, that its usage is not restricted by countries or by governing bodies anymore. An inevitable consequence of these developments is that the language will become vulnerable to linguistic change in unpredictable ways. The spread of English around the world resulted in the emergence of new varieties of English in the different territories where the language has taken root. The different variances of British and American English provide the most familiar example. When Noah Webster published his “An American Dictionary of the English Language” in 1828, he authorised and officialised the new American dialect, changing the spellings, introducing new words, and altering pronunciations. Today, there are thousands of differences between British and American English. When Webster published his first dictionary, he documented American vocabulary such as ‘skunk’, ‘hickory’, and ‘chowder’ as well as altering the spelling of many words in the English language to become simpler and much easier to learn. He changed the “–ce” in words like ‘defence’, ‘offence’, and ‘pretence’ to “–se”; abandoned the second, silent “l” in verbs such as ‘travel’ and ‘cancel’ when forming the past tense; and dropped the “u” from words such as ‘humour’ and ‘colour’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2019).

Many distinctive forms also identify the Englishes of the other countries: Australian English, New Zealand English, Canadian English, South African English, Caribbean English, and, within Britain, Irish, Scots, and Welsh English. Among the countries, several varieties have also grown in distinctiveness in recent decades, South Asian English – spoken in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – Singaporean English (Singlish, as it is colloquially known) and Englishes in West and East Africa. With its own colloquialism, vocabulary, and pronunciation, each one of these Englishes has its own, unique identity.

Each variation, of course, has its own pronunciation/phonology – with each region having its own categorised, regional dialects and phonologies. In the United States, for example, accents are divided into several, general regional accents: Southern, Western, Northern, and Midlands. There are further minor varieties of English in America – most notably the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Although it has been a point of debate, the origins of the AAVE probably started with the Slave Trade; some argue that it is a dialect that stems from African slaves acquiring English from their British owners on Southern plantations and others say that it is a creole language spoken on Southern plantations before the Civil War. A creole is a full language that develops from a pidgin, a super simple language created between two groups who need to communicate but don’t have a language in common. Linguists of this view say AAVE arose from a creole in West Africa that slaves already spoke before coming to the United States. Other ethnic, minor varieties of American English includes Gullah, a remnant of a Negro creole spoken by small numbers on islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. French existed up to this century in Louisiana, derived from former Louisiana French Creole. Various forms of Mexican Spanish have been spoken in those states adjoining to Mexico, above all in California. Chicano English is a term used for the type of English spoken by native speakers of Spanish in the south-west of the United States.

Through this expansion of the English language, the English vocabulary expanded as well. As the English language reaches new places, words and vocabulary are needed to describe new objects, floras, faunas, and cultures that are found in these places that the British would not have encountered before. In Australia, native Aboriginal words such as ‘koala’ and ‘kangaroo’ were integrated into the English language to describe the native faunas. From the South Asian subcontinent, the English language took Dravidian – which encompasses languages such as Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu – words such as ‘mango’, ‘curry’, ‘peacock’, ‘ginger’, and ‘bamboo’ ; as well as Hindi words such as ‘cheetah’, ‘jungle’, ‘karma’, ‘shampoo’, and ‘khaki’. Native American languages gave English words such as ‘tomato’, ‘skunk’, and ‘moose’ and from the Caribbean – via the Spanish colonists – the English language added words such as ‘tobacco’, ‘hurricane’, ‘potato’, and ‘canoe’ to its vocabulary. In Africa, words such as ‘zombie’, ‘zebra’, ‘safari’, ‘jazz’, and ‘bongo’ were incorporated into English from their West African roots.

During the British Empire occupation, the English language could be seen as a tool of oppression during the domination of the British Empire. In colonial India, English became the medium of administration and education throughout the subcontinent and in 1835, The English Education Act was enacted. Reallocating funds from the East India Company to be spent on education and literature in India, the legislation supports establishments teaching a Western curriculum with English as the language of instruction. The British Raj did not support the traditions of Muslim and Hindu education and the publication of literature in the native learned tongues – Sanskrit and Persian. Together with other measures promoting English as the language of administration and of the higher law courts, this led eventually to English becoming one of the languages of India, rather than simply the native tongue of its foreign rulers. When the universities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were established in 1857, English became the primary medium of instruction, thereby guaranteeing its status and continuous usage in the country even after India gained independence a century later. During this period of British sovereignty, the English language was used as a colonial instrument designed to oppress the Indian population. Those who did not speak English were deemed to be low-class and uneducated and thus, were unable to reach high standings within society (Crystal, 2003).

Throughout the colonies, the British used English as the language of the administration and governance. It was used by the most powerful and the elites in society with the native languages being relegated to languages that were spoken by the locals with no influence. Local languages no longer had authority and value in their own country. In order for the locals to have any power, they would have to learn English and the only people who could afford to learn English were those with money. The British Empire – and all imperial/colonial powers – saw the continents and the population as extensions of the mother country, both politically and culturally. The colonial state was simply an extension of the imperialist empire, responsible for the administration and exploitation of the colonies. Hence, they see it as an obligation to pass their culture, and thus, their language, on to the colonies. But, the colonists never saw themselves in the colonised people. They saw the locals as people in need of culture, education, and authority and all their efforts to “improve” these countries were only to benefit the colonists (Lester, 2016).

Moreover, the British Empire was responsible for numerous deaths in their colonies. British colonists in North America and in Australia were responsible for a decline in the native populations due to disease and violence in the course of establishing itself as authority figures in the region. In densely populated countries, in the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, and South Africa, as well as the island of Barbados, the countries were ruled by colonial administrators and colonial government that redirected the local economies to exploitation management to supply the motherland with food, spices, raw materials, and some finished goods, depriving the locals of their own source of sustenance. In Kenya, the British Empire created detention camps where natives involved with the Mau Mau rebellion were tortured, starved, and brutalised by colonial officers (Olusoga, 2016; Cobain, 2012).

It is difficult to separate the global spread of the English language from the exploitation of the British Empire. The English language would have never reached its influential and powerful status without bloodshed and institutional oppression. It is hard to disconnect the status of English as an official in India today to the British Empire-induced famine of 1876-1879 and 1896-1902 in which 12 to 30 million Indians starved to death. The institution that imposed English to become the language of the ruling class and the educated was also responsible for the deaths and ill treatment of the local population (McQuade, 2017)


Language is incredibly fluid and universally available. An increase in the number of people choosing to learn a language opens up the possibility that it will change. As more people begin to adopt a language, the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary are influenced by the different speakers and their own cultural background. The learner may add to it, modify it, create in it, and ignore bits of it, as they please. The learning of a language also depends, almost entirely, on the educator – those who learnt from someone who speaks it as their second or foreign language would have a different experience and understanding of the language to those who learnt it from someone who speaks it as a mother-tongue.

It is impossible to predict where English will be in a century. Most would find it fairly obvious to assume that the English language will remain a global language. With billions of speakers worldwide how could it possibly die out? But linguistic history shows us repeatedly that it is wise to be cautious, when making predictions about the future of a language. In the Middle Ages, it would have been unfathomable to predict that Latin would be a dead language and that it would no longer be the language of education. Linguistic history depends solely on its speakers. With the United States and United Kingdom experiencing political instability, finding themselves having less political and economic influence than before, there is no certainty to the longevity of the English language as the global language.




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