History of the English Language

English Roots

English is a combination of many different languages. In order to understand where English came from, we need to understand the languages that English derived from.  We will begin by taking a look at Proto-Indo-European, Indo-European, and Germanic language families.

Proto-Indo-European Languages

Proto-Indo-European may have been originally spoken in what is currently southern Russia possibly sometime between 7000 and 4000 BC.  Scholars have studied the various languages that derived from Proto-Indo-European in an effort to find similarities that suggest what may have characterized PIE since it existed before written or audio record.  It appears to be heavily and distinctly inflected.  It also seems as if there were three genders for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives:  masculine, feminine, and neuter.  They also commonly spotted noun and adjective agreement, eight cases for the noun, and a free accent that could be placed wherever needed within words. 
This image is from Scientific American, March 1990, pp. 110-116* taken off of http://rbedrosian.com/Classic/sciam1.htm
Lets take a look at the following websites for more information on the Proto-Indo-European languages. As you explore these sites, think about how researchers know English is related to these languages and how these languages have influenced English.

Proto-Indo-European Language Homepage
Everything you ever wanted to know about PIE...
Numbers in Proto-Languages
Proto-Indo European Family Tree Presentation and Quiz

Indo-European Languages

Indo-European (IE) is the parent language of many of the languages we are familiar with today because more people speak a language that descended from IE than any other language family.  The family was named IE because those who belonged to it ranged in and between India and Europe.  Other families of language were also present in these areas but IE languages were prevalent.  This large group of language was present around 4000 BC.  There are a sufficient number of similarities amongst these languages that made them distinguishable as Indo-European.  English and other Germanic languages are Indo-European, along with Bengali, Russian, Sanskrit, and Spanish.  The similar grammar and vocabulary across IE languages leads us to believe that they all came from one source:  Proto-Indo-European.
For more information on the Indo-European languages, browse the following sites:

The Indo-European Family of Languages Table
Classical Languages 
"What We All Spoke When the World Was Young"    
Narrative History of England and English

Germanic Languages

There are variations among Germanic languages, such as West Germanic, North Germanic, and East Germanic, which is now extinct.  English is a part of the West Germanic languages along with German, Dutch, Afrikaans, and Frisian.  English shares many characteristic with other Germanic languages.  The best known is dictated by Grimm’s Law, which shows that there is a regular set of consonantal differences between the Germanic and other Indo-European languages.  These effects are best exampled by comparing groups of cognates.  Cognates are words from different languages that share a common ancestor.  Discoveries like these help with the reconstruction of the relationships of the daughter languages and tell us about the parent languages. 
Germanic Languages Family Tree
There are several really good websites and videos that pertain to the Germanic languages. Take some time to explore the following sites:
Germanic Languages Map
Seven Distinctive Features of Germanic
"The Lord's Prayer" in several Germanic languages
Germanic Lexicon Project
The Germanic Invasions of Western Europe
Germanic Languages
Grimm's Law
Verner's Law Video

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