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Diffusion of the English Language

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The English language is a Germanic language which is categorized in the Indo-European Language Family (See Fig. 1) (Mercier, 2011). Indo-European is the largest language family that contains 430 languages which are all closely related and share a common ancient origin. While there are only 19 language families, each have many branches that categorize languages into more narrow subsets and share a more recent origin (Norton, 2009). English, German, and Dutch are examples of languages that pertain to the Germanic language branch which is part of the Indo-European language family.(Mercier, 2011). About 340 million people use English as their primary language which is the second most under the Mandarine language holding almost a billion mother tongue speakers (Norton, 2009).

Fig. 1

Source: English Club (2011). History of the English Language. Retrieved February 22, 2011, from

Diffusion refers to the spread of a phenomenon over space and its growth through time (Norton, 2009). In this case, the English language is the phenomena being analyzed. This paper will outline the origin of the English language, and will also discuss the contemporary trends of English today but most importantly, how it spread over space since about the 5th century AD.


Language families tend to share a common origin and contain subsets or language branches. The Indo-European language family originated from an area around the Black Sea beginning in Europe (Mercier, 2011). During the 5th century AD, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons and the Jutes, travelled across the North Sea from what is now Germany and Denmark to Britain (Katsiavriades and Qureshi, 2002). At that time, the residents in Britain spoke a Celtic language but the intruders pushed these occupants north and west (Katsiavriades and Qureshi, 2002). The Angles spoke a language called Englisc, which is where the word English originated (Katsiavriades and Qureshi, 2002). Figure 2 shows the travel route taken by the Germanic tribes in which they pushed the occupants at that time to Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.

Fig. 2

Source: English Club (2011). Retrieved February 22, 2011, from

The three Germanic tribes that settled in Britain spoke a language called Anglo-Saxon which evolved into what we call Old English around the 5th century (English Club, 2011). Celtic language barely had any impact on Old English but some words were kept mostly for names of rivers or places (Minkova, 2009). Old English was spoken up until the 11th century (English Club, 2011).

Old English

The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes spoke languages that were the foundation of Old English but it also took words from Scandinavian languages and Latin(Katsiavriades and Qureshi, 2002). Runic was the Alphabet used to write Old English as well as all Germanic languages (See Fig. 3) (Katsiavriades and Qureshi, 2002).

Fig. 3

Source: Retrieved February 22, 2011, from

At this point there were three tribes living in Britain, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes until a fourth tribe called the Frisians came from the Netherlands (Old

English, 2008). All four tribes had settled in different sections of the land and each had their own dialect of the Old English language (Old English, 2008).

Middle English

Around the 11th Century, the people of Normandy, which was a region in France, took on French as their mother tongue and adopted the French way of living (Middle English, 2002). In 1066, William the Conquerer, along with his Norman Army defeated the English army and acquired England territory (English Club, 2011). After William was crowned King, French became a superior language and official in the Royal Court leaving the English language to be spoken by lower class citizens (English Club, 2011). English speaking peasants began to learn French as some Normans started to learn English causing disparities between the two groups to decrease quickly (Middle English, 2002). In the early 13th century Norman Lords in England had their land seized by the French King (Middle English, 2002). English became widespread as the dominant language in Britain but many French words were included to this language which formed what we call Middle English (English Club, 2011).

The invention of the printing press in England in 1476 marks a new era and represents a physical symbol of the Middle English language dissolution (Curzan, 2000). This is because the printing press allowed for more standardized regulations of the language and ultimately transformed Middle English to what we now refer to as Modern English (Curzan, 2000).

Modern English

Early Modern English

Modern English is separated into two different variations of english: Early Modern English and Late Modern English


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