The History Of The English Language In One Chart

Illustration for article titled The History Of The English Language In One Chart

Triangulations blogger Sabio Lantz recently put together this rather clever diagram showing how the English language has evolved over the past 3,000 years.


And yes, though it first emerged as a West Germanic language spoken in early medieval England, its roots go as far back as the Celts. It was carried by Germanic settlers to various parts of the Netherlands, northwest Germany, and Denmark. One of these Germanic tribes, the Angles, eventually made its way to what is now Britain. At the time, the native population in Roman Britain spoke Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, that had certain Latin features.

Lantz's diagram is also fascinating in that it beautifully illustrates how cultural injections influence the evolution of language. For English, this ranged from the Viking and Norman invasions through to the Renaissance mixing and empiric imports, such as Hindi and Arabic.

If you find this interesting, be sure to check out this animated history of the English language.



For a more visual example of how things changed, using a pop culture quote:

Old English: Min nama is Inigo Montoya. þu cwealdest min fæder. Gearcian to digan.

Middle English: Myn nome is Inigo Montoya. þou kyllede myn fader. ȝerken to deien.

Modern English: My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Note the gradual disappearance of many suffixes (-est), certain letters (thorn and yogh), and the introduction of "prepare" from French, replacing the older word that still lives on as "yark" in some dialects. Also notable are the words that did not change ("is" and "to"), as well as those that changed little ("father", "my/mine", "name").