English Across Time


A visual representation of the evolution of the English language (unfinished example)
Zoe Veling
Flowchart by Zoe Veling, updated more than 1 year ago
Zoe Veling
Created by Zoe Veling over 5 years ago

Resource summary

Flowchart nodes

  • 5th Century CE Northern Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes (Anglo Saxons) come to Britain from what is now Northern Germany and Denmark. Inhabitant of Britain spoke Celtic before this. 
  • 1100CE While the Norman Conquest of 1066CE often signifies the beginning of the era of Middle English, the effects of this event weren't seen to influence the language until around 1100CE.
  • 15th Century  In the 14th century English became dominant in Britain again, but with many French words added. This language is called Middle English.
  • The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which in Britain developed into what we now call Old English. Old English did not sound or look like English today. Native English speakers now would have great difficulty understanding Old English.
  • The Normans brought with them a kind of French, which became the language of the Royal Court, and the ruling and business classes. For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French.
  • This was the language of the great poet Chaucer (c1340-1400), but it would still be difficult for native English speakers to understand today.
  • 1350 - 16th/17th centuries The Great Vowel Shift  Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation  started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter.
  • The most famous recorded Old English text is 'Beowulf'
  • This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases entered the language.
  • The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read.
  • Standardisation of spelling Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.
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