History of the English Language (1943)

[music plays] England, part of a small island off the
west coast of Europe. Yet English is the spoken language or else an official language in all these parts of the world. It is in fact a world language. Where did it start? Somewhere between South Russia, near the Black Sea, and the Baltic
several thousand years ago. This was the home of a group of languages we now call
Indo-European. From here they have spread all over Europe and into Asia, the
Americas, Africa and Australasia. Here in northern Europe, one of these
Indo-European languages about 2000 years ago divided into three main groups of dialects. The eastern group, marked
roughly here, has quite died out. The northern group spread across Scandinavia and much later into Iceland. The western group began to spread over these parts of Europe. Now Britain about sixteen hundred years ago was still part of the Roman Empire. It was inhabited by Celts who spoke Celtic, and by Romanized Celts who spoke a form of Latin. But the Romans had to go leaving the land to the Celts. A few years later Germanic tribes from northwest Germany invaded the island. The Celts retreated to the west where the Celtic language survived. The invaders quickly settled down in a fertile land and became the English. They spoke four English dialects. Of these four English dialects the central one, Mercian, is the basis of modern English. This early English, brought from north
west Germany, was already a satisfactory language with first-rate poetry. From it
come all our most essential and most familiar words such as: ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘bairn’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘sleep’. Already in the fifth century English was
a flexible language quite ready to enrich its stock of words with new
acquisitions. From the original Celtic language the English began borrowing any
words they wanted – notably river names (‘Thames’ and ‘Severn’) or the names of towns
such as: Dover, London, Lincoln, Leeds. from the Romanized Celts the English
borrowed Latin words, many being names of plants and agricultural implements. Typical Latin words adopted at this period into English are: ‘cock’, ‘pear’, ‘cup’, ‘pail’, ‘anchor’. About a hundred years later missionaries
came from Rome to convert England to Christianity From them the English took
many more Latin words especially terms of religion such as: ‘minster’, ‘alms’, ‘altar’. During the 9th century the Vikings from
Scandinavia attacked many parts of southern Europe. Many of these
Scandinavian settled in Britain from them the English gathered several
thousand everyday words. The English language already had such words as ‘sail’, and ‘ship’, but the many nautical words they took from the Scandinavians include
‘haven’. Other common Scandinavian words acquired at this time are: ‘knife’, ‘take’. Another very common word taken at this period is ‘root’. the Scandinavians who had settled in
France were called the Normans. Before long they gave up their own language and spoke French. In 1066 the Duke of Normandy made himself King of England
and many of his followers came over with him, settling among the English. From them the English took many hundreds of new words. Some of them dealt with buildings
such as: ‘castle’, ‘tower’, ‘moat’, ‘court’, in the sense of courtyard ‘chimney’. Other French words taken into
the language at this time dealt with cooking. so we get: ‘fry’, ‘boil’, and we also get names of food such as: ‘beef’, ‘mutton’, and ‘sausage’. French words were also
borrowed through the Normans to describe new legal ideas: ‘court’, meaning law court ‘judge’, ‘advocate’. During the Middle Ages, the English took
more than 10,000 words from the French. The King’s courts of law began to sit in
London, so London became the legal center of England in the Middle Ages. It was also the center of trade so naturally the form of language that was spoken in
London became standard English. Now the English were always great travellers and traders and they traded all round the North Sea. From the Dutch they gathered
many new and useful words to do with shipping. ‘Buoy’ is one of the Dutch words
taken into English in the Middle Ages. Other words of Dutch origin are: ‘skipper’, ‘deck’, ‘dock’. Up to the 15th century only this part of
the world, marked in black, was known but in the next 150 years the New World was discovered. Now the English embraced a new world with their trade routes and
enlarged their language with new words. Some words they got from Spain. The word of Spanish origin is ‘gallium’. Another is: ‘comrade’. Yet another is ‘armada’. From the Portuguese the English borrowed only a small number
of words. The best known is ‘port wine’. From South and Central America came
Native American words imported into English through Portugal and Spain, such
as: ‘tobacco’, ‘potato’, ‘maize’. English also enriched itself with words
from Europe. from Germany were borrowed terms associated with metals and mining. One well-known word is ‘quartz’. The German language also provided words associated with war such as ‘plunder’. between 1450 and 1640, Italy was the home of the Renaissance. From the Italian language, English was greatly enriched by cultural terms of architecture, music, literature, and art. from Italy come ‘cameo’, ‘miniature’, ‘balcony’, ‘umbrella’. So by 1600, when Shakespeare was writing, English had become a rich and powerful medium of expression with large numbers
of words taken from many languages. Shakespeare in his works used some
20,000 words. Here is a passage of 11 lines containing only 59 different words,
yet 22 come from abroad. ‘this royal throne of Kings, this sceptred isle, this
earth of Majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden,
demi – paradise, this fortress built by nature for herself against infection in
the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone
set in the silver sea which serves it in the office of a wall or as a moat
defensive to a house against the envy of less happier lands, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’ 1600 – in the next century and a half the
English built up a great colonial empire where their language came to be spoken. In 1776, the 13 English colonies on the coast of North America became
independent as the United States of America. English is the language of the
United States and with the growth of the American people has spread across North America. By this time the English were in partnership with the Scots, Welsh, and
Irish. Together as the United Kingdom they built the present British
Commonwealth, where English is either the spoken or the official language. As British trade with the world has increased by leaps and bounds,
so every year English has enriched itself with more words from other
languages. From India the British have adopted: ‘cockatoo’. and ‘chintz’. From China comes ‘tea’. From Arabia: ‘sash’, and ‘sofa’. From Turkey: ‘coffee’. From Persia: ‘divan’, and ‘shawl’. From West
Africa: ‘chimpanzee’, ‘zebra’. From Australia: ‘kangaroo’, and ‘budgerigar’, ro mention only
a few examples. The modern world is full of new inventions, and to describe these
new inventions, English has made use of both Latin and Greek. From Latin comes
‘omnibus’. From Greek: ‘cinema’, ‘photograph’, and many other recently coined words such as: ‘thermometer’, and ‘telegraphy’. when Mr. Churchill broadcasts in English he is understood by the greater part of the world. [Churchill] ‘The people have the British Empire
may love peace. They do not hate the land nor wealth of any country, but they are a
tough and hardy lot. We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies because we are made of sugar candy.’ The English that Churchill speaks is based on an old
Indo-European dialect. It is a vigorous, rich and flexible language quick to make
use of new words from other languages. The English language has borrowed
thousands of its half million words from all over the world, and it is understood in almost every part of it.

Comments 100

  • oh my god, can't breathe

  • English is mother tongue. Look at Shakespeare or google
    The origin of this word is Norse, meaning child.
    Strangely, more than 60% of the basic English vocabulary is French, in turn: le langue vulgar Latin, that in turn.

  • Correction: typo/keyboard error
    missed out 'my'

  • I don't understand your point. Yes, there are many words in English (most actually) which come from other languages but I have never once heard the word "bairn" in my life before this video. Apparently it's a regionalism native to Northern England and Scotland which is fine and dandy if you live there (I'm American) but if the makers of this movie were really looking for a basic Anglo-Saxon equivalent to "bairn" they could have always went with "child".

  • American! The film is a simple introduction film. Not serious. The origin of the English, people & land lies in Ängle or Angles from Ängeln in Denmark, also called the ‘Anglii’ (Latin for Ängle,) by the Roman historian Tacitus, & the Seax, named after their formidable fighting knife of the same name.
    These people invaded the Isles & Normandy long after the Romans abandoned it in AD 2. Norman conquest from Normandy-Brittany was in 1066 AD. William the Conqueror was a Norman.

  • I know all this. In fact, I'm actually related to William the Conqueror. Not that that gives me any special qualifications but I do know my Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, etc. history. We're not all dumbasses over here (although I can see where you get that impression).

  • By the way, I'm quite fond of the Ahmadiyya. The least a religious group can do is not be dicks to other people. Sure, they're just as wrong as you, as the Christians, as the Hindus, Jews, Wicca or whatever but at least they're not assholes about it.

  • Well, you are most welcome to them and they to you.
    I am not a scholar of Islam. My comments are based my studies of their Faith and their Founder: Mirza from his own writings.
    When I see their mendacity, I try to expose it. That is all. Nothing personal. The most famous claim of Mr Ahmad is that anyone who does not extend his/her allegiance to him, is Hell Fodder. I find is a bit presumptuous.
    Otherwise, I am, like most Muslims, are indifferent.

  • Not much indifference for those poor guys in Indonesia, where thugs can beat them to death on cameras and get let off with a slap on wrist. Their supposedly "secular" government won't even allow them the right to proselytize because it might offend the mainstream Muslims. Every religion is a heresy to someone before it's big enough to be "orthodox", I seem to remember the ancient Meccans referring to another man quite the same way you refer to Mizra.

  • Don't forget this documentary was filmed in 1943, therefore, some words fashionable then are now in disuse.

  • Oh you poor little bairn……… 😉 It's true to say though that it's not used in common speech in England but I have heard Scottish folk use it, as in 'Poor wee bairn'.

  • Sorry but had to laugh at 3:35

  • Easy!
    English did not exist before the invasion in the 7th century. It was Brittany that they still speak in Brittany.
    The earliest English is Beowulf: 12th century.
    Ängle land, the land of the Ängle that is still there in Denmark.
    AD 2, the Romans abandoned Britannia not Englandia.
    Britain was named by Pytheas, an explorer from Massalia who visited the British Isles ca. 320 BC.
    Southern Germanic tribes were Vandals, Northern were Prussian who populated Skandia, who invaded Britain: Ängle land

  • Correct! Romans did not stay for 400 years. They left AD 2. Yes, the affluent & the rich did, most stayed & suffered to the point that today, nobody even knows about them. The point is the English language & its Origin. English was not the language of those who lived in Britain / Britannia.
    I love this language but FACTS are FACTS.

  • Sir, with due respect, I am not in the game of winning or losing. There was one man who spoke Cornish until 1975. I think he died later. I regret to inform you that the Roman rule did not last for 4 centuries. Actually, they abandoned Britannia blaming that Britons were very stupid, not able to learn.
    The English language, regardless of how great it may be, is not the Native Language of Britain. Beowulf is very much like Icelandic / Old Norse.
    Yes, Britain had several Dialects so did others.

  • You are right about the Roman Rule. My mother was wrong, so am I.
    If you know the origins of the English language, so be it.That was main point.

  • in the north of england it was widely used until recentley….

  • "Cup" was from the Saxon "cuppa", meaning bowl.

  • Of course is Old English, the language Beowulf is written in, like Icelandic and Old Norse. They are all three Germanic languages. But so are the other Scandinavian languages and also German and Dutch, so I don't really know why you link Old English with specifically Old Norse and Icelandic. Actually, (Old) English has more in common with other Western Germanic languages like German and Dutch and most notably with Frisian.

  • I have said my piece. Further discussion is futile. No disrespect meant or intended.
    Have a nice day.

  • 3:38 That's a chicken, not a rooster.

  • Who wrote the subtitles?? There are lots of mistakes!!!!

  • I like the German language of war LOL! Plunder and then they show the Nazi emblem on a soldier's shoulder– Plunder LOL! I was wondering when the war would show up in this documentary since it was 1943.

  • A language can adopt as many foreign words as needed, but that doesn't change the basic everyday language in use. English people can go to France and Spain, talk as much plain English as they like and as loud as they like, but nobody understands a word they say. But when they do the same in Holland, Scandinavia, or Germany they have to be careful what they say because people understand them very well. French people have extreme difficulty in pronouncing even simple English words

  • English is an amazingly versatile language.

  • It indeed is.

  • The most beautiful language is english, easy and a easy pronunciation, english for the world! <3

  • I wonder if that's one of the words we Vikings gave you, or maybe we stole it from you? Either way, "barn" means child in Swedish!

  • "Up to the 15th century, only this part of the map (marked in black) was known."
    Yup, no eurocentrism there.

  • but english with british accent , 'cause USA accent, is horrible.. chewing gums!1

  • Harvey . It's the same in Spanish, when Portuguese, Italian, French people speak is easy to get a main idea about what they mean. It's becase of the roots of each language, in this case Latin!

  • You need to learn where your 'USA accent(s) originate. They didn't just jump out of the ground.

  • Compared to what? Examples, please. Otherwise that is just nationalistic rhetoric.

  • i have listened many accent in USA accent and British accent and British accent for me , read well, for me , is the nicest accent is british in any part of UK. i liked USA accent when i see old movies, 40s, 50s, 60,70s, but not boy a girls speak in bad way, horrible accent as if they were chewing gum when they speak.

  • "Bairn" is one of those words that comes from Old Norse; it seems they mistook its etymology. It means "child" and is quite common in northern England, but not very common anywhere else.

  • In terms of overall looks and phonology, it does look more like Icelandic than German because the former has frozen its evolution and is really just a dialect of Old Norse; though yes, Old English would resemble Old High German, for example (aside from German's consonant shift), more than Icelandic.

  • "Bairn" is was taken from Old Norse; but it is, to my knowledge, not used outside of northern England.

  • Lol! The Beowulf manuscript dates from the 10th century! We have English runes from the 6th and 7th centuries.

  • False! Only about 28% is from French and another 25% from Latin.

  • The Picts hired the Angles and Saxons as mercenaries, the only reason they ever moved to England. The Angles and the Saxons later turned on them.

  • Ironically, French is a mongrelized version of Latin whose very phonology and grammar have been influenced by Dutch, German, and Old Frankish. And please name just ONE grammatical feature English has taken from French. 83% of the top 1,000 most used words are native English words
    Furthermore, the Normans are called Germans because they came from GERMANY in the ninth century. They never bred with the common populace and Anglo-French disposed of in the 14th century.

  • According to you 53%…Remember le langue Vulgar Latin.
    Now there are more people who profess English to their 1st language, than those whose mother tongue is English.
    That does not make bad or incorrect English good or correct.
    English language of today is different than of Shakespeare or Milton, yet it is still comprehensible.
    Old French) became the official language in court, law and administration for over 300 years.
    Its legacy, especially in Legal Terms, is still here.

  • I read up a book on the story of English language by Philip Gooden. A good one I must say..

  • False

    I'm just wondered for these British Council films brought up from the 30's and the 40's. Evry educational and cultural. I'm learning a lot about UK life in the first half of the 20th. century. Thanks a lot!!! I'm Brazilian but a British culture lover!!

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Greek_words_with_English_derivatives

  • In another lifetime I'd be a cultural linguist! I Love that wonderful BBC voice too, reminds me of when I used to listen to the BBC World Service from Katafaga Island in the Lau, our radio being our only connection to the rest of the world.

  • Why is there a Malay text at 0.15 ?

  • So , english people is a nmadic people like a hungarians and gipsyes ! Theyre invasion in Europe is in VI-XII century , over romanizated galic and tracic people !
    Yes is true !

  • excelente

  • The level of nationalist propaganda in this film is fascinating! The emphasis on basic words as some sort of proof of an "English base" is overtly misleading. The irony of all this is that the narrator is using almost entirely Norman language to tell us that English is some kind of unique tongue that sprung out of the ground. In fact, "The History of the English Language" is an almost entirely Norman-French sentence 🙂 A fun little film but utterly unreliable for historical purposes.

  • @lasiodorides Actually 'bairn' is commonly used in the North of England. As well as in Scotland.

  • @esmifrado You've left out one of my favourite imported words: marmalade ( even though we now use oranges and not marmelos). Also the word 'palaver' from Portuguese 'palavra'.

  • @limjh Just because you, as an American, have never heard of the word 'bairn' that doesn't mean it's somehow wrong to cite it. The word 'bairn' is commonly used all over the North of England on a daily basis. It is also used in Scotland. And, even if it is not used in other parts of England it would be recognised and understood by anyone who heard it.
    Also, most of the words in English do not come from other languages. The most commonly used words, in everyday use are virtually all of Anglo-Saxon origin.
     For example, in the phrase I wrote above "Also, most of the words in English do not come from other languages" only one word 'language' is not of Anglo-saxon origin.

  • Who would have thought that umbrella comes from sunny Italy?

  • so it started in germany?

  • "DISELANGARAKAN OLEH PERPUSTAKAAN PILM BRITISH COUNCIL", which can be read during the opening (0:15) to this video may be an old version of Standard Indonesian. Today, we say "DISELENGGARAKAN OLEH PERPUSTAKAAN FILM BRITISH COUNCIL (Performed by The Film Library of British Council)". I wonder why there are Indonesian words in this video? There must be some explanation.

  • How interesting the English language is!!!

  • I thought bungalow was an indian word

  • This old and kinda informative

  • is this david crystal?

  • Why dont they teach the school children of today(2015) about the english languge instead of half the rubbish they teach them, May help lots of people understand about their culture and the beggining of the british nation


  • so where does E.N.G.L.A.N. D. come from ? ANGLO SAXON. ? ANGLO LAND

  • Meaning of England (Land of Angles) the English is Anglo-saxon with Norman influence and Norse influence but his structure is Anglo-saxon, English is Germanic

  • It is interesting to learn about the English language history. Had it not been the influence of other countries and languages, the English language would not have had such a vast vocabulary. the nature of the English language is direct and straightforward !!

  • an example how Indo-European theory is misleading : Most interestingly, Old Saxon and Germanic in general can be shown to have a large percentage of non-indo-european substrate words (such as “Sheep”,”eel”,”roe”,”boar”,”lentil”,”land”,”delve” and ”prick”) derived from a long-lost prehistoric Northern Europen language .Acourding to historian Victor H.Mair

  • It's interesting how many things today are interpreted in terms of tolerance and multiculturalism… I think those comments could have been interpreted in any number of ways, especially, given the period, as one of Churchill's characteristic WWII speeches.

  • lol @ 3:38 ..sorry can't help it.

  • Watching this video reminds me how I was struggling with learning Illustrator and using different swatches and varying shades of grey on a black and white map. Oh the world before color images!

  • That foreign language in the title is MALAY not Indonesian!

  • so as an English speaker if its a Germanic language why is so hard for me to learn German

  • есть перевод?

  • When this 1st started I thought I was seeing a dhama clip in a Lost episode.

  • "Oh I say, what a jolly spiffing film" – I'm aloud to say that as i'm British.

  • it's really usfual for new words. and interesting to see the origin of the English language

  • terrific RP accent the speaker got…….

  • This video surprised me because I thought that French was the global lingua franca in the 1940s and that Englsih superseded it only later.

  • the english language is a wondrous thing by far, dont you wish you could talk it ,just like wot i are.

  • He don't speak properly. Like what we does.

  • This is a really great video. Usually i'm not into this type of video, but i loved it. Good job !

  • I'm sorry for those who made this video but they were wrong if they thought that English has borrowed from Greek only some newly invented scientific words. Yes, it did so but it also borrowed thousands of old Greek words which have been incorporated into English mostly through Latin and they almost all represent high intellectual concepts of science, fine arts, politics, religion, names etc, like cycle, cone, diametre, ophthalmic, encephalon, stomach, trauma, mathematics, geometry, history, polemic, politics, rhetoric, democracy, philanthropy, philosophy, philology, grammar, grammatical, syntax, chasmody, prosody, kudos, humour, chaos, theatre, drama, tragedy, elegy, poetry, ethics, music, rhythm, tone, angel, Evangelist, Apostle, Christ, Irene, Philomena, Aphrodite and thousands more.

  • Funny! They use modern pronounciation to say old English words! But those words were in the language long before the sound shift happened. A few hundred years even. Than they read a story of Shakespeare as if he wrote in modern English.
    Your cotton sounds very much like the Dutch katoen. Did many European languages import the word for this new material or only the English?
    Top of the bullshit list are the scientific words like telegraph, telephone, and conference! The English got them from Greek? No the international scientists used Greek and Latin words for their inventions. Almost every language in the world uses them.
    Stupidity on the lowest level…

  • >vikings

    really activates almonds

  • The scientific information is spotty and best described as "dated". The narrators accent is classic 1940s BBC RP though, making this a great resource for anyone wishing to learn a "proper British accent".

  • You can of course find a lot of french words or french origins, itself often from latin, specially in Scotland. But the origins of english are older than two thousand years, more probably five. At the time of this movie we didn't know proto history.

  • I'm sure the Vikings introduced the word 'plunder' into the English language – plyndring is Norwegian for plunder.

  • The Roman Empire still exists today and is stronger than ever but working from the shadows. They've used the spelling of the English language to dumb down the masses

  • He's making all the errors of the time. For instance:-
    [1] The Ancient Britons were NOT Celts. The Ancient Britons started coming over from the continent about 12,000 BC. The Celts didn't arrive until about 400 BC, and they were always a small minority. The Ancient Britons took on Celtic languages, but they were never Celts.
    [2} The Ancient Britons did NOT retreat into the mountains when the Germanic tribes arrived. The Germanic tribes mixed in, although they were never a majority. What has remained on the "Celtic Fringe" are Celtic languages, not blood, and they have survived because of their remoteness. There is as much Celtic blood in England as there is in Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
    [3] The people who came over from the continent from 450 AD were not Germans, they were Germanic. The Saxons did not come from Saxony, they came from the west coast of Europe. They CONQUERED Saxony at a later stage.

  • australiasia?

  • English Bibles culminating in the King James Bible, even more than Shakespeare, has had the most influence on the English Language in the last 600 year. Unfortunately, this video ignores this, and only recognizes the influence of the Roman Catholic Church missionaries.

  • why the languages are called Indo- Europe ?? nothing to do with Indo…

  • I can tell by the tension in his voice that this is not really the History of the English Language. Instead it is a pep talk for a potentially dying nation. The narrator sounds like he spent the entire night awake in an air raid shelter i.e. the London Underground. 1943 was a bad year for the allies, the war was starting to turn in their favor at the Battle of Stalingrad but it was far from over.

  • It seems odd this film was made during WW2

  • Great video its nice…job….

  • no entiendo ni mrd :v

  • Really interesting to see that not long ago, the "flapped r" was standard in English (well, at least in Britain) and is now associated with the letter "d" in most dialects. Crazy!

  • I love learning and this fascinating topic but the beginning started in a way made to cause your eyes to droop necessarily. I'm disappointed.

  • Thanks for vidio .So don't forget Try your See Entitled Pustoko Wedho Sasongko Cakra Manggilingan and Chanel PEKSI GARUDA CAHAYA NUR JANAHA .Hidup Nanang Hariadi or Gus Har live today

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