By Quinn, Nation, and Millett
Published here with authors’ permission
ReadOasis Step 2
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The story of the English language is a story of change. Old English is very different from Modern English. Today Old English is a university subject. If we do not study it we cannot understand it because, while some of the words are the same, many of the old words are no longer used. The story of the English language began some time after the year A.D. 400 when many groups of people came to England from North-West Europe and their languages helped to make up Old English. In Old English the ends of words were very important because they carried a lot of meaning such as past and present time. In Modern English most of these endings are gone. This is one of the big differences between Old and Modern English.
All languages change and in English this was helped when the church became important, Old English became a written language. Before this, only a few people could read and write. Latin, the old language of Italy, was used in the church and because of this, many Latin words entered the English language, for example the word school came from the Latin language. At that time most schools were a part of the church.
In the year 1066 France attacked England and for two hundred years French became the language used by English kings and queens and the rich people of the country. Everybody else continued to use English. However, slowly English became important again and many of the schools began to use English instead of French. Over this time, many French words came into the English language. Often there were two words for one thing, a French word and an English word. In Modern English, ask and demand have almost the same meaning but ask comes from Old English and demand comes from French. English has many words like this. The English language between 1066 and about 1500 is called Middle English. Some time after 1500 we have the beginning of Modern English. At that time the school system developed and more people went to school. English ships sailed all over the world and words from the new countries became part of the English language. While Latin was still used in the church, English was becoming more widely used.
Around 1750, many books were written about the English language because the writers thought that people were speaking English badly. They wanted to show how to use the language correctly. They thought Latin was the best language because it used long words and sentences and they wanted English to become more like Latin. At the same time correct spelling was beginning to be important too. Because of these books, the spoken language became different from the written language. When people wrote, they were very careful about the rules, but when they spoke, they just said what they wanted to say.
However, later another change happened and written English started to become like spoken English again. Sentences were shorter and people used easier words. The English language and all languages are always changing. When a language does not change, it dies.