The Complicated Geographical Origins of English

Linguist Olly Richards of Storylearning, who previously examined various accents around the world, explained the complicated geographical origins of the modern English language.

English is a West Germanic language, and the word English even comes from one of the ancient Germanic peoples that migrated to the island of Great Britain. They were the Angles a West Germanic tribe. … English is of course the main language of the UK Ireland the USA, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and more. And it’s used and spoken across th globe by 1.5 billion people.

He looks at how the Anglo-Saxons, the effect of the Church, immigration, and the invasion of the Vikings affected how the common language was spoken. He also recalls how authors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare added new words to the general lexicon. The Great Vowel Shift changed everything. Ultimately, Richards determines that it all basically standardized around the same time.

It was the 15th century and something strange started happening with the way that people pronounced their vowels and so began something called the Great Vowel Shift. It was going to have a profound effect on English. …This is how early modern English began. Around the same time the printing press was invented, which made it super easy for common English to become mainstream. It also meant that they could standardize spelling punctuation and grammar, so no more spelling a word any old way that you wanted.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.