Field Guide to the History of the English Language

This timeline highlights significant moments on the meandering path that gave us the English language as we know it today.

The history of English is a sprawling story of migration, invasion, and cultural contact that spans continents and millennia. It is also the story of colonialism and the rise and fall of an empire. The English language was endangered at different periods in its history, but it survived by borrowing and adapting from other languages. This gave English its exceptionally blended “mutt” character.

Although English has a rich prehistory rooted in the ancient Indo-European family tree of languages, this field guide begins at the dawn of the Common Era (CE), with the period leading up to the first recognizably English dialect: Anglo-Saxon or “Old English.”

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