Eli5: Why is English comprised of so many different languages? And why aren’t English speakers still speaking in old English, or an even older language?


Eli5: Why is English comprised of so many different languages? And why aren’t English speakers still speaking in old English, or an even older language?

In: 3

England got invaded several times by foreigners, including the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Norman’s, Norse, and others, as well as interacting with the Scots and Irish. Then, the English speaking world took on refugees from Europe and Asia’s various conflicts.

Languages change over time and adopt words from different languages. The rate it occurs can change but it happens all the time including right now.

If you are old you likely have noticed that you people use some words and expressions that you do not and vice versa if you are young. Changes like that for centuries have huge effect on languages over long periods of time

I guess it has a lot to do with the Roman and Viking invasions as well as the Norman conquest amongst others. I’d also bet the British empire played a part, not only did they collect artefacts but words too. I believe the words ‘pyjamas’ and ‘bamboozle’ are from India. I’m sure someone with proper knowledge can explain this better but there was a time in British history where the nobility spoke french but the peasants did not, which is why we have different words for animals and meat, the peasants worked with the animals, pigs, cows, sheep for example and the nobility ate meat, pork (porc), beef (boeuf) and mutton (mouton). I believe it’s why we also have multiple words for the same thing, such as small (English) and little (French), big (English) and large (French). Again I’m no expert so please do point out anything that’s not accurate.

“England” before it was even called that got invade by Anglo-Saxon who spoke some variation of German, by Romans who spoke Latin, by the vikings who spoke Danish or some similar Nordic language, by Normans who spoke some sort of French and a bunch of others.

They also did some invading themselves at first mostly anyone else they shared and island with and the neighboring islands and parts of France, but eventually much of the world. They mostly exported the languages but also sometimes brought words back when they encountered interesting vocabulary. Mostly names for things they didn’t have themselves but sometimes just weird bits of vocabulary like some Arabic word for daughter to just be another English slang word for girl.

Languages, even if the people speaking them are left alone, tend to change over time.

English has French and German roots because it’s almost a [creole language](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language) (not quite one, according to most linguists, but it certainly shares features with them). Basically, when the Normans (who spoke Old French) conquered England (which spoke a Germanic language), you ended up with a bunch of French nobles ruling over German peasants. And over time, the two languages blended to form what we now know as English. In the process, English got simplified a lot, losing most of the inflection endings (survivors include *-ed* and *-ing* on verbs or *-‘s* on nouns) that are usually the hallmark of its language family, which makes English a very weird language in a number of ways.

Latin and Greek are common sources for every European language, because Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire were immensely culturally important to Europe. It’s the same reason that, say, Japan and Korea have tons of Chinese loanwords and even borrowed the Chinese character set (although Koreans mostly don’t use it anymore) – just as the Roman Empire was the big man in the room in Europe, classical China was the big man of Asia.