Anglo – Saxon
449 – 1066
Anglo – Saxon played a key role in the existence of an English nation and identity and transforming the world of writing from a Latin one to a vernacular one. The English could write in runes, and spoke Old English. Generally they relied upon poetry and song, mostly of battle, which the poets were witnessing.
The English language is steeped in Nordic myth and Gods, and born of the forest, the sea, travel and it is the most successful language conveyed in the heat of battle. The English language at the beginning struggled as it competed with other languages, and interestingly it mirrored the struggle to bring to the English people a translation of the scriptures from Latin, which also fell naturally into four periods corresponding to change in the English language.
The history of our language, English can be tracked back to the arrival of three powerful Germanic tribes to the collapsing Roman colony of Britannia during the mid-5th Century AD. Jutes, Angles and Saxons and crossed the North Sea from what is present – day Denmark and northern Germany. The primitive Romano Brython inhabitants at that time spoke in Brythonic or a Brythonic/ Latin patois. This language was quickly displaced along with the inhabitants who were pushed into Wales, Scotland and Cornwall where one group fled to the Brittany Coast of France – their descendants still live there as Bretons or Brythons to this day. The Angles were named from Engle, their land of origin. Their language, a West Germanic dialect was called Englisc from which the word English derives, their new country they named Engle land or Englalond. An Anglo-Saxon runic inscription dated between 450 and 480AD is the oldest known sample of the English language.
By the 10th century, the West Saxon dialect of Wessex became the official language of England. Written Old English is mainly known from this period. It was written in an angular alphabet called Runic a Germanic system of writing made using only straight lines. The Latin alphabet was later brought over from Ireland by Christian missionaries and this has remained the writing system of English, although the Englisc 33 rune futhark continues to be used for esoteric and ritual purposes of this day.
The story of the attempts of the Anglo-Saxons to produce an Old English version of the Bible comes to a sad end when the Norman army under William the Conqueror invaded and subdued England in the year 1066.
Despite being of Nordic lineage himself, having grown up in Normandy, William brought with him a new French-speaking ruling class, and a Norman French clergy, who had only contempt and hostility for the fledgling Old English versions.
The Normans quickly set up a church organisation which was utterly hostile to the vernacular English versions, and which served to promote the political interests of the ruling class and of the Pope of Rome. The Nordic respect for relatively equal rights for women vanished as did the concept of a Christian society where every man could understand the words uttered in his local church by his priest. Yet this yoke was ultimately to fail. English would prevail.
Middle English Period
1066 – 1485
Medieval writing was done by hand. For the scribes, the period began and ended with the unwelcome arrivals of two conquerors: Normans in 1066, and the printing press in 1476. The first English book appeared in 1476, the phase of Middle English was virtually over: the language had assumed its modern form, except in spelling.
The impact of French
The Conquest of England in 1066 by William of Normandy displaced English as the medium of literature, for the language of the new rulers was French. William the Conqueror tried to learn English, but gave up. Saxons dealing with him had to learn French, and French was the language of the court and the law for three centuries. The Normans spoke Norman French; the Norman French of England is called Anglo-Norman.
1485 – 1660
During the Renaissance, the medieval world view, focused on religion and the afterlife, was replaced by a more modern view, stressing human life here on earth. The Renaissance period expanded the scientific, geographical and philosophical boundaries of the medieval world, often questioning “old” truths and challenging authority. A new emphasis was placed on the individual and on the development of human biology.
By 1500, Middle English had evolved into an early form of the modern English spoken today. The English vocabulary grew; 29,000 words invented, and discoveries led to the creation of new words. During King Henry VIII’s reign, the Italian form of poetry known as the sonnet was introduced to England. Drama, or plays, bloomed during this period, with the help of Shakespeare and ben Jonson, who defined tragedies and comedies.