How did old English become modern English?


Every person in the world should know the story of how old English was transformed into modern English. Old English has experienced many changes from its beginning stages until what is now known as modern English.

English language as we know it today is the most common language of our time. So naturally, it comes from many different cultures and languages it has interacted. The roots of this international language, however, comes from early medieval England.

English as an international language that is used in almost all countries all over the word has changed a lot. It has experienced five main evolution periods till now from old English to late modern English.

Today’s English has evolved in 1,400 years, and it goes back to one group of the people who migrated to Great Britain, named Anglia, that later became the language we see today.

The old English language has been influenced by an occurrence that took place one thousand and hundred year ago. Different settlers and cultural effects of different countries has structured the English language and made it to its complete version, modern English.  The version of English we use today is the most complete type of this language and it is being used worldwide today.

Linguists distinguish this course into four segments which are Old English (450 – 1100 AD), Middle (1100 – 1500 AD), Early Modern (1500 – 1800 AD), and Late Modern (1800 – Present).

To have a better understanding of all the changes that occurred to this language, we will take a look at each one of these segments separately. In this article, is a brief explanation and a short conclusion about each of the evolutions of old English.

The historic story can amaze all the people who speak English no matter if it’s their first or second language.

The real story of old English becoming modern English

Old English

Old English, which is also known as Anglo-Saxon, was structured through the arrival of Angles, Saxon and Jutes settlers in northern Britain around 450 AD.

This is the oldest form of English language which was spoken in Anglo Saxon British. This form of old English was spoken in both Scotland and England.

The word England and English was made from old English word Engla-land. The old English was actually based on German sources.

Old English language came from England. The origins of English language were German, Irish, Greek, French and Swedish that also had so many effects on the old English culture and language which are so obvious in the history of development of this language.

The old English or Anglo-Saxon was very different from what native speakers use today. The grammar was of the Germanic language, and about half the words are the same as the present version.

At the time England was ruled by four kingdoms, and all of them had their differences in grammar and words. But all in them, the sentences had fewer boundaries of grammatical rules. After the educational times of King Alfred of the Wessex in the 9th century, the West Saxon language became the standard written language of all England.

Also, many features related to the old English grammar goes back to this time. After that time, around the eleventh to fourteenth century, are the centuries which are known as modern English.

Old English had then indicated many different grammatical categories and relationships by attaching endings to word roots like Latin and German languages.

Middle English

This is the second evolution of the old English language. Middle English experienced so many changes during this period. The reason for all these changes was the Norman Conquest.

In middle English, for example, the changes were made in the pronunciation of unstressed syllables that took place at the end of words.
After that period of time, in the middle English period, French language was one of the most important feature that effected the old English language.

In the late 10th century, the Duke of Normandy, known as William the conqueror, seized England. As result the French language was used in the ruling and business class of England. In years to come after this event much political and financial words were added.

Still, the difference with the modern version was too much to be understood easily. By the 12th century, old English has dominated the Old French language but taken in so many words from it.

The introduction of printing was the reason of the arrival of modern English. The Modern English actually evolved from earlier modern English. The process began from the establishment of Tudor time.

Then, old English started to grow more quickly when William Caxton returned back to Britain in 1476. With the printing process, people started to buy more English published books and therefore gained valuable education and knowledge, which led to the expansion of modern English language.

Early modern English 

This is the third development for old English language. This period was the early stage for English language as all people know today. It was in the beginning of Tudor period when all changes happened for early modern English. These years are English language’s big development years.

In this period (1500 – 1800), many changes happened to this language, which mostly entailed changes in grammar and verbs pronunciations. Through these years, the old English language becomes much more like what we use today.

Many of the spellings were changed throughout the years, and it evolved into a more prestigious language. In 1476, printing was introduced to England, and numerous books were published in years after.

The most important events that took place in this era are the works of William Shakespeare and the translation of the bible.

Modern English

The fourth evolution step for old English language was written and spoken by people since the Great vowel shift in England between (1700 _1900) years.

It was in the modern English period when many new phrases and words entered the old English language and made it become complete. Modern English is now spoken by all the people around the world.

Late modern English 

The last evolution step for old English language. The form of standard English language spoken all over the world. This form of English language is known as Talk pidgin. So many vocabulary changes have happened for the late modern English language that are important historical documents for English people.

By the 18th century, this language was a known united one throughout England and all its colonies. The improvement of knowledge since philosophy and art soared English to the first international language. With the modern age technologies such as the internet, radio, and lately social media, the Modern Language is constantly changing.

More detailed information about the periods of the improvement of English language have their own specific names and stories which are:

  • Old English (450-1150)
  • Middle English (1150-1500)
  • Early modern English (1500-1700)
  • Modern English (1700-1900)
  • Late modern English (1900-now)

All these dates represent a completely different story for the development of old English language. The form of English language known to all people from around the world. All of these developments are so unique with their specific backgrounds.

These detailed represent one specific story for the process where old English became modern English.  Each have their own background that shows the exact story of the growth of old English language.

In around 1600 forward, the old English language got divided by the way it shaped and formed in different colonies. Some of them are still closer to the old version as they preserved some parts of it when they changed in Great Britain.

It resulted in different versions of the language that we see all over the world, from Australia to Africa. Of course, there are many more historic and geographic factors that have affected this language, but in this article, we tried to mention the bigger and more important ones.

According to all information mentioned above, modern English as we know it today wasn’t established and shaped easily over a night. It has been influenced by many other languages and cultures from the past till the present day.

It has a long history, which is important to know. Both native speakers and people who are learning English as their second language should read more about these histories. From the old English until modern English. Many settlers and happenings have changed the grammatical structures of old English language.

Extra detailed information about each of these periods of English language expansion can be found in the history books about old English. Also, there are many online videos and apps that provide the history of old English and modern English in different and interesting ways.

These historical proceedings have had many different influences on the old English language which is being used all over the world by many people in their work and studies. In brief, the history of old English language is essential for the world to know and gain considerable knowledge about the valuables this language has.


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