History

English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the 5th to 7th centuries AD by Germanic invaders and settlers from what is now northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands.

The Old English of the Anglo-Saxon era developed into Middle English, the language as spoken between the Norman Conquest and the late 15th century. A significant influence on the shaping of Middle English came from contact with the North Germanic languages spoken by the Scandinavians who conquered and colonised parts of Britain during the 8th and 9th centuries; this contact led to much lexical borrowing and grammatical simplification. Another important influence came from the conquering Normans, who spoke a form of French called Old Norman, which in Britain developed into Anglo-Norman. Many Norman and French loanwords entered the language in this period, especially in vocabulary related to the church, the court system and the government. The system of orthography that became established during the Middle English period is by and large still in use today – later changes in pronunciation, however, combined with the adoption of various foreign spellings, mean that the spelling of modern English words appears highly irregular.

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