The Story of English

A Supplementary Guide to Professor Simpson's College English Class (COMM1007)

Site Navigation

E-mail Contact
Course Outline
History  of English
Essay Writing

PowerPoint Lessons

History of the English Language

TrackStar Resource

History of the English Language

Video Resources

Norman Conquest: 1066 AD
(Real Player)

Great Moments in the History of the English Language: Although not quite sure of the reason, William's fellow printers were vaguely disturbed by his curious experiments.

Is English Insane?

In a manner of speaking, yes.  It certainly has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to spelling. Consider, for example, the “f” sound. Although pronounced the same in each of these words, it is spelled far differently:

  • Fish
  • Enough
  • Philadelphia

Over the years there have been several movements to simplify English spelling, but they've had little overall effect. Following the American Revolution there was a renewed interest in spelling reform as Americans attempted to disassociate themselves from England. This endeavour enjoyed a modest success, dropping the “u” from words like “colour,” and changing the voiced “s” to a “z” in words like “realise,” but aside from these relatively minor changes it did little to create a new spelling system.

Is this resistance to spelling reform the result of some strong conservative desire to retain the “old ways”? Not really, although it undeniably plays a part. The primary reason we continue to spell in such a maddening fashion is that, bizarre as it may seem, it allows educated English speakers to understand their own language better and to know the meanings of words they’ve never seen before.

As for the reason behind this long-established chaos, we need look no further than Britain's historical tendency to get invaded.

Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

Although the British Isles are fairly well protected from the mainland by means of the English channel, over the course of the millennium they have been invaded on a semi-regular basis by various nations speaking various languages. As a result, the English language isn't so much a single language as it is an amalgam of different languages, each with its own separate spelling and grammatical rules. 

In our first class we deal with this history, although it does not make up an official part of the course ─ in other words, no, you won't be tested on it. On the other hand, you will find that knowing the background of the language helps enormously in dealing with it in a more efficient manner.

Web Sites on the History of the English Language

Wikkipedia Entry on History of the English Language
Wikkipedia is not always reliable, due to its open-source methodology, but it's often a good place to start any research.

A History from
Quite accurate and concise.

HEL (History of English Language) - Virginia Tech
A portal to dozens of sites dealing with specific aspects of the English language history.

Illustration above from Grow A Brain Blog by Hana Levin.