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All the materials in barebones are working teaching documents 
subject to review, alteration or abandonment in classroom practice.
Anyone is welcome to use this stuff, but copyright remains with
Thor May. Feedback, positive or negative, is very welcome.

ESL materials & ideas developed in Korea

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Ten Minute History of English

a)Teaching note

This is a VERY oversimplified description of the emergence of the English language and early English history. However, I have found that its brevity makes it accessible even to many students with limited English. The information is always welcomed, perhaps because it seems like a mystery unveiled

b) Something to think about

How similar was the influence of Chinese on Korean, to the influence of French on English ?

c) Presentation

About fifteen hundred years ago, England was hijacked by the English. Before that it belonged to people called the Celts.

This is what happened.

England's first name was Britain.
The Celts lived in Britain for many thousands of years.
They spoke a language we now call Gaelic.
Two thousand years ago, Romans invaded Britain and made it a colony. The Romans brought their own soldiers. The British Celts just kept on as farmers.

The British Celts forgot how to fight.
When the Romans left around 410AD, the Celts were helpless.
Vikings from North Europe started to raid Britain every summer, burning, looting and raping.
Some Vikings even settled in Britain. (My name, Thor, comes from one of their gods).

The British Celts were so upset about Viking raids that they decided to hire a mercenary army.
They went to South Germany and hired soldiers who came from tribes of Angles and Saxons.
The mercenary armies of Angles and Saxons were very successful.
They chased the Vikings away.

However, the Angles and Saxons then looked around Britain carefully.
They decided that it was better than their own home!
The Angles and Saxons turned on the poor Celts and chased them out of their own country.

The Celts had to run away to Ireland, to Scotland, to the Welsh mountains, and even to France.
Britain then became Angle-land, later pronounced England.
The Angles and Saxons became known as English people.

The language of the Angles was in fact Old German.
Over hundreds of years the Old German in England changed, and became the English language we know.

Actually, that wasn't the end of the story!

In 1066 A.D. England was invaded again, this time by an army from Normandy in France.
The Normans were originally Vikings, but after living in France a long time they now spoke French.
For several hundred years England fell under French control.
All the upper classes had to learn the French language.
The farmers kept on talking old English.
The now French-speaking English upper classes borrowed thousands of French words into English.

About half the words in modern English come from French or Latin; (French itself comes from old Latin)
These borrowed words are usually more literary (used in writing). Everyday words usually come from the Old German.
Most of the grammar of modern English comes from the Old German, but has changed over time.

d) Comparative words:
    An example of different influences

Comparatives are a very good example of the difference between old English words and borrowed French or Latin words.

The old English words are usually short (one or two syllables) while the borrowed words are usually longer (three or more syllables). For example:

Old English: big, bigger , biggest; old, older, oldest; rich, richer, richest

French/Latin: beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful; difficult, more difficult, most difficult ..

*** Caution : History as it is written is a fashion statement. It is usually written to satisfy one political faction or another, or to justify some ideology. Recorded  British history is no exception. Some people have questioned the invasion theories of post-Roman Britain. However there are other kinds of evidence we can look at, and language is a very strong piece of evidence in this case. We know that the inhabitants of England in Roman times and earlier were Celts. There are very few Celtic words in English. English is a Germanic language in its origins (later it borrowed many Latinate words). More recently, DNA evidence has shown that the ancestors of most English males arrived from continental Europe within the last 1500 years. Reviews of a book by the popular English revisionist historian, Francis Pryor, summarize some of these arguments at the Amazon website here.


"Ten Minute History of the English Language" copyrighted to Thor May 2001; all rights reserved

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