The origins of English

The origins of English

A Speller’s Companion by Brown and Brown

My son bought me a book in York called A Speller’s Companion published by Brown and Brown. What a fascinating little book this has proved to be. It provides information about the origins of the spelling of many of the places in the UK and also of many words that have been incorporated into modern English over time.

The contributors to the English language and names off UK cities, towns and villages are as follows:

  1. Celtic British who spoke a dialect called Brythonic and were known as Brythons (now spelt Britons). The Celtic British lived in the UK (excluding Ireland) about 400 years BC.
  2. In about 350 BC, Celts from Southern France settled in Ireland and their dialect was Goidelic (now spelt Gaelic). These Gaelic Celts later crossed to Scotland and the Isle of Man. Scotland derives its name from the Gaelic Scotti. A few towns that contain Celtic words are Stratford-on-Avon and Aberdeen.
  3. From AD 43 to 410, the British Isles formed part of the Roman Empire. While the Romans occupied Britain for nearly 400 years and left behind a lot of roads and buildings, their language, Latin, did not make much impact on the language spoken by the Britons.
  4. The Angles, Jutes and Saxons (who became known as the Anglo-Saxons) attacked Britain in AD 449 and introduced their language which was called Englisc (English). The names of Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, Northumbria, Sussex, Kent, Northumbria and Mercia all came from the Anglo-Saxons. They did not have their own words for certain things so they used the Celtic or Roman word and these became incorporated into their language. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Manchester and Edinburgh are all examples of names derived from Old English.
  5. Latin words such as altar, temple and master were introduced into English by the monks who translated the Bible into English from Latin. When they found no English word to substitute for the Latin word, they just retained the Latin.
  6. The next group of invaders were the Vikings who came from Scandinavia. Their language was Old Norse and mixed well with English as they both had Germanic roots. Examples of towns with Old Norse names are Rugby and Cleethorpes.
  7. The last contributer was the Normans from France who ruled England for 200 years from AD 1066. Over the 440 years after AD 1066, 10 000 French words were incorporated into English and the language evolved into something much closer to what we have today.

This book doesn’t only provide information with regards to the origins of English but also a lot of detail about the evolution of writing and even printing.

Here are some photographs from our recent trip to Edinburgh:


View from Edinburgh Castle


Holyrood Palace


Michael and Terence in the ruins of Holyrood Abbey


61 thoughts on “The origins of English

  1. The roots of English is pretty fascinating. Also fascinating how it spread all over the world, so some in the Americas can talk to someone in Africa about her experiences traveling somewhere in Europe, with people from somewhere in Australia and Asia understanding all that was said…

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It is amazing to see all of the nations that pop up on my stats page. Of course a lot of people are using English as a second or third language, but they are still using it.


  2. What a great family adventure! I love that book – th history of these places is so important, to help us understand where we came from – hopefully to guide us going forward…terrific photos as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A fascinating book you got, Robbie. I’m interested in languages. I used to have a book analyses the English words and gives the root words and the origin of the words. I’m amazed of many English words originated from Latin. Here in the US, I can see some Spanish words add the different endings to the English words such as Americano from American, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Robbie, I can see the languages influence each other. I thought I would be a missionary when I was younger, so I studied Spanish. Then I taught Chinese as a second language in universities, it forced me to analyze the language structure in order to teach. When I took voice lessons, I sang in Italian and French. Oh, when I sang in the oratorio, we sang many ancient music in Latin. I probably can pronounce the words and recognize the meanings of a few. That’s the extend of my languages!!


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