Why is English So English? A (Very) Brief History of English
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You don’t need to be a TEFL teacher to realise that English is a very tricky language. After all, why is the plural of mouse mice, but the plural of house isn’t hice? And how is it possible that a sentence like The opinion he had had had had no effect on her actually makes sense? And why don’t cough, bough and though rhyme? As you can imagine, this can cause massive difficulties for English language learners. As English as a Foreign Language teachers, it is up to us to simplify the language as much as possible to try and make it make sense for our learners. Besides being interesting, a knowledge of the history of English is also helpful to answer the constant Why? questions from your students.
So let’s take a very brief look at the history of English to help prepare you for the classroom.
It all started in 5AD
Long, long ago, far, far away…well, England in 5AD to be exact, three Germanic tribes invaded Britain. These tribes were called the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes and they came from Germany and northern Denmark. The Angles came from a place called Englaland and spoke a language called Englisc, so you can see where the words England and English come from.
450 – 1100 AD
With these three tribes now living in the same area, a new language developed which was a combination of their three languages. This is known as Old English, though it does not particularly resemble the English we speak today.
1100 – 1500 AD
After Old English, came Middle English. William the Conqueror (the Duke of Normandy) invaded Britain in 1066. As the Normans became the ruling class, so their language (French) became the language of the upper class. For a while there were two languages spoken in Great Britain, Old English and French. These soon merged into one language, Middle English. If you’re familiar with Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales then you know Middle English. At this time a number of words related to the church and the government were adopted into English from French.
1500 – 1800 AD
Printing was invented in 1476 with the first printing press being invented by William Caxton. Because of this, English became standardised, and spelling and grammar rules becoming fixed. Pronunciation was changing at this time but these changes were not reflected in the spelling. This, added to the fact that a number of words have retained their foreign spelling, has resulted in the “odd” English spelling that we have today.
From 1500 AD there were a number of events that changed Middle English drastically. The Great Vowel Shift in 1500 saw vowels being pronounced much shorter than before. At around this time, the British colonisation of North America led to the development of another English, which we now call American English. American English preserved certain elements of the English brought in by the invaders, while also adopting a number of words (like ranch and stampede) from Spanish.
It was also at around this time that William Shakespeare came on the literary scene. He is credited with inventing over 1 700 words which we still use today – words like eyeball, fashionable and gossip. He did this by merging words, changing nouns into verbs or adding prefixes and suffixes. It might seem funny that one man could have had such an impact on the language but considering the time he was in, it is logical. This was a time of constant change for the English language and as a popular writer of the time, he was bound to have an impact on the language.
The first English dictionary was published in 1602. This was the time of Early Modern English.
1800 AD – present
After Early Modern English came, naturally, Late Modern English. The Industrial Revolution and the developments in technology resulted in many new words related to science and technology being coined. Many of these words have Latin or Greek roots, such as biology and psychology.
At this time, too, the British Empire covered a quarter of the world. Consequently, English adopted a number of foreign words and this colonisation further resulted in the spread of English. A number of different Englishes sprung up around the world, each with their own accent, vocabulary and grammar, though all identifiable as English. You just need to go to India, Singapore, Nigeria or any one of many different countries to hear a language you might recognise as English but you might not totally understand.
Today English is spoken by approximately 1.35 billion people around the world as a first language or second language. Still, grammatical rules and common usage changes regularly, as evidenced by the inclusion of new words every year into the dictionary. New developments in technology and science as well as a greater awareness of social, cultural and political issues have again led to the invention of new words. Just think of WhatsApp, LGBTQI, and gender-based violence.
While the classic authors and playwrights are still popular – and Chaucer and Shakespeare are still studied at schools around the world – there are thousands of new authors who have brought us literary masterpieces over the years. By exposing our learners to these authors and natural English as it is used around the world, we are helping our learners improve their English. At the same time, we can foster their love for the language, which will encourage them to use the language in their own lives.
Nothing can prepare you for some of the questions you might be asked in the EFL classroom. English is a tricky and challenging language to learn and as the teacher, the learners will expect you to know all the answers! Having a knowledge of the origins of English will help you answer some questions, it’s totally fine to admit that you might need Google to help you answer!
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LAST UPDATED: 27th August 2021
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Processing of personal information you think is inaccurate
- You can tell us if you think the personal information we are processing about you is factually inaccurate. You can require us to restrict how we use your personal information until we can verify the accuracy of the information. We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the information is inaccurate, and may also ask that you provide some supporting evidence of the alleged inaccuracy.
- If we find that the personal information we are processing about you is inaccurate, we will take appropriate steps to correct the information.
Personal information is no longer needed by Everything TEFL Ltd but needed by you in connection with a legal claim
- In most circumstances, we will securely delete or dispose of personal information when we no longer need it for our legitimate business purposes. Our approach to retention is outlined in our corporate retention schedules.
- However, if the personal information we no longer need would assist you in establishing, exercising or defending a legal claim, you can require us to keep the information for as long as necessary. We may ask you to provide an explanation and any available supporting evidence that a legal claim is ongoing or contemplated.
Right to erasure of personal data (“the right to be forgotten”)
In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that Everything TEFL Ltd securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to Everything TEFL Ltd collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think Everything TEFL Ltd has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the Everything TEFL Ltd processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the Everything TEFL Ltd has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, Everything TEFL Ltd is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the Everything TEFL Ltd.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to Everything TEFL Ltd, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
Everything TEFL Ltd
28 – 32 Pembroke Street,
Republic of Ireland
Telephone: +353 (1) 554 6227
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.