The making of english – clil unit

Download 38.73 Kb.
Size38.73 Kb.

Ready to


by V. Tenedini


Here follows the final result of a lesson I have prepared and revised over the past few years on “the making of the English language from its origins to date”.

Originally it had been created as an overhead projector presentation, where only the notions of Old, Middle and Modern English (up to Chaucer) with a few examples of words and terms for each period were mentioned1.

Later on some more historical information was added with reference to sovereigns or specific events.

Finally I have added the pictures, extended the outline so as to include postcolonial and today’s English2 and conceived the post reading activities.

The result is quite a long unit indeed, which -I think - can be made suitable to the needs of different school types/classes - may I suggest - by breaking it up into smaller units, or leaving out the more technical/historical paragraphs. As a matter of fact the paragraph division, contents per page, spacing, fonts have been chosen so as to let each main idea, within the variety of contents, be identified easily.


by V. Tenedini

The first invaders of the British Isles according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were THE ANGLES, THE SAXONS AND THE JUTES, violent peoples who came to Britain sailing across the North Sea (from Denmark and the coastal part of Germany) in the year AD 449. The native Britons flew from them as from fire, therefore it can be said that Old English arrived in Britain ‘on the point of a sword’.

Gradually THE ANGLO-SAXONS settled down and began farming their new lands.

They were an agricultural people and indeed their art and their vocabulary is full of farming terms; words like: sheep, shepherd, ox, earth, plough, swine, dog, wood, field and work come from Old English and so do words like: glee, mirth, laughter, which show the need of this people to celebrate after a hard day’s hard work in the fields.

The Anglo-Saxons’ art of speech was elaborate; they had an oral culture which means they could only rely on speech and memory. Their ORAL TRADITION was highly developed, they enjoyed expressing their ideas in an original and sophisticated way, resorting to understatement, riddles and poems that went round in circles.

With the arrival of Christianity in AD 597 and its huge Latin vocabulary, the civilizing energies of the Anglo-Saxon culture received an enormous boost.

The building of churches and monasteries - the corner-stones of the Anglo-Saxons culture, provided education in a wide range of subjects such as: literature both sacred and profane, poetry, astronomy and arithmetic. Besides the monasteries encouraged writing in the vernacular and all plastic arts (as the works in stone, glass and embroidery, the illuminated manuscripts, church music and architecture testify).

Effects upon the language


It strengthened and enriched Old English with new words (more than 400 of which still survive today);

It gave English the ability to express abstract thought

e.g. Greek and Latin words like: angel, disciple, martyr, litany, mass, relic, shrift, shrine, and psalm.

The conversion of England changed the language in 3 evident ways:

It gave English a large church vocabulary;

Figura: a detail from Ramsay's Psalter
t introduced words and ideas ultimately from as far away as India and China;

It stimulated the Anglo-Saxons to apply existing words to new concepts.

As a result today’s English has the power to express the same thought or object in either an early vernacular or a more elaborate Latinate style, which makes the language subtle and flexible.

By the end of the 8th century, the impact of Christianity on Anglo-Saxon England had produced a unique culture in Europe. In the 8th and the 9th centuries this culture faced another threat: the sea warriors from the north – which caused the second great influence on the evolution of the English language.


The mass movement of the Scandinavian peoples between the years AD 750 and 1050, one of the great migrations of European history, began with plunder-raids and ended as conquest and settlement.

The Vikings raids in England began in the year AD 793 and by the middle of the 9th century almost all country was in Viking hands. The Danish settlers had a profound influence on the development of Old English.

Before the arrival of the Danes (as the Anglo-Saxons called the Vikings), Old English like most European languages, was a strongly inflected language, that is to say that common words (e.g. king or stone) relied on word-endings to convey the meaning for which today prepositions are used. The simplification of English by the Danes gradually helped eliminate these word-endings. However the Old Norse and Old English were so similar that it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the former on the latter with much accuracy.


Words beginning with sk like sky, and skein;

plain-syllabled words like: get, hit, leg, low, root, skin, same, want, and wrong, (and about 900) .

There are probably hundreds more that cannot be accounted for definitely, and in the old territory of the Danelaw in Northern England thousands of Old Norse borrowings: such as beck (stream), laithe (barn) and garth (yard) survive in local use.

he effects on the English literature can be seen in Beowulf, a poem of about 3000 lines, (the greatest single work of English literature: as intricate and subtle as the manuscripts of the time), which reveals reflective and ruminative temper of mind, obsessed with ideas such as the transience of life, heroism or dignity keeping in the face of defeat.

Other surviving poems from this time emphasize the character of the Anglo-Saxon experience. Common themes dealt by the poets are the cruel sea, ruined cities, the minstrel’s life, war and exile. The acme of the Vikings’ achievement – and of the Danish integration into English society – was marked around AD 1000 when Cnut, king of Denmark (known to legend as wise King Canute), inherited the English throne, conquered Norway and reigned over most of the Scandinavian world. From then on their story is one of rapid decline.

THE NORMAN INVASION- Romanization of the English language

The Norman victory at Hastings (1066) changed the face of English forever.

Figura: details form the Bayeux tapestry
he Normans took control of the new territory with systematic rigour. William the Conqueror established his own regime rewarding those who had supported his expeditions across the Channel. Castles were built and used as strongholds, garrisoned by Norman soldiers in order to hold down the countryside. The English church was ‘purged’ as the local religious authorities were replaced by Norman bishops and abbots loyal to the King in churches and monasteries. For several generations after the Conquest all important positions in the country were dominated by French-speaking Normans.

From 1066 there were 3 languages in play in Britain and the overwhelming majority of English people experienced the humiliation of a linguistic discrimination: religion, law, science, literature were all conducted in French or Latin as words like: felony, perjury, attorney, bailiff, and nobility testify.

Going by the written record alone, the supremacy of Norman French and Latin seems total. In 1154 the English monks who wrote the Anglo-Saxon chronicle abandoned their work forever. A great silence seems to descend on English writing. In court, church and government circles, French was established as the smart and Latin as the professional language. French had the cultural prestige, Latin remained the principal language of religion and learning, still the English vernacular survived as the common speech.

The long period of the coexistence of English and French affected both the vocabulary and all levels of the linguistic structure of English, including the sound system, grammar and orthography. Norman scribes re-spelt the language according to their own conventions.

An example of that is reflected, for example, in the French “ou” for ME “u” (e.g. “house”).

Another orthographic change is shown by the change of the Anglo-Saxon “cw” into “qu” – the combination of letters especially familiar to the Normans from Latin pronouns. E.g. OE cwealm, cwēn, cwic became qualm, queen and quik (modE quick).

It can be said that during the Norman conquest and rule English took on the outward appearance of a Romance language (cf. the loanwords quest, quit, quiet).3

Nonetheless the mingling of the three powerful traditions gave English the capacity to express three or four nuance of meaning and to make fine distinctions, which is its most evident feature after the Conquest.

E. g. O.E. king – became kingly – 3 synonyms after the Conquest: royal, regal, sovereign.

  • Rise – mount – ascend

  • Ask- question- interrogate

  • Time – age – epoch

While the use of French in England was probably natural to only an elite of churchmen and magnates, the continuity of the English language in the mouths of the masses was never in doubt.

English survived for 3 reasons:

The pre-conquest Old-English vernacular was simply too well-established, too vigorous and too resistant to be obliterated; The English speakers had an overwhelming demographic advantage.

The Normans began to intermarry with the locals.

In 1204 thanks to the military strength and ambition of King John, the Anglo-Normans lost control of their French territory across the Channel and many of the nobility were forced to take sides either with France or with England.

In the early 1200s English makes a comeback at both written and spoken levels, church homilies, prayers and hymns are expressed in English and there is the first record of an English word in a Latin document (in an account of a court case brought by Henry III against some of its citizens).

The reign of Henry III (1207-72) who was fully French and surrounded himself with French favourites, saw the spread of a strong anti-French feeling, made evident by the Baron’s revolt led by Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester who rebelled and summoned his own parliament) in the middle of the 13th century.

Figura: Norman Britain
y then French had become an acquired, not native language
. Throughout Europe it was the language of chivalry and in England it was believed that every gentleman should know it, as stated in a French teaching book of the time). The nobility still knew French but they certainly leant it in school not at home.

The Hundred Years War with France (1337-1454) provided a major impetus to speak English, not French. Meanwhile the outbreak of a mysterious disease, the Black Death, (bubonic plague), by making labour scarce, improved and accelerated the rise in status of the English working man (a process that culminated in the ‘Peasants revolt’ of 1381 = rebellion of hand labourers who claimed higher wages after the Black Death had greatly reduced the labour force).

Figura: The battle of Agincourt

he plague caused so many deaths in the monasteries and churches that a whole new generation of semi-educated, non French and Latin speakers took over as abbots and prioress. After the plague English grammar started to be taught in schools to the detriment of French.

1100 – 1500 MIDDLE ENGLISH

The term Middle English has been used by scholars since the 19th century to term the language spoken in the British Isles over the period 1100-1500. Much of what is called Middle English is as a matter of fact a record in writing. The most vital evidence of the evolution of the language in written records is the loss of Old English inflections which were replaced by such prepositions as by, like, with, from.

Spoken English differed from county to county. The language spoken within the power trade triangle, namely Oxford, Cambridge and London, sharing the same kind of English may have set the basis for the 20th century standard English.

Geoffrey Chaucer, who chose to write in the London’s vernacular, symbolized the rebirth of English as a national language. He wrote in English while the official language of government was still French.

Figura: Halfpenny of Henry V

hen seventeen years after Chaucer’s death, Henry V became King, the first English king after Harold (1022? - -66), he was the first to make use English in all official documents including his will and English became the official language since then.4


Early Modern English (1500-1800)

Towards the end of the Middle English period, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation, known as ‘the Great Vowel Shift,’ started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. From the 16th century the British had been in contact with many peoples from around the world.

THIS AS WELL AS THE RENAISSANCE OF CLASSICAL LEARNING MADE SEVERAL NEW TERMS AND PHRASES ENTER THE ENGLISH VOCABULARY. The invention of the printing press also meant that there was now a common language being printed. Books became gradually cheaper and more people learned how to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and since most of the publishing houses were in London, the local vernacular became the standard. The first English dictionary was published in 16045.

Late Modern English (1800-Present)

The main difference between Early Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has many more words, depending on two main factors:

-the Industrial Revolution and technological progress which created a need for new words;

- the expansion of the British Empire (that came to cover one quarter of the earth's surface) implied the adoption of a large variety of foreign words.

Varieties of English

The English colonization of North America (from 1600) saw the creation of another variety of English: American English. Apparently some English pronunciations and terms have been kept ever-since they reached America. In other words American English is to some extent more similar to early modern English than today’s British English. For instance some expressions called "Americanisms" by the British are in fact original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost for a time in Britain (e.g. amE: trash; Br.E: rubbish; AmE: loan - verb; Br.E: to lend, AmE: fall - Br.E: autumn; while some terms are imported back into Britain through Hollywood movies or TV series).

The Spanish language has been influencing American English (and subsequently British English) too, e.g. the terms: canyon, ranch, and vigilante are examples of Spanish loans which entered English through the settlement of the American West. American English was also enriched by French words (coming through Louisiana) and West African words (that came to North America with the slave trade).

Nowadays American English is particularly influential, because of the USA's dominance of cinema, television, popular music, trade and technology (including the Internet).



Here follows a series of pictures that can be used to help the class thinking about the contents they have been given.

The pictures can be used as a prompt in an oral or written test with the following sample question

Try to explain what the following images refer to using the information that has been formerly given to you


Coin with the image of William the conqueror


The order of the activity is suggested as an example

Activity 1

-Try reconstructing the main periods into which the English language is divided;

-For each period mention the most influential factors or language features.

If you can, provide a few examples.

Activity 2

Draw a scheme to complete the last picture above including what you think may be missing (keys the 2 phases Modern English, Today’s English).

Activity 3

Use the net to find out in how many countries is English spoken today, as an official language, second language etc.


In your own words answer these questions: Has English gone global, How many types of English exist today, In what way are they similar or different? Explain.

1 For references see: R.McCrum,W. Cran, R. Mc Neil – The story of English Penguin 1986, reported in M. Ansaldo, P. Magni, Working out literature 1, Torino, Petrini, 1985 and english_middle/gallicization_01.asp

2 See

3 See english_middle/gallicization_01.asp

4 adapted from R.McCrum,W. Cran, R. Mc Neil – The story of English Penguin 1986, reported in M. Ansaldo, P. Magni, Working out literature 1, Torino, Petrini, 1985



Download 38.73 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page