History of English (Written and Spoken)

In 2024 English, such a young language, is pervasive on the Internet though many cannot speak it. Below is an image from Wikipedia, a crowd-sourced web site, of the most common language used for viewing their pages country by country.

Most popular edition of Wikipedia by country. In greyed-out countries, the "national-language" edition is usually the most popular, but there are exceptions.

That same page shows W3Techs estimated percentages of the top 10 million websites on the World Wide Web by language as of Jan 04, 2024.

English at 52%, Spanish German and Russian about 5% each, French Japanese about 4% each, Portuguese 3%, Italian Turkish Dutch about 2% each. Chinese at 1%, Arabic and Korean are 0.7%, Greek and Hebrew are 0.5%, and Hindi, India's national language, at just 0.1%.


A brief background history to the English language via its books

Click here for an extract in Middle English (about 1380) of the Lord's Prayer, shown side by side with early modern English (about 1530), also in old Gothic (about 300) and old English/Anglo-Saxon (about 900).

Early Modern English is generally intelligible, Middle English is less so, while early Gothic and Anglo-Saxon are difficult to follow without assistance.

Extract from the University of Nottingham

From 1066 until the end of the 1300s, Anglo-Norman (French) was the language of the king of England and his court. During this period, marriages with French princesses reinforced the French status in the royal family.

It was used in law courts, becoming known as Law French. This was a technical language, with a specific vocabulary, English words were used to describe everyday experience with French grammatical rules and morphology (word-forms) which gradually declined, with confusion of French noun genders and the adding of -s to form all plurals.

The law courts used three languages: Latin for writing, Norman French as the main oral language during trials, and English in less formal exchanges between the judge, the lawyer, the complainant or the witnesses. The judge gave his sentence orally in Norman French, which was then written in Latin. Only in the lowest level of the manorial courts were trials entirely in English.

All professional business contracts were written in Latin.

In 1275, the Statute of Westminster which codified the existing law in England in 51 chapters, was the first official document to be actually written in Norman French, instead of Latin.

At the same time, intermarriages with English nobility became more frequent. Norman French became progressively a second language among the upper classes. And with the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and the growing spirit of English and French nationalism, the status of French diminished.

While Middle English (the language of the Wycliffe Bible in 1384), followed by early Modern English (the language of Shakespeare and the KJV in 1600), became the main spoken language, Latin and French continued to be exclusively used in official documents. For example, in depositions written in 1610, the words spoken by ordinary people are written in English, as they said them, but the rest of the document explaining the case is in Latin.

This was the situation right up until Oliver Cromwell's Act of Parliament was passed in 1650, insisting upon English being used in all legal documents. Persons offending against this Law, to forfeit twenty pounds.

A second Act to confirm this was passed in 1730, under King George II, that came into force throughout England in 1733.

By then it was almost three centuries since the king had ceased speaking primarily French. 
The wheels of progress turn slowly. North America In the thirteen colonies of British America, starting with the Colony of Virginia in 1606, English became its official spoken and written language right from the beginning. Further north in Canada which was initially settled by the French, following Federation in 1867 the country became a bilingual nation with the decree that "the Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both those languages" — French and English and it mandated their use for parliamentary debates, parliamentary publications, and federal court cases. Today it is estimated that 85% of Canadians can speak English. In the French-speaking Province of Quebec, it is estimated that over 40% can speak English.

Some Famous English Works and Date First Published

Year ▲▼Title ▲▼
1590Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser, an allegory of Queen Elizabeth I
"Faerie" — is from French "Fei" (Faith Belief) + "erie" - "State". From Greek Phaos / Phos (Light Shine) and Phemi (I see I say), Fatum in Latin (fate), Fame in English. A letter written by Spenser to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1590 contains a preface for The Faerie Queene, ...
in which Spenser describes the allegorical presentation of virtues through Arthurian knights in the mythical "Faerieland". It outlined plans for 24 books Aristotle based Knightly virtues

1611King James Bible
1623Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies
Until 1662 no actresses allowed on stage, after, women often played boys see Peter Pan below
1697Fairy Tales by Madame d'Aulnoy
Traditionally, the first published fairy tale book in English. Based on French Fée, Fay

By 1860 English fairy-tales closed with "they all lived happily ever after" - full of blessed happenstance Greek "Makarios" Rev 14:13 Heaven

17061,001 Nights Arabian Nights by Antoine Galland (French to English)
Included Sinbad the Sailor and two new stories Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
1719Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
1726Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
1729Mother Goose Tales of Past Times by Charles Perrault (French to English 1729)
Included Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Cinderella
1811Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
1813Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
1816Emma by Jane Austen
1823Grimm's Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm (German to English)
First published in 1812. As somewhat dark tales, felt unsuitable for children. Translated into English in 1823 as German Popular Stories. Stories included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin. In 1937, Walt Disney added names to the dwarfs in the Snow White movie
1836Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
1837Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
1843Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
1846The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas (French to English)
1846Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (French to English)
1847Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
1847Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
1849David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
1859Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
1860Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
1862Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
Booklets in Danish including Thumbelina (based on Tom Thumb) and Princess and the Pea 1835, Emperor's New Clothes and Little Mermaid 1837, Brave Tin Soldier 1838, Ugly Duckling 1843, Snow Queen 1844, Little Match Girl 1845. Translated into English in 1862 by Susanna Mary Paull (H.B.Paull)
1865Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
1868Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
1867From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (French to English)
1871Journey to Centre of Earth by Jules Verne
187220,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
1873Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
1878HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan
1879Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan
1883Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
1885The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan
1886Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
1890English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs
Included Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs
1892Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi in serial form 1881-1882 as The Story of a Puppet
Translated in 1892 (Italian to English) by Mary Alice Murray in London, then in 1901 in the US by Walter S. Cramp and Charles Copeland (with illustrations). In 1940 became a Disney movie
1904Peter Pan by James Matthew Barrie
Stage play "Peter Pan or the boy who wouldn't grow up" London 1904 then Broadway 1905, with the book "Peter and Wendy" first published 1911. Became a Disney movie in 1953
1907Billy Bunter, Tom Merry by Frank Richards (born Charles Hamilton)
First published in "Gem" and "Magnet" story paper for boys from 1907-1940. Published in Hard Cover books 1947-1961
1916Agatha Christie murder mystery novels 1916-1973
1922Enid Blyton childrens books 1922-1963
Famous Five books in 1942 were followed by Secret Seven and Noddy in 1949
1932Biggles air-adventurer books by William Earl Johns 1932-1968
1950Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis 1950-1956 starting in 1950 with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"
After CS Lewis died in 1963, Narnia was broadcast on TV, Radio, and as a Disney Movie in 2005
1953James Bond spy books by Ian Fleming 1953-1965
1954Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien 1954-1955 starting with "Fellowship of the Ring" in July 1954 "The Two Towers" in November 1954 and "Return of the King" in October 1955
"The Hobbit" had been published earlier as a children's book in 1937. Became movies, starting in 2001

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