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20 Things About Stuff - your

kids might not know



  1. The history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany.

  2. The earliest form of English is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon (c. 550–1066 CE). Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.

  3. The English language is comprised of: Langue d'oïl (French): 29.3%; Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.7%; Germanic languages: 24% (inherited from Old English/Anglo-Saxon, Proto-Germanic, Old Norse, etc. without including Germanic words borrowed from a Romance languages); Greek: 5.32%; Italian, Spanish and Portuguese: 4.03%.

  4. English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the mid 5th to 7th centuries AD by Germanic invaders and settlers from what is now northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands, displacing the Celtic languages that previously predominated.

  5. Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries.

  6. English is the third most widespread native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states.

  7. English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years.

  8. English is the co-official language of the United Nations, of the European Union and of many other world and regional international organizations.

  9. The earliest known use of the phrase Brytish Iles in the English language is dated 1577 in a work by John Dee.

  10. How many words are there in the English language.  There is no single sensible answer to this question. It's impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning 'a kind of animal', and a verb meaning 'to follow persistently')? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?

  11. English has a much larger vocabulary than either the Germanic languages or the members of the Romance language family to which French belongs.

  12. English was originally a Germanic language, related to Dutch and German, and it shares much of its grammar and basic vocabulary with those languages.

  13. The following brief sample of Old English prose illustrates several of the significant ways in which change has so transformed English. It is taken from Aelfric's "Homily on St. Gregory the Great" and concerns the famous story of how that pope came to send missionaries to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity after seeing Anglo-Saxon boys for sale as slaves in Rome. See if you can read this early English:  Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, "Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon." 

  14. Though closely related to English, German remains far more conservative than English in its retention of a fairly elaborate system of inflections.

  15. About half of the most commonly used words in Modern English have Old English roots.

  16. From 1066 for a period there was a kind of linguistic class division, where the lower classes in England spoke English and the upper classes spoke French.

  17. Though English was the language of the great poet Chaucer (c1340-1400), it would still be difficult for native English speakers to understand him today.

  18. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print and this language was English.

  19. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.

  20. The main difference between Early Modern English and Late Modern English is vocabulary. Late Modern English has many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth's surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries.

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