The Beginning of English Language

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The English language has existed for only 1,500 years. Yet in that relatively short space of time, it has developed into one of the greatest and richest languages in the world.

English has proved to be a fine instrument for the expression of every shade of idea. Masters of literature have used the rich storehouse of English words in works that are known throughout the world.



 Early English literature was written in a language that people today would recognize as English. Called Old English, or Anglo Saxon, it was a language which was used for a long time before the Norman Conquest in A.D 1066.

The study of English literature usually begins with Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. The time of the story is about the 6th century, and it takes place in Denmark. The only existing manuscript of Beowulf, written down sometime in the 10th century, is preserved in the British Museum in London.

Below is the 4th stanza of "Grendel the Murderer," sample of Beowulf (Anglo-Saxon poetry):

Grendel The Murderer

Life-woe to lift from no liegeman at all of
The men of the Dane-folk, for money to settle,
No counsellor needed count for a moment

On handsome amends at the hands of the murderer;
Grendel is unremitting in his persecutions.45
The monster of evil fiercely did harass,
The ill-planning death-shade, both elder and younger,
Trapping and tricking them. He trod every night then
The mist-covered moor-fens; men do not know where
Witches and wizards wander and ramble.

So the foe of mankind many of evils
Grievous injuries, often accomplished,
Horrible hermit; Heort he frequented,
Gem-bedecked palace, when night-shades had fallen

-Read the whole poem Grendel the Murderer -

King Alfred is an important figure in Old English Literature. He did much to advance learning in 19th century England. In his time many important books were translated from Latin to English. He also began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, while which tells the events in Britain from Roman invasion in 54 B.C. to the middle of the 12th century.

The Middle English period, generally defined as being between the 12th and 16th centuries, saw the true beginning of the magnificent English literature.


After the Norman invasion, Norman French was the language of the court and the ruling class for three centuries. Latin remained the language of learning. Because of this, many works of the English period were first written in Latin. But the common people continued to speak English. In this period, many Norman-French words were added to the language. English changed greatly, and the language called Middle English came into existence.

By 1362 English had risen a favor and had been declared the official language of the courts.

The greatest name in Middle English Literature is that of Geffrey Chaucer, the first English poet. His masterpiece is The Canterbury Tales, which appeared in 1387. Chaucer chose to write English thus assuring the future of English literature.



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The language which had been used from 1500 to the present called Modern English. By the time of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603) English was basically as it is today. In the works of Shakespeare, and later in the King James version of the Bible (1611), English reached its peak of strength and beauty.

The modern English period has seen many developments in the form and style of literature. In the 16th Century, during the long reign of Elizabeth the I, England experienced a burst of ideas and literary brilliance. Poetry and drama flourished, particularly in Shakespeare's lifetime.

 Below is the 1st-2nd stanza sample of "Lover's Complaint, "by William Shakespeare:

Lover's Complaint

FROM off a hill whose concave womb reworded

A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain.

Upon her head a platted hive of straw,
Which fortified her visage from the sun,
Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of beauty spent and done:
Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven's fell rage,
Some beauty peep'd through lattice of sear'd age.

-Read the whole poem of Lover's Complaint-

During the 17th century, the political and religious struggles which took place became the concern of most of the important writers of the time. The literary giant of the century, John Milton, was greatly involved with these events and he wrote many pamphlets of the subjects.

In the 18th century, there was a marked change in the mood and tone of literature. Man - as social animal became the subject much of poetry. The language of the poet became much more ornate than in the previous century and a new prose form-the novel- became popular. Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest writers in the 18th century, compiled the first important dictionary of the English language.

19th and 20th CENTURY


The first 30 years of the 19th century make up English literature's romantic period. Writers during this time were more concerned with imagination and feelings than the power of reason, which had marked the 18th century. This period began with the publication of the poems of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The Romantic age moved gradually into the Victorian Age, which lasted until the end of the 19th century. Historical and philosophical writing flourished, as it had in the past, along with poetry and fiction. During the later years of the century, some authors showed a new, deeper understanding of human character.

The enormous amount of written literature in English has continued into the 20th century. English civilization and culture continue to have a strong influence on the rest of the world. And the rich heritage of English Literature forms an important part of the culture.



The story of our universal language English began with Beowulf that ends with the great story of our own times. The learning from literature, poetry, drama, novels, and essays, mystery stories and science fiction, folk tales and fairytales, legends, fables, and myths can be easily understood even if we have different languages of our own. Thanks to English! Through it, we can build a better world, can make new friends to build a relationship from different parts of the world.

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