The English Language

Telegraph News: Hunt for 100 events that shaped the English language

From the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the fifth century to modern-day waves of immigration, the English language has been shaped by countless episodes in history. Now The English Project, a charity dedicated to promoting the language, is compiling a list of the 100 most important events and locations which have made English what it is today.

The journey starts in Lakenheath in Suffolk, where the Undley Bracteate medallion was found, dated to 475 and bearing the first evidence of written English. Then in 731 the Venerable Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear – the first text to speak of the English language and the English people. And by 871 King Alfred of Wessex, the first person to call the language "English", was ordering translations from Latin into West Saxon, a dialect of Old English.

The events include the Norman Invasion of 1066, the death of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400, and the birth of Shakespeare in 1564. Chaucer wrote in the 1300s, before spelling was invented, he would spell the same word differently through his text.

In Sixth Form English Literature classes at Northgate High School, we studied the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the original Middle English dialect. Our teacher Miss Watkins was crafty, first she had us group a random series of words from about 800AD into to categories. We had no idea what any of the words meant. The next set of words was from 1000AD, slightly easier to understand but not much. Then she showed us Chaucer, and we were so relieved to finally see something we could understand!