Where Does English Come From? A Brief History of the English Language

Have you ever had the thought, "where does english come from"? Read this article to find out!
Have you ever had the thought, “where does english come from”? Read this article to find out!

How many words are there in the English language?

Depending on which academic source you go to, the answer is over 170,000 words in use. That is an important point to note because words go out of fashion and become redundant. In the English language, there are about 50,000 additional words that are distinct in their own right but are no longer used.

How many words do you need to know to speak English?

Native speakers have a vocabulary of about 10,000 to 20,000 words. However, according to experts, you need to know about 1,000 words. That is a relief for most non-native speakers.

This goes to show how rich and expressive the English language is. This begs the question, where does English come from and also why is it so rich in vocabulary?

You can read a brief history of the English language here.

Where Does English Come From?

You will not impress your friends with the answer, “England”. Not only that, it would not be true.

Original English, as in the language actually first spoken in what is now the country of England, was not English at all but rather it was Celtic. This ancient language is the basis of Welsh, Scottish and Irish.

People still speak these languages today, but these languages have not conquered the world. On the other hand, English has. How?

Englisc from Englaland

Never heard of it. Funny that, but this is where ancient English comes from. It was first spoken by a Germanic tribe from Denmark and northern Germany. In fact, about 5000 years ago this tribe called the Angles came across the North Sea along with the Saxons and the Jutes.

Their invasion pushed out the then resident Celts, who then occupied the more remote areas of the Island. Which today make up Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

A Hybrid Language

The history of the English language does not finish with the Germans. Following them were the Vikings, and they introduced elements of Norse into the language.

Following the Vikings were the French. Every schoolboy knows his ‘Battle of Hastings’ in 1066. Yes, French, now entered into the already hybrid local language.

French falls into what scholars call middle English, and many people will be very familiar with ‘French’ words in the ‘English’ language. Well, now you know why.

A Need for New Words

As said in the outset of this article, English has a rich and diverse vocabulary and is used worldwide as an international trade language. How did that happen?

Aside from getting into a big discussion about the spread of the British Empire and its language, the real driver was a need for new words that arise from the industrial revolution.

The development of technological, scientific, and medical advances required the creation of new words. This is the stimulus that has rapidly developed the English language and also made it necessary for other countries to know these words as well. Still, knowing a word and saying it correctly are two different things.

How Many English Words Do You Know?

This is the type of question that is relevant to the foreign speaker and the native speaker alike. Just like the English language itself, do not be satisfied with a static vocabulary. Keep learning more.

Where does English come from? Now that you know the answer, you can impress your friends.

An excellent way to improve your fluency in English is to improve your pronunciation. Get started with a free trial here.


English Pronunciation & Fluency Expert
Annie Ruden M.S.CCC-SLP
CEO | Accent Reduction Trainer

[email protected]

Be Understood. Be Confident.