English as we know it today was shaped principally by three periods of settlement and invasion […] In the fifth and sixth centuries […] the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes […] sailed over from the north-western coastline of continental Europe […] pushed most of the Celtic-speaking Britains north and west […] and their Germanic language developed into what we now call Old English […] A few centuries later […] the vikings were on the move […] their language was also a Germanic variety, Old Norse, and it had a deep influence on Old English…

Then it was the turn of the Normans. This was the invasion which triggered enormous changes in English, as it developed into what’s called Middle English […] English vocabulary increase[d] hugely with the influx of French borrowings.

There was a third language too, though: Latin. Ever since Augustine and his monks came to Britain in the sixth century, Latin (and Greek) words have been influencing English. During this trilingual period in the later medieval period, words stepped over from one language to another and left their footprints. Hugh numbers of French and Latin words entered English, and English was happy to accommodate them. The habit of borrowing and assimilating became second nature.

I’ve sort of perhaps, in a way, kind of knew this, and it could be you maybe did to, but it was nice to be reminded, while reading Planet Word by J.P. Davidson, that the English language is essentially, at its core, a hybrid language with, to quote Davidson again, “the vigour and subtlety of a mongrel creation”.

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