ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The chief medium of communication in the British Empire and the united States. It is the language used originally by the Teutonic tribes that invaded the island of Britain during the latter half of the fifth cen tury. It belongs historically to the western branch of the Teutonic languages (q.v.) and to the Low German subdivision of that branch, most closely allied to the Frisian (q.v.). In spite of the composite character of its vocabu lary. less than one-third of which is native, mod• ern English is still an essentially Germanic Ian ounce—the real nature of a language being shown, not by its vocabulary. but by its grammatical structure. The grammatical forms of English, its verbal system, the declension of its nouns and pronouns. the comparison of its adjectives and most of its purely relational words, such as simple adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions, are native. All the numerals, too, except second and those above a thousand, have always been in the laremage. The changes that have taken place in English ,grammar have been due to the level ing of old inflections, not to the introduction of I nes.
In tracing the growth of the English language, the history is usually divided into three leading pel'iods: The Anglo-Saxon period (A.D. 449 to A.D. 1100), the Middle English (1100-1500), and the Modern English period (1500 to the present time). But the name of the first period is now criticised by an increasing number of scholars, who affirm, not without reason, that English was always English, and never Anglo-Saxon; that the fact that it was inflected in the period be fore the Norman Conquest, and lost most of its inflections in later times, is no reason for speak ing of it as if it were two different languages; and that we have no warrant in the usage of the inflected period for calling our forefathers or their speech anything but English. The term Anglo-Saxon did not come into use until in the seventeenth century, at the time of the revival of an interest in our earliest literature, so that the word is not only misleading, but has not even the merit of antiquity. The term Old English, furthermore, is in keeping with the classification of the other Germanic languages But as the term Anglo-Saxon has been so long in common use and is clearly understood by all readers, whereas the more exact term Old English is incorrectly applied to later periods, possible confusion is avoided by retaining the first.
As early as the fifth century, Teutonic invaders from the Continent settled in Britain and drove the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants to the north and west of the island; so that before the battle of !lasting, (1006) the tongue of the con querors had been spoken in England for at least six hundred years. The tinal absorption, after numerous conflicts, by the kings of Wessex, or of I he \Vest. Saxons, of the various States of the tarchy.' in the ninth century, went far to make the ruling speech of the land identical with that of Berkshire and Hants, the recognized centre of the predominant rapt. The use, besides. of this south •rn speech as the chief instrument of literary votimmnical ion was permanently eon firm•d by the influence of King a native of 11/ rl s Few (Nkting monuments of the lan guage rer lain that permit us to go further back than the time of this literary monarch; yet. from the writ combo was a Nort h Anglian, aril a few ecclesiastical inampteriptg from tl a Kingdom e f Northumbria. which ex• Irian the r to the Firth of Forth. it has been ci•neluded that at least two I most h.ayc been used in the I land cc northern, including Mercian and Nor thumbrian, and a southern, including Kentish and West Saxon. The northern, or Anglian, was to some extent marked by Scandinavian features. This is not at all surprising if we admit that the Angles came from that corner of Schleswig still called Angelo, or indeed from any region north of the Elbe, aside from the influence of the Danes. It should be noted, too, that many works that are known to us in a West Saxon form were originally written in Northumbrian, as Lliotruif and Bede's translation of the Ecclesias tical History of Britain. It was the custom of medireval scribes to use their own dialect in copying works from another.