Going Places Educational Travel Blog - Why Is English So Weird?
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February 24, 2016

Why Is English So Weird?

educational travel language english


The English language originated from the Anglo-Saxon language brought to Britain by three Germanic tribes: the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. Their language combined with some Celtic and Latin words to create Old English. Although only one-percent of the words in the Oxford English Dictionary we know today are Anglo-Saxon survivors, those 4,500 words are the backbone of our English language. For example, FDR’s famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” uses only Anglo-Saxon words.

In 1066, the Duke of Normandy and the Normans invaded and conquered England. The new conquerors spoke French, and so French became the dominant language. In the 14th century, the English language took over Britain again, but with many French words added. This language came to be known as Middle English. Middle English was the language of the great poet Chaucer and was spoken from 1100-1500 AD. It underwent a major transformation during the Great Vowel Shift (1350-1600 AD), which resulted in a change in the pronunciation of all long vowels.

Early Modern English brought standard grammar and spelling, and in 1604 the first English Dictionary was published. Examples of early Modern English can be seen in anything written by Shakespeare. The Industrial Revolution and developing technology created a need for new words, and in 1800 Late Modern English took over, also adopting words from many other languages.


Have you ever thought about how strange the English language actually is? Have you noticed that tear and tier are pronounced the same way, but tear and tear sound different? Or that leadrhymes with read, but lead also rhymes with read? Why does “-gh” have different sounds in though and enough?

When Christian missionaries arrived in England in 600 AD, they brought the Roman alphabet with them. They encountered Germanic tribes, and were exposed to new sounds that Latin did not have. One of those sounds was “-gh,” which was agreed to be pronounced like you are clearing your throat.

Over the course of hundreds of years, word pronunciation continued to evolve. The “-gh” in enough changed to an “f” sound and disappeared completely from words like though. However, before the pronunciation changes were complete, the printing press was invented and words were printed with their original spellings. The French-speaking Normans also left their mark on the English language and the spelling of many words like beauty.

In the late 1500’s, some Renaissance scholars decided they would not stand for letting the roots of some words be forgotten. They started changing the spelling of words to bring back their origins, purposely added letters into words to connect them to their Latin or Greek roots. This gave them a fancier look and replaced their more sensible spellings. Fleme became phlegm andasma became asthma.

Today, American English is especially influential due to America’s dominance of cinema, popular music and the Internet. English is the most widely taught foreign language in the world. There are students all over the world trying to make sense of a language where comb, tomb and bomb don’t rhyme but pony and bologna do.



Free Worksheet Download



History of the English Language

Why Is English Spelling So Weird?



Category: For Teachers


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