While all languages naturally change over time, and English is no exception, some dramatic changes have been induced or encouraged by major historical events as well. The following table presents some of the major influences and developments in the history of English. The first section presents some of the major influences and developments in the external history of English- that is, factors such as conquest of English speakers by speakers of other languages; intellectual attitudes towards languages; social, religious, and political changes, and so on, which affect how a language changes. English has been influence by other languages throughout its development and has borrowed a great many vocabulary items, samples of which are listed in parentheses following the events that started the new wave of borrowing. The secone section mentions some of the major landmarks in the internal history of English- that is, the actual changes in the language itself which have been influenced by outside events.


Pre English Stage:

Dates: ??? B.C.
Events: Settlement of British Isles by Celts
Language Influence: Celtic--In London, Dover, Avon, Cornwall

Dates: 55 B.C.
Events: Beginning of Roman Raids
Language Influence: Latin

Dates: 43 A.D.
Events: Roman occupation of 'Brittania'
Language influence: Latin

Dates: Early 5th century
Events: Romans leave British Isles

Dates: 449 A.D.
Events: Germanic tribes defeat the Celts
Language Influence: Germanic

Dates: ca. 600 A.D.
Events: England is converted to Christianity. (borrowings: abbot, altar, cap, chalice, hymn, relic, sock, beet, pear, cook, rue, school, verse.)
Language Influence: Latin

Old English Stage (450-1100)

Dates: ca. 750 A.D.
Events: Beowulf writings were composed. (only extant manuscript written ca. 1000)

Dates: 9th-11th century
Events: Invasions by Scandinavians (borrowings: birth, sky, trust, take, skirt, disk, dike; simplified pronoun system)
Language Influence: Scandinavian

Date: 1066 A.D.
Events: Battle of Hastings- Norman Conquest (borrowings: court, battle, nation, enemy, crime, justice, beef, pork, veal, mutton, charity, miracle.)
Language Influence: French

Middle English Stage (1100-1450)

Dates: ca. 1200 A.D.
Events: Normandy and England are separated

Dates: 13th-14th centuries
Events: Growing sense of Englishness

Dates: 1340-1450
Events: Chaucer

Dates: 1337-1450
Events: Hundred Year's War

Early Modern English Stage (1450-1700)

Dates: 1476
Events: First English book is published; spelling is eventually standardized

Dates: 1564-1616
Events: Shakespeare (borrowings: anachronism, allusion, atmosphere, capsule, dexterity, halo, agile, external, insane, adapt, erupt, exist, extinguish)
Language Influence: Latin and Greek

Modern English (1700-present)

Dates: 16th-19th centuries
Events: Imperialism Language Influence: Various Languages (Indian, Native American, African, etc.)

Dates: 19th-20th centuries
Events: Development of American English. Scientific and Industrial Revolution
Language Influence: Technical Vocabularies


Era: Proto-European to Germanic
Events: Grimm's Law

Era: Old English to Middle English
Events: Loss of /X/, Adoption of /zh/, Allophonic variants {f}/{v}, {th}/{ð}, {s}/{z}, {ng}/{n} become phonemic
Vowel reduction and subsequent loss of final schwa in unstressed syllable lead to loss of case endings, more rigid word order, greater use of prepositions.

Era: Middle English to Early Modern English (1300-1600)
Events: Great Vowel Shift, Simplification of some initial consonant sequences: /kn/ > /n/ (knee), /hl/ > /l/ (hlaf > loaf); /hr/ > /r/ (hring > ring); /wr/ > /r/ ( wrong).

From The Language Files from the Department of Linguistics at Ohio State University.