History of the English Language

 Minna Sundberg
Minna Sundberg

This beautiful graphic shows that English extends far from any Anglo Saxon and Romance language roots into Indo-European, Finnish and Germanic languages. There are over 400 languages in total that have been melded together to make the modern English that we speak today.

What an incredible accomplishment by Finnish-Swedish comic artist Minna Sundberg. The size of each of the branches directly relates to the size of the population as of the year 0. Please take the time to explore this amazing work which packs a huge quantity of information into a well composed and meaningful, not to mention beautiful presentation. Once you start noticing the details, I bet that there is a language or two you may not have heard of.  I am not up on my ancient languages to the same extent as Minna, so  there a few that went right over my head. More research to do …

Many foreign words entered into common parlance as either Cant ( the secret argot of Gypsies, rogues and travellers ), as well as Slang – especially words surrounding different occupations and technologies. Minna mentions Skalds, who are native singers and story tellers who kept oral history alive. In other cultures, the Skalds were related to travelling bards or minstrels, though Skalds were more scholarly and tended to be attached to a society. All would have access to different populations, languages and oral histories, which they passed among themselves. In this way they could have easily influenced diverse populations with new slang in songs and stories. Passing through  new villages and dropping off words at each one. Many of the etymology sources I have read say early in the history of the English language, Slang was influenced by the arts: including drama, storytelling and song.

Now our vocabularies are a much stronger polyglot of words as our country is a strong polyglot of people. It makes sense in a country that welcomes everyone, that all types of words would find a home.

As a constant feature on this site, I am tracking down the etymology of many words that entered the language in unusual ways. Sometimes they continue to have the same definitions, as in bamboozle, which meant the exact same thing in Gypsy Cant as it does today, but obfuscate didn’t mean hidden. In 1859, it was considered gutter Slang. If you were obfuscated you were drunk. How it got from the first definition to the second is something I’m looking into.

You can find my Crazy Word History Here

Have fun, Cheers, M.