Timeline of English Language

Note: this site is not giving legal advice, simply organizing information from various classes and texts. If you need legal advice consult your lawyer.

Timeline of English Language

* BCE (Before Current Era)
* BNQ (Before Norman Conquest: 0-1066 C.E.)
* BDC (Before Death of Chaucer: 1066-c.1400 C.E.)
* ADC (After Death of Chaucer: after about 1400 C.E.)

BCE (Before Current Era)

4th-3rd millennium B.C.E.
"An agricultural people originating in southeastern Europe is believed to have spoken a language which scholars consider the original Indo-European." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer]

3rd millennium B.C.E.
Indo-European speakers moved into central Europe. Later series of migrations to the Mediterranean and to Northern Europe.

1st millennium B.C.E.
Germanic speakers separate out from the original Indo-Europeans.

BNQ (Before Norman Conquest: 0-1066 C.E.)

5th-7th centuries C.E.
Germanic-speaking groups (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) raid and then settle in the British Isles, dispersing the Celts.

Late 7th centuries C.E.
Age of Caedmon, Bede, and growth of Northumbrian monasteries and culture.

Late 9th centuries C.E.
King Alfred (871-899) established power of West Saxons over Anglo-Saxon England. Schools and scriptoria founded for teaching and writing Old English. Latin texts translated into old English.

Late 10th to early 11th centuries C.E.
Benedictine monastic revival of Anglo-Saxon England. Bishop Aelfric and others produced sermons in Old English. Anglo-Saxon schools taught in English and Latin.

About 1000 C.E.
Beowulf manuscript, the oldest significant and long poem in English.

BDC (Before Death of Chaucer: 1066-c.1400 C.E.)

1066 C.E.
Norman (North French) invasion led by William the Conqueror; defeat of the Anglo-Saxons Traditional demarcation of Old English and Middle English.

1087
Death of William the Conqueror.

1154
Old English ending: End of sustained writing of Old English prose in England, with last entry in the Peterborough Chronicle.

c. 1200
Middle English. Probable composition of earliest poetry in Middle English: The Owl and the Nightingale, etc.

1258
First official text in English since the Conquest is a translation of a French-original proclamation of Henry III.

1322
William Langland (b.): author of Piers Plowman, most important poem of the Alliterative Revival.

1327-77
Reign of Edward III.

1337
Start of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the French.

1345
Geoffrey Chaucer (b.).

1346
Battle of Crécy.

1348
Black Death.

1352
Wynnere and Wastoure, another important poem of the Alliterative Revival.

1356
Battle of Poitiers: The Black Prince (heir to the throne of England) defeated (as part of the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453) the French King John in Western France.

1356 (approx.)
Mandeville's Travels (a source for Purity, probably by the Gawain poet).

1360
Boccaccio's Olympia (a source for Pearl, probably by the Gawain poet).

1360 (approx.)
Alliterative Morte Darthur, one of the last Arthurian romances in English.

1360-1390 (approx.)
the Gawain Poet flourished.

1362
First address to English Parliament in English.
First version (the 'B-text') of William Langland's Piers Plowman.

1370 (approx.)
Chaucer's first important work, The Book of the Duchess.

1376
Death of the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III.

1377
'B-text' of William Langland's Piers Plowman (parts of which may echo passages in Patience, probably by the Gawain poet).

1377-1399
Reign of Richard II.

1380s
Middle English. John Wycliffe supervises translation of the Bible into Middle English.

1381
Peasant's Revolt.

1385
Wyclif Bible.

1385 (approx.)
Chaucer's longest and most important narrative poem, Troilus and Criseyde.

1385-1400
Chaucer composed Canterbury Tales.

1395 (approx.)
'C-text' of William Langland's Piers Plowman.

1399-1413
Reign of Henry IV.

1400 (approx.)
Date of the Gawain Poet (elsewhere called the Pearl-poet) manuscript: "The manuscript itself, judging from the scribal handwriting, was copied not later than 1400" Moorman [p.33].

c. 1400
Death of Chaucer.

ADC (After Death of Chaucer: after about 1400 C.E.)

1417
Royal clerks use English for official writing.

1423
Parliaments records almost all kept in English.

1440s
Approximate start of the Great Vowel Shift (1440s-1550s).

1453
End of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the French.

1475
William Caxton begins printing books in English.

1490
William Caxton's Eneados. He reflects on language change and dialect variations (in his preface).

1526
William Tyndale's translation of the Bible into English published in Geneva (Switzerland).

1550s
Approximate end of the bulk of the Great Vowel Shift (1440s-1550s).

1607
America: Jamestown Colony established in North America.

1609
Unauthorized publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets.

1611
Publication of the King James Bible.

1616
Death of Shakespeare.

1607
America: Jamestown Colony established in Virginia.

1620
America: Pilgrims land at Plymouth.

1624
First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works.

1644
America: English seize New Amsterdam (from the Dutch) and rename it New York.

mid-17th century
Africa: English and Dutch settlers colonize South Africa.

1747
Samuel Johnson publishes The Plan of a Dictionary.

1755
Samuel Johnson publishes the first edition of his two-volume Dictionary. It defines language use and dictionary making in England and America.

1761
Joseph Priestly publishes the first edition of his Rudiments of English Grammar. It defines language use and dictionary making in England and America.

1762
Robert Lowth publishes the first edition of his Principles of English Grammar. It defines language use and dictionary making in England and America.

1781
John Witherspoon coins the term "Americanism".

1783
Noah Webster published his first edition of Grammatical Institute of the English Language.

mid- and last-18th century
Australia: Released and escaped convicts colonize Australia.

1799
India: Sir William Jones inaugurated the study of Indo-European, announcing discovery of similarities among Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Germanic, and Celtic languages.

1822
Germany: Jakob Grimm publishes relationships of consonants in Germanic and non-Germanic Indo-European languages. [Later known as Grimm's Laws.]

1826
America: Death of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States of America. Author of Declaration of Independence. Studied the history of the English language, especially Old English.

1828
America: Publication of first edition of Noah Webster's American Dictionary.

1855
America: Publication of first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

1857
India: Great Mutiny; direct imperial rule established by Britain.

1863
America: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

1888-1933
Publication of the New English Dictionary later called the Oxford English Dictionary.

1881
America: Publication of first volume of Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris.

1883
America: Publication of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

1905
Denmark: Publication of The Growth and Structure of the English Language by Otto Jespersen.

1919
America: First edition of H.L. Mencken's The American Language.

1924
America: Publication of Language by Edward Sapir.

1933
America: Publication of Language by Leonard Bloomfield.

1940s
America: Benjamin Lee Whorf's work on Native American languages and linguistic theory.

1957
America: Publication of Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky: revolutionized the theoretical and (eventually) the political study of not only language but also culture and the mind.

Possible Cause of the Great Vowel Shift

Looking at the above time-chart, I devised the following cunning explanation of the Great Vowel Shift and the reversion to English (from Norman French) as the primary language of power in England.

The solution is: The Hundred Years War.

Consider some dates:

1337 Start of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the French.
This would escalate anti-French feeling in England. French, which had been the "prestige language" of court and culture, gradually becomes disdained, even among the upperclass.
1417 Royal clerks use English for official writing.
Camel's nose enters the tent of the "prestige language".
1423 Parliaments records almost all kept in English.
Camel's butt is now in tent and knocking over the center pole.
1440s Approximate start of the Great Vowel Shift (1440s-1550s).
With the increased prestige of English and the ongoing pissed-offness at the French, the English (prone to mock accents as we have seen in Chaucer et al.) disdain the sound (characterised by the vowels, as in current mocking of accents) of the French.
1453 End of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the French.
1475 William Caxton begins printing books in English.
1550s Approximate end of the bulk of the Great Vowel Shift (1440s-1550s).
English now has a significantly different sound from (a) continental languages and (b) the version of English that was Conquered by William I in 1066. i.e. the "new" English shakes off the old image and consolidates its prestige position.