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Geschichte der englischen Sprache

Zusammenfassung des “Peacock Chit-Chat” Podcast vom 12. November 2020 auf Instagram. Die Show mit den ‚English Experts‘ Marietta V. Donovan und Sinead Gallagher ist eine unterhaltsame Talk Show für Englischlernende & Anglophile. In dieser Sendung geht es um die Geschichte der englischen Sprache.

Summary of the “Peacock Chit-Chat” podcast on Instagram, 12th November 2020. This broadcast with ‚English Experts‘ Marietta V. Donovan & Sinead Gallgher is an entertaining talk show for English learners & Anglophiles. In this show we focus on the history of English as well as on its foreign language influences.


Die Geschichte der englischen Sprache wird in vier Stufen unterteilt, die sich wie folgt zeitlich einordnen lassen: 

  1. Altenglisch oder Angelsächsisch / Old English or Anglo-Saxon (450 – 1100)
  2. Mittelenglisch / Middle English (1100 – etwa 1500)
  3. Frühneuenglisch /  Early Modern English (1500 – etwa 1700)
  4. Neuenglisch / Modern English (1700 – heute)
  1. Old English (449 – 1066)

The Old English language (also called Anglo-Saxon) dates back to 449 A.D. The Celts had been living in England when the Romans invaded. They did not conquer the Celts until 43 A.D. and Latin never overtook the Celtic language. 

The Romans left England in 410 as the Roman Empire was collapsing. The Celts remained in Britain. Then the Germanic tribes from the present-day area of Denmark & North Germany arrived. The four main tribes were the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. These tribes set up seven kingdoms.. The Celts moved north to Scotland, west to Ireland and south to France, leaving the main area of Britain. The Germanic tribes were exposed to Latin before they invaded England, so the languages they spoke did have some Latin influence. The Old English vocabulary was almost purely Germanic. 

Some examples: (brōðor, sweostor, mōdor, dohtor, sunu, arm, findan, macian, steorfan, singan).

  1. Middle English (1066 – 1500)

The period of Middle English begins with the Norman invasion of 1066. William, Duke of Normandy  invaded England, killed King Harold and crowned himself king during the famous Battle of Hastings. Yet William spoke only French. As a result, the upper class in England began to speak French while the lower classes spoke English, although there is evidence that many people of the lower classes were forced to speak French. 

Although the popularity of French was decreasing by the 15th century, several words (around 10,000) were borrowed into English between 1250 and 1500. Nearly 30% of English words are believed to be of French origin.

Many of the words were related to government, law, social life and learning.  Furthermore, the legal system retained parts of French word order (the adjective following the noun) in such terms as fee simple, attorney general and accounts payable.

  1. Early Modern English (1500 – 1700)

William Caxton introduced the printing press to England in 1476 and the East Midland dialect (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonhire, Rutland) became the literary standard of English. Ten thousand words were added to English as writers created new words by using Greek and Latin affixes.

4. Beginnings of Modern English (since 1700)

In England, several changes to English had occurred since 1700.  An increase in the use of the progressive tenses; and a rise in class consciousness about speech (Received Pronunciation.) Since 1900, a very large amount of vocabulary words has been added to English in a relatively short period.


A loanword is the term given to a word which is directly borrowed from another language and used in the recipient language without being translated first. One of the reasons why English is such a difficult language to learn (and why its spellings are so inconsistent!) is because the language is full of loanwords.


“In times of trouble I can feel the WELTSCHMERZ. But then again I am also experiencing some SCHADENFREUDE over Trump’s election loss. I don’t think Mr. Trump has been able to capture the ZEITGEIST of his people. It’s just all a KATZENJAMMER!!” (Marietta)


The French language is believed to be a high contributor to English, as nearly 30% of English words are believed to be of French origin. Legal, military, political terminology, words for meat of an animal, words referring to foods are mostly inspired from French.

As follows a collection of French words commonly used today in both French and English language, with the same meaning:

carte blanche (kahr-tuh blahn-sh)
lit. ‘white card’, as in a blank check), usually meaning granting unlimited authority. In French, generally used with the verb ‘donner’(to give).

cliché (klee-sheh)
The term used to refer to a printer’s block used to reproduce type (now stereotype.

crème de la crème (kraym duh lah kraym)
lit. ‘cream of the cream’. A sophisticated, classy synonym in French is the latin expression ‘le nec plus ultra’ (Deutsch: Null plus Ultra)

cul-de-sac (kew-duh-sahk)
Dating from 14th century French, lit. ‘bottom of sack’, meaning a dead end (street).

déjà vu (deh-zhah vew)
lit. “already seen”. In French, generally used with ‘une impression de’ (a feeling of).

faux pas (foh pah)
lit. “false step”, an expression describing not following the etiquette. In French it is used with the verb ‘faire’ (un faux-pas).

liaison (f.) (lyay-soh(n)
In French it means a ‘bond’, which can describe several things, like a relationship, an affair, a link, a connection, or a chemical bond.  “Liaisons Dangereuses” (famous musical & film)

par excellence (pahr ayk-seh-lah(n)-s(uh))
lit. ‘by excellence’, meaning the ultimate or quintessential.

savoir-faire (sah-vwahr fayr)
lit. ‘know do’; meaning ‘know how’, to describe the competence or the craft of a person or a group of persons.

vis-à-vis (vee-zah-vee)lit. ‘face to face’. Meaning ‘regarding’ or ‘concerning’. In French, it is then followed by ‘de’  It is also a real estate term (lack of privacy because of windows in neighbours’ sight).

Et voilà ! (eh vwah-lah)
lit. ‘see there’; in French, it is used to announce something is completed or done with success, with a feeling of satisfaction or pride, in front of others.

More French words:

Cabaret, Champagne, Beret, Chauffeur, Cadet, Chic, Connoisseur, Detour (Umweg, Umleitung), Fiance, facade, Homage, Insult, Illusion, Metabolism, Optimism, Rendez-Vous, Tete-a-tete, Omelette, Laissez-faire (leave things to take their course), Massage, menu, magnificent, novel, poetic, reservoir, restaurant, rich, salad, sabotage, soup, television, uniform, vinaigrette, tournament, silhouette, garage, premiere, valid, risque.

Indian Languages

Indian languages (Hindi, Urdu, Tamil) contributed to English in many ways. Various words related to culture, mathematical terminologies, and others have originated from the colonial era:


Bungalow (from bangla), Shampoo (from champo), cushy (from khusy), Nirvana, pyjamas, jungle, shawl and many more . . . 


English is a language, which contains many words borrowed from languages all over the world ̶ and also from German respectively. When thinking of German borrowings in English, one might come up with a few obvious ones, as for example Kindergarten, sauerkraut and rucksack, but there are many more German loanwords 

German loanwords:

Wunderkind (child prodigy)  (Used in English since 1883)

Wanderlust (‘Wanderlust’, literally ‘a desire for wandering’, has been used in English since 1902.)

Angst (fear) (The word angst was introduced into English from the Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch word angst and the German word Angst. It is attested since the 19th century in English translations of the works of Soeren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher) and Siegmund Freud. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil.

Zeitgeist (Spirit of the time) (used in English since 1848) : is a concept from eighteenth- to nineteenth-century German philosophy meaning „spirit of the age“. Now the term is usually associated with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel contrasting with Hegel’s use of VOLKSGEIST“ national spirit“ and  WELTGEIST „world-spirit“, but its coinage and popularisation precedes Hegel, and is mostly due to Herder and Goethe.

Doppelganger = Doppelgänger (double) In 1796, German writer Johann Paul Richter, who wrote under the pseudonym Jean Paul, coined the word Doppelgänger 

Poltergeist  (poltern = to rumble) ‘Poltergeist’ has been used in English since 1838. It comes from ‘poltern’ meaning ‘make noise’ or ‘rattle’ and ‘geist’ meaning ‘ghost’

Bauhaus(architecture)   (Bau = construction, building)

Blitzkrieg (military) (During the Invasion of Poland, Western journalists adopted the term blitzkrieg to describe this form of armoured warfare. The term had appeared in 1935, in a German military periodical Deutsche Wehr (German Defence), in connection to quick or lightning warfare.

Sauerkraut (Although „sauerkraut“ is a German word, the dish did not originate in Germany. It took root mostly in Central and Eastern European cuisines, but also in other countries including the Netherlands, where it is known as zuurkool, and France, where the name became choucroute)

Gesundheit (Bless you in the US – East Coast) (Jewish / Jiddish) Has been used in English since 1914

Schadenfreude (enjoyment of other’s misfortune) The word ‘schadenfreude’ describes the feeling of pleasure which is derived from someone else’s misfortune. The literal translation of the word is ‘damage-joy’. It has been used in English since 1922. 

Katzenjammer ( . . . literally meaning „cat’s wail“. English speakers borrowed the word for their hangovers (and other distressful inner states) in the 19th century. In fact, the German language uses the term „Kater“ (tomcat) for this situation.

Katzenjammer Kids „spectacularly naughty children“ is from the title of the popular newspaper comic strip (based on the German Max und Moritz stories by Wilhelm Busch) first drawn by German-born U.S. comic strip artist Rudolph Dirks (1877-1968) in 1897 for the „New York Journal.“ Hence, katzenjammer in the sense „any unpleasant reaction“ (1897).

Leitmotiv (motif or theme associated throughout a music drama with a particular person, situation, or idea. a unifying or dominant motif; a recurrent theme) 

Zugzwang (chess) (The word comes from German Zug ‚move‘ + Zwang ‚compulsion‘, so that Zugzwang means ‚being forced to make a move‘. Originally the term was used interchangeably with the term ‚zugpflicht ‚obligation to make a move‘ as a general game rule.

Hinterland (Hinterland is a German word meaning „the land behind“ (a city, a port, or similar). The term’s use in English was first documented by geographer George Chisholm in his Handbook of Commercial Geography (1888). 

Hinterland — Y Gwyll (Welsh for ‚The Dusk‘) in the original Welsh-language version — is a Welsh police detective drama series broadcast in the Welsh language on Welsh TV. 

Weltschmerz  (from the German, literally world-pain, also world weariness, is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul in his 1827 novel, Selina.In its original meaning in the Deutsches Wörterbuch by Brothers Grimm, it denotes a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world (tiefe Traurigkeit über die Unzulänglichkeit der Welt). 

This kind of world view was widespread among several romantic authors such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, François-René de Chateaubriand, Mikhail Lermontov, Hermann Hesse and Heinrich Heine.

Bretzel (Used in English since 1851, ‘pretzel’ comes from the German ‘prezel’ or ‘brezel’. The word derives from the Medieval Latin ‘brachitella’ which is also the source of the Italian word ‘bracciatella’ (a type of cake). 

Kitsch (is a Yiddish word just like: glitch, nosh, shpiel, gesundheit, gewalt, glück) Yiddish forms a big chunk of our vocabulary as well, especially in America)

Interesting fact:

The Danish word for „thanks“ is tak. In Scotland and upper England it was common to drop the k at the end because of the way words were pronounced during the time of Old English and Middle English. Hence the slang word „ta“ which should actually be pronounced „TA-k“ but over time became „ta“.


Thanks for sharing this with your family & friends. The link to our show: www.instagram.com/peacock_school/


Marietta Donovan & Sinead Gallagher

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