The Story of English

The beginnings of the English language can be traced to two significant events. The first of these was the invasion of England by the barbaric Germanic tribes, namely the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the third and fourth centuries. They were heathens. They settled down in the island country and became tillers of the soil. Secondly, around AD 597, St Augustine came from Rome and began to convert the Jutes in Kent. Monks from Ireland also set up monasteries. This period of the first flowering of the language is called the Anglo-Saxon or the Old English period. At this time, in the already Roman-occupied England, Latin was used by the upper classes and the army. The introduction of Christianity brought in many new words such as abbot, altar, angel, priest, candle and hymn. The Anglo-Saxon tribes, however, were hunters and fierce sea-rovers by force of circumstance. Thus, the language contained a curious mix of Christian and pagan sentiments. Beowulf, an epic poem written during this period, tells the story of a powerful hero of the same name, who defeats evil monsters through courage and physical strength. The poem contains a pagan story with many passages of a distinctly Christian character. The court of Hrothgar, King of Denmark, is plagued by the dreadful monster Grendel, who comes out of the marshes to devour a warrior every night. Beowulf fights the monster, slays him and brings peace to the land.

There’s no joy from harp-play,
glee-wood’s gladness, no good hawk
swings through the hall now, no swift horse
tramps at the threshold.
(lines from Beowulf)
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