Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Overview for "Linguistics"

Begin End Event Description Keywords
449 1066

Old English Period

The Old English Period is a convenient division of English history into a larger category. It takes its name from the language that was spoken during that time in England – Old English, the language(s) that developed from the Germanic language(s) spoken by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. It is used to distinguish linguistic, literary and historical eras.
Linguistics, Old English Period
600 800


As a result of Christianisation, a language contact situation with Latin occurred. Latin was the lingua franca of the church, therefore all texts and sermons were in Latin. It was primarily written, therefore the influence was on a higher register and in the areas of education and religion.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Religious, Old English Period
793 1042

Old Norse

From Viking invasions up until the end of the reign of the Danish Kings, Old English was influenced by Old Norse. This influence began several decades after the first Viking attack on Lindisfarne, when the Vikings returned for new raids and eventually decided to settle in England. Eventually, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings were in such close contact that the Old Norse language had a significant impact on Old English.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Vikings, Old English Period
900 1300

Typological Change

In the typological change, English changed from a synthetic, highly inflectional, to an analytic language that relies on a stricter word order. The change was likely caused as a result of language contact with Old Norse, as Old English and Old Norse had similar roots but different inflections.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period, Old English Period
1066 1500

Middle English Period

The Middle English Period is another commonly used division of English history into a larger category. In the ME Period, English had already evolved into a more analytic language, probably as a result of Old Norse contact. During this period, it was heavily influenced by French. Like OE, the term is used to distinguish linguistic, literary and historical eras.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Norman Conquest
1066 1154

Norman French

As a result of the Norman Conquest, French became the official language of government. Though English survived, it was heavily influenced and adopted a large amount of French vocabulary. The influence happened on a higher register, in the language of government, medicine, fashion, aristocracy, art and education.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period, Norman Conquest
1154 1413

Central French

With the reign of the Plantagenets, English came into contact with Central French. Though English was previously influenced by another variety of French, there are a few lexical doublets that resulted from this contact situation. See also Norman French to learn more.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period
1400 1800

The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift is a systematic sound shift in which all long stressed vowels were raised to higher positions, and those which could not be raised became diphthongs. As a result of the GVS, and the process of standardisation that began simultaneously, there is now a difference between spelling and pronunciation in English. The first phase of the change was nearly completed by 1500 and the last stages of the Great Vowel Shift were completed by 1800.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Standardisation, Early Modern English Period
1417 -

English becomes official language

Since the Norman Conquest, French had been the official language in England. However, when Henry V became king, he made English the official language again. Henceforth, the parliament was held in English and the royal Chancery wrote in English as well, spreading the London variety.
Linguistics, Standardisation, Middle English Period
1476 -

William Caxton's Printing Press

William Caxton brought the printing press from Germany to Westminster. The introduction of the first printing press enhanced the use of a supra-regional standard form of the language and standardisation began. Printed books from London became available all over the country, and with their distribution, a written standard was further established. Thus, while the Norman Conquest from 1066 and its consequences marks the beginning, Caxton's printing press at Westminster denotes roughly the end of the Middle English period.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Standardisation
1500 1600

Latin, Greek, Italian

The English Renaissance caused a renewed interest in classical languages and a flourish in culture, but it also caused another wave of language contact for the English language. Again, Latin was a popular source for new words, particularly in the field of religion and science. But many words were also adopted from Greek (also in the field of science) and from Italian (primarily in the field of architecture).
Linguistics, Early Modern English Period, Language Contact
1500 1750

The Early Modern English Period

The Early Modern English Period describes a linguistic, historical and literary period. By 1500, English had already evolved to resemble Modern English more closely, though is still retained some inflections that were lost in Modern English. The period is marked by standardisation as a result of the printing press, renewed Latin influence during the Renaissance and the ongoing process of the Great Vowel Shift.
Linguistics, Standardisation, Early Modern English Period, Language Contact
1712 -

Swift and Defoe's Language Academy

Many writers of the 16th and 17th complained about the state of the English language, as it had became such a mess due to The Great Vowel Shift and numerous Language Contact situations. This idea came to its peak in 1712, when Jonathan Swift published his Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue. But as you might have guessed, there has never been a successful reform of the English language.
Linguistics, Early Modern English Period, Standardisation
1755 -

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary is the first and most important dictionary of the English language, which played an important role in the standardisation of the English language. With the publication of the two-volume dictionary in 1755, he laid the foundation to all later historical lexicography.
Linguistics, Standardisation