Timeline for the History of the English Language

5000 B.C.: Neolithic Man; Indo-European beginnings.

4400-4200 B.C.: First wave of Kurgans migrate.

3400-3200 B.C.: Second wave of migration; nomadic imperialism or agricultural expansion?

3000-2800 B.C.: Third Wave; Indo-Europeans reach England; distinct Indo-European language ending.

2500-2300 B.C.: Climax of Indo-European expansion; Celts reach England and Ireland.

2000-1200 B.C.: Hittites (mentioned in the Old Testament); Bronze Age; Celts expanding; Phoenicians dominate East Mediterranean.

2000 B.C.: Greeks invaded north; Stone Age ends in England.

1700-1600 B.C.: Celts in Europe and Britain

1500 B.C.: Sanscrit in India; Rig Veda.

1000 B.C.: Avesta (Iranian) in Persia.

700/800 B.C.: Iliad and Odyssey of Homer.

600 B.C.: Origins of Buddhism.

522 B.C.: Darius in Persia.

500 B.C.: Iron Age.

499-400 B.C.: Beginning of Germanic sound shift (Grimm's Law).

495-426 B.C.: Greek age of Pericles.

4th c. B.C.: Panini, classical Sanscrit literature.

323-336 B.C.: Alexander the Great

55 B.C.: Romans had pushed Celts north; Julius Caesar invades Britannia.

MERIDIAN OF TIME: Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem of Judea.

A.D. 43: Claudius conquers Britannia; Roman occupation.

A.D. 61: Uprising of Celts against Romans; thousands massacred.

A.D. 200: Christianity making progress in Europe; growing use of Latin.

A.D. 300: Gothic; principle language of East Germanic.

A.D. 311-383: Ulfilas, missionary to the Goths translates New Testament into Gothic, earliest record in a Germanic language.

A.D. 314: Bishops at Church in Gaul; peaceful conditions.

A.D. 410: Roman troops withdraw from Britannia; Latin use declines.

A.D. 449: Vortigern, Celtic leader had invited the Germanic Jutes to come over and fight the Picts and Scots in Britain; Jutes turn on the Celts. Germanic invasion results from Celtic invitation.

A.D. 450 - 1150. Old English period.

A.D. 477: Saxons invade south coast, found Sussex.

A.D. 495: Saxons settle in the west, Wessex.

A.D. 547: Angles settle on the east coast, East Anglia, north of Humber River.

A.D. 597: St. Augustine brings Christianity to England; Canterbury becomes a church center.

A.D. 600: High German sound shift; Low countries with Germanic languages (Angles, Saxons, etc.) not affected.

A.D. 601: King of Kent is called Rex Anglorum, King of England; England is called Anglia, Angleland, etc.

A.D. 625: Ethelberga (Tata) of Kent, a Christian, marries King Edwin of Northumbria. Paulinus teaches Edwin the gospel; Edwin finally baptized in 627.

A.D. 669: Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex. Ecclesiastical learning movement under Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek Bishop; Latin becomes prominent in monasteries; schools set up in churches.

A.D. 700: Earliest written records of dialect; Beowulf composed; Northumbria rules.

A.D. 731: Bede completes Ecclesiastical History.

A.D. 782: Bede's spiritual grandchild, Alcuin, becomes head of Palace School.

A.D. 787: The first three Scandinavian ships arrive, and the Danes kill the reeve who welcomes them; first period of Danish attacks.

A.D. 793: Benedictine Reform begins to clean up Church corruption. Lindis Farme is burnt in Danish invasion.

A.D. 794: Sacking of Jarrow by Danes; Northumbria ravaged by the heathen.

A.D. 800: Cynewulf writes religious poems; England holds intellectual leadership in Europe.

A.D. 802-839: Egbert is lord of Wessex; Wessex leads England.

A.D. 850-878: Second period of Danish attacks.

A.D. 866: Danes plunder East Anglia; 867, the Danes capture York; 869, King Edmund of East Anglia dies.

A.D. 871-889: Alfred the Great is king of England; Alfred, the founder of English prose, realizes that learning will make England great; sets up record-keepers in various places to write the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Wessex attains high degree of prosperity; Latin revival.

A.D. 874: Iceland colonized by Norwegians.

A.D. 878-1042: Danish in England.

A.D. 900-925: reign of Edward the Elder.

A.D. 925-939: reign of Athelston.

A.D. 955-959: reign of Eadwig.

A.D. 959-975: reign of Edgar.

A.D. 975-978: reign of Edgar's son Edward; murdered in 978.

A.D. 978-1002: reign of Aethelred the Unready (`Noble Counselor the Un-Counselor').

A.D. 991-1014: Olaf, king of Norway, attacks England in Battle of Maldon; Olaf and Svein, king of Denmark, invade England; English pay tributes to stop attacks.

1002: AEthelred the Unready, king of England, is married to a Norman woman; is evicted from England by the Danes; flees to brother-in-law in Normandy; son Edward born in Normandy.

1016-1034: Cnut of Denmark, son of Svain, rules Scandinavia and England.

1042-1066: Danish line of English kings dies out; Edward the Confessor, son of AEthelred and a Norman mother, regains throne of England; speaks French; has Godwin, an influential earl, as advisor; strong French court; no heir.

1066: English people reject William Duke of Normandy's claim to the throne after Edward dies; they elect Godwin's son Harold to throne. William, second cousin of Edward, conquers England at the Battle of Hastings and crowned king on Christmas Day. Harold dies after being shot in the eye with an arrow.

1066-1087: William burns and pillages southern England to consolidate power; English nobles and clergy killed. Has three sons: Robert, William Rufus, Henry; daughter Adela is a patron of poets.

1087-1100: Robert inherits Normandy; William Rufus inherits England but dies mysteriously in hunting accident.

1100-1135: Henry throws Robert in jail and takes over England and Normandy when William Rufus dies in 1100. Henry I marries English wife, Mathilda, then marries French Adelaide of Louvain; both wives like poets.

1135-1154: Stephen, son of Henry I, comes to the throne; marries English wife and spends most of his time in England; uses French in the English courts.

A.D. 1150-1500: Middle English period; grammar shifts from inflected to analytic; much OE vocabulary lost; a third of strong verbs lost; weak verbs more numerous; leveling of noun and adjective inflections; loss of dual number.

1150-1250: Period of Religious Record. Some religious texts written in English. Anglo-Saxon chronicle discontinued in 1154.

1154-1189: Henry II, son of Stephen, takes throne; marries Elinor of Aquitaine, an accomplished French woman; controls 2/3 of France (see WB p. 49); spends 2/3 of his reign in France.

1189-1200(?): Richard I, the Lion-hearted, takes throne; surrounded by foreigners; doesn't know English; lives in England only a few months; goes on Crusades; imprisoned in Germany on the way home and has to be ransomed; cult of the Virgin and chivalric code originates among the women that the Crusaders left behind.

1200: book of gospel passages written in English; "s" becomes standard plural in northern England.

1200(?)-1216: King John (of Robin Hood fame), brother of Richard I and Duke of Normandy, takes over the throne; steals Hugh of Lusignan's fiance, Isabel of Anjouleme; he then attacks Lusignans to forestall revenge; King Phillip of France summons him to court; he refuses as King of England; loses Normandy to Phillip in 1204.

1215: Magna Carta signed.

1216-1272: Reign of Henry III; marries French woman, Elenore of Province in 1236; brings many French people and influences to England. Three waves of French influence: 1233, 1236, 1246.

1225: Old French borrowed verb gentle recorded.

1230: term gentle woman introduced.

1244: King of France demands allegiance to France.

1250-1350: Period of Religious and Secular Literature in English; distinction between pre-1250 French borrowings (candle) and post-1250 borrowings (chandelier). English nobility no longer consider themselves to be French; French becoming a second language; French language learning books appear.

1258-1265: Provisions of Oxford written by Simon de Montfort in English and French, protesting foreigners; led to Baron's War and expulsion of foreigners from England.

1272: Henry III dies; flow of foreigners slows down.

1272-1307: Edward I, the Unifier, unifies England and established English as national language. Period of English nationalism.

1275: term gentle man recorded.

1300: term gentleness recorded; children of nobility speak English as a first language. Cursor Mundi written in English, signifies use of English in upper class.

1307-1337: Edward II; Proclamation written in French confirms privileges to the city of London in 1327 but has to be translated to English because many people cannot understand it.

1325: legends of Arthur and Merlin written down.

1330: adverb gently recorded.

1337-1376: Edward III; father of John of Gant, who is father of Henry IV. Edward III attempts to secure French throne.

1337-1453: Hundred Years War; French and English fight over Scotland. England loses French territories, gains national identity and Middle English language.

1340-1400: Chaucer.

1348-1350: Plague or Black Death kills 30% of population, hardest on lower class; lower class and English become more important.

1349: English in schools.

1350-1400: Period of Great Individual Writers in English: Chaucer, William Landland (Piers Plowman), John Wycliffe (Bible translation), and anonymous author of Sir Gawain.

1358: Mayor orders use of English in Parliament.

1362: Statute of Pleading mandates use of English in law courts; first English speech in Parliment.

1375: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

1376-1400: Richard II, nephew of Edward III, takes throne; resigns in 1400.

1380: first complete translation of Bible in English by Wycliffe.

1381: Peasants' Revolt: English-speaking working class people who survived Plague grow in economic importance.

1383: earliest known will in English.

1384: John Wycliffe is martyred for translating the Bible into English.

1385: English now used in schools.

1387: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

1400: English the language of business.

1400-1413: Henry IV seizes throne from Richard II; deposition letters in English. King of France refuses to recognize Henry.

1413-1422: Henry V, "Hal" in Shakespeare; promotes use of English; turning point in English writing. Henry leads English to victory at Agincourt in 1415.

1429: Joan of Arc helps the French win the Hundred Years War and is burned at the Stake by the English.

1422: Henry VI; wills of Henry IV, V, and VI in English.

1430: Towns translate documents to English.

1434: Alberti defends use of vernacular in Latin (BC 203).

1450: English commonly used in letters; London English becomes influential.

1461: Richard III; War of the Roses.

1461-1483: Edward IV, marries English wife.

1476: William Caxton introduces printing press to England; sets up his press in London; makes it possible to print thousands of copies of a book.

1489: French entirely disappears from Parliament records.

1490: Virgil's Aeneid translated and published in French and English (?).

A.D. 1500-1650: Spelling not yet standardized but need for uniform orthography becomes evident; spread of popular education; growth of social consciousness; rise of literacy in middle class; world trade develops commerce and communcation; vocabulary grows with word borrowing; translation of Latin literary works into English; Great Vowel Shift.

1531: Sir Thomas Elyot (tutor of Elizabeth I) writes The Governor, first education book printed in English.

1532-1534: Henry VIII's divorce; Anglican Reformation.

1534: Early translations from Greek by Sir Thomas Elyot.

1549: DuBellay's defense of the vernacular in French.

1549-1561: Opposition to "inkhorn" terms; Wilson's 1553 Art of Retorique objects to inkhornisms.

1558: Speller written for children.

1564-1616: Life of William Shakespeare, incredible vocabulary builder.

1565: Golding translates Caesar, Liva, Sallust, Tacitus.

1579: Plutarch translated by North.

1582: Establishment of the Italian Academy; Mulcaster's Elementarie, hard word dictionary.

1583: Sir Philip Sydney claims that English is equal to any tongue.

1589: Puttenham recognizes written English as being standard.

1595: Richard Carew's discourse on The Excellency of the English Tongue.

1604: Robert Cawdry's hard word dictionary.

1611: Authorized version of the Bible.

1616: Bullokar defends borrowing of words.

1635: Establishment of French Academy.

1649: Lord Cromwell's protectorate after execution of Charles I.

1650-1800: Ascertainment or fixing of the English language; by 1650 spelling more consistent.

1658: Edward Phillips New World of English Words.

1688: Reign of William and Mary; the "Glorious Revolution."

1697: Defoe proposes an English Academy in Essay Upon Project.

1712: Swift's Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue, proposes an English Academy.

1750: Doctrine of usage as language standard.

1755: Johnson's dictionary.

1761: Joseph Priestly publishes The Rudiments of English Grammar.

1776: Campbell's prescriptive Philosophy of Rhetoric.

1783-1785: Noah Webster publishes his American grammar, speller, and reader in the United States.

1789: Thirteen colonies unify into a nation.

1800-present. Later modern English.

1803: Louisiana Purcahse expands western U.S.

1816: First daily newspaper in England; first dictionary of Americanisms by John Pickering.

1820: Substitution of "you were" for "you was."

1828: Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language.

1840: Cheap postage; people could write more letters.

1857: Philological Society in London starts collecting words for a large English dictionary.

1858: Proposal announced for New English Dictionary (OED).

1884: Letter "A" of OED finished.

1895: Name Oxford English Dictionary chosen.

1900-1950: Life, Time, New York Times, etc. establish journalism standards in America.

1900: OED "A" to "H" published.

1906: U.S. simplified spelling board.

1913: Society for Pure English formed, delayed by war.

1922: First Council for English, U.S. and British.

1928: Final OED section published.

1960-1980: Black English vernacular studied intensively.


1758 Oct 16: Noah Webster born in Connecticut; taste for etymology becomes apparent as soon as he learns to read.

1772: Would take Latin Grammar into the field to study on breaks; his father put him under tutelege of Rev. Nathan Perkins.

1774 Sep: Entered Yale; interrupted by the Revolutionary War.

1778: Graduated from Yale.

1781: Worked on M.A. at Yale. Wrote dissertation "On the universal diffusion of literature as introductory to the universal diffusion of Christianity." Works as a school teacher in Sharon, Connecticut, conducts singing school at night. Tries careers in law and journalism also.

1782: Published spelling book; began working on grammar and reader; pioneer of copyright in U.S.

1785: Jacob Grimm born.

1786: Sir William Jones reads paper for the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, aasserting the relation of Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Germanic, and Celtic languages from an original Indo-European language.

1787 March: NW met Rebecca Greenleaf; initiated North American Philological Society; read Horne Tooke's Diversions of Purley, a new language theory that cited Saxon as the source of English and identified various action verbal particles as the roots of words in language.

1788 July 23: NW marched with the Philological Society in New York Grand Procession celebrating the adoption of the Constitution by ten states. One meber carries Tooke's book because Tooke had gone to prison in England for collecting donations for the Lexington-Concord orphans and widows in America.

1788 Sep 29: NW: "Have two teeth extracted, one by mistake -- this is hard indeed " (Ford I:235).

1789 Oct 26: NW and Rebecca Greenleaf married. Had flu the day before. "Much better. This day I became a husband. I have lived a long time a bachelor, something more than thirty one years. But I had no person to form a plan for me in early life and direct me to a profession . . . " (Ford I:246).

1790 Sep 27: NW received letter from Daniel George urging him to write a dictionary.

1791: Franz Bopp born.

1798: Samuel Johnson, Jr. (grand nephew of Samuel Johnson publishes first American dictionary for schools.

1800 June 4: NW published a plan for three dictionaries, for the counting house, for schools, for scholars. William Dutton of the New England Palladium disapproves of a "Columbian" dictionary and acidly suggests that NW christen it as "Noah's Ark."

1806: Published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.

1807: Published A Philosophical and Practical Grammar of the English Language fand a dictionary for schools. His daughters attend a religious revival given by Rev. Moses Stuart of the first Congregational Church of New Haven; they ask NW for counsel; he searches the Scriptures for unreasonable doctrines and instead "he accepted humbly and entusiastically the doctrine of the atonement, or redemption by Christ" (Ford II:35).

1808: Friedrich von Schlegel tries to establish Sanscrit as the parent of IE.

1816: Franz Bopp analyzes IE verbal systems.

1818: Rasmus Rask analyzes IE phonological changes; birth of philology as a science; philology > comparative historical linguistics.

1812 Sep: NW moved to Amherst, MA, to work on great dictionary and cut expenses. Helped establish Amherst Academy and Amherst College with Samuel Fowler Dickinson, ED's grandfather.

1822: NW moved back to New Haven. Jakob Grimm codifies consonant shifts in Germanic languages.

1823: NW earns LL.D. from Yale.

1824-1825: Goes to Europe for dictionary research.

1828 Nov: NW publishes first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language, the great dictionary for learned people.

1830: Emily Dickinson born in Amherst, MA. Attends Amherst Academy. NW's granddaughter and biographer, Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford is ED's school chum. ED later uses NW's 1844 dictionary for poetic composition.

1841: NW publishes a revised edition of the great ADEL but continues to expand and improve the dictionary.

1843: Death of NW; his heirs sell unbound copies of the 1841 ADEL to the Adams brothers in Amherst.

1844: Edward Dickinson, ED's father buys a copy of the 1844 ADEL reprint.

1847: Merriam Bros. publish the first Merriam-Webster dictionary, greatly revised.

1864: C.A.F Mahn overhauls the etymologies for the 1864 printing of the Merriam-Webster dictionary.


1709 Sep 18: Samuel Johnson born in Litchfield, Staffordshire, England.

1755: Samuel Johnson publishes A Dictionary of the English Language.

1758: Noah Webster born.

1828: Noah Webster publishes An American Dictionary of the English Language.

1830: Emily Dickinson born.

1837 Feb 7: James A.H. Murray born in Denholm, Scotland.

1841-1843: Webster's last editions and his death.

1857: Philological Society in London hears a paper "On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries"; starts collecting words for a large English dictionary.

1858: Proposal announced for New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (OED); four volumes of 1600 pages predicted. Herbert Coleridge first editor; keeps word slips in 54 pigeon holes.

1861: Coleridge dies of consumption, working on OED. F.J. Furnival becomes editor.

1877: James Murray invited to be editor.

1879: Murray signs contract with Clarendon Press as OED editor; builds Scriptorium of corrugated iron; works on OED for 38 years. Murray's motto from Charles Kingsley: "Prepare thy tools, God will find thee work."

1881: Murray needs 10,000 pages; publishers okay six volumes of 1400 pages = 8400 pages.

1884: Letter "A" of OED finished.

1895: Name Oxford English Dictionary chosen.

1900: OED "A" to "H" published.

1908: Murray knighted for OED work.

1915: Murray dies.

1928: Final OED section published: 10 volumes; 15,487 pages; 240,165 main words.

1933: Supplement volume published.

1990: OED second edition available in book form and on CD-ROM.

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Brigham Young University
Last Updated: Monday, September 6, 1999