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Non-native English speakers say that it’s extremely difficult to completely master the English language. And no wonder!  Today’s post in the brilliantly named blog, “Smitten by Britain” carries a marvellous graphic created by the Brighton (UK) School of Business and Management that explains part of the reason why English is so difficult to learn–the sheer number of words from many other cultures.

This graphic shows in broad strokes the influences on the English language of the various tribes and peoples who invaded England between 55 B.C. and the last invasion of England in 1066, as well as words that entered the English language through the far-flung British Empire.

Test yourself on your knowledge of typical English words:

Which invading tribes/peoples brought the following words into the English language?  Hint: the answers, not in chronological order, are: Normans; Vikings; the Roman army;  Angles/Saxons/Jutes/Friesians; and Roman missionaries.

1.  “wine  candle   wall”

2.  “earth  sleep  house  bake”

3.  “tower  mass  martyr  school”

4.   “freckle  egg  die  silver”

5.   “evidence  bacon  justice  accuse” 

Here are the answers, in the order that these peoples invaded England. After the Celts who made their way up from India and settled in England, later invasions were carried out by:  the short-reigned Romans who eventually retreated;  the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Friesians who arrived and quickly became a native population, then the Vikings, who invaded the Eastern half of England, and finally the Normans from France, all of whom left their imprint on the language.

 Answers to the quiz, in chronological order:

1. “wine candle wall”–came from the Romans who invaded England in 55 B.C. and soon left without making much of an impact on the native Celts beyond Roman roads and spa towns like Bath.

2. ” earth sleep house bake”–came from the Angles and Saxons who arrived after 410 A.D. and who provided at least 1/3 of the words we use today.

3.  “tower mass martyr school”–came from Latin which returned in 591 A.D. in the form of traveling missionaries who made an impact particularly on words concerning religious life.

4.  “freckle egg die thrust silver”–came from the Vikings who arrived starting in 787 A.D., bringing blue eyes and blond hair, as well as these and other words.

5.  “evidence bacon justice accuse”–came from the Normans (French) who arrived in 1066 and completely overthrew the existing social compact, pushing the indigenous Anglo-Saxon population into serfdom and themselves into the “gentry.”  And thus did the British class system have its start.

The year 1066 was the last time that Britain was invaded from abroad (though the Spanish attempted it in 1588 and Hitler during World War II came close), but there have been many additions to the English language through Britain invading other countries, many of which were forced to join the British Empire.  English is now a mish-mash of words taken or derived from 350 countries.  No wonder it’s such a rich language–and so difficult to learn!

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