English also came to Britain on a ship

The English language is one of the dominant and widely spoken languages in the world. In Namibia, it is the official language and it can be said that it plays a significant role in uniting the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of this beautiful land of the brave.
Because of its significance, it would be important to learn something about it other than its challenging grammar.

The same way humans or animals have parents, languages do too. The English language comes from a parent language called “The Proto-Indo-European Family of languages.” That parent language bore about six children languages, namely: Indo Iranian, Celtic, Hellenic, Italic, Balto Slavic and Germanic. The above languages each have other languages branching from them. The English language comes from the main child language “Germanic.”

To many, English is the language of Britain or England. Surprisingly enough, English did not originate from England; in fact, the name England did not exist until the arrival of the English language in Britain. The original people of England were the Celts who spoke Celtic.



Three Germanic tribes from North Western Europe, namely the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons settled in Britain. They were the ones who spoke dialects of what was then called Old English. It was their arrival that introduced the English language to Britain and later introduced the name “England.” Since its arrival in Britain, the English language began to lose its Germanic features. Some of the examples of Old English words that have changed are: bedight (decorate), bight (bend) and hither (here). Many foreign influences have had a direct effect on the English language and such influences are to blame for these changes.

The invasion of the British Island did not end with the Germanic tribes. Three more groups of different nations invaded her. These are the Romans, the Scandinavians and the Normans (French). The Romans brought with them their language (Latin) which made its mark on English grammar and its lexicon, leaving words such as: ‘church’, ‘bishop’, ‘deacon’, etc.

The Scandinavians, during their invasion and settlement brought with them words such as: egg, bank, grave, crawl, die, etc. French which is an Italic language has a direct link to English although the two are not genetically related.

In about 1066, after the French and English lived peacefully as neighbours, the French turned on their friends and conquered them. French, which was the language of the Normans, became the language of public service, trade, etc. in England. This led to the introduction of words such as: administrator, judge, jury, lieutenant etc. Words such as: goat, cow and sheep come from English but their a la carte version: pork, beef and mutton, come from French.

English became the language of the lower class for about 200 years. The English did not appreciate the rule of the French so the two nations battled it out for about 100 years.

The English were victorious and English regained her prestigious status. At that point it was a changed English, almost all of the English vocabulary was lost and French words were adopted. It was during this time (Middle English) also that other features, including the syntax, changed and the English sentence assumed the Subject Verb Object (SVO) structure.

The expression, “English came on a ship” that many Namibians would say to excuse their incorrect use of this language can also be used by the English. As per its history, English is a Germanic language that lost its Germanic features and through the many foreign influences it has become what we know and speak today. Only time will tell what English will end up as in the years to come.

• Katrina Kaunapawa Basimike is a Master of Arts English Studies student at the University of Namibia (Unam) in the Department of Language and Literature Studies. E-mail: katrinakshiwaya@yahoo.com

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