An animated history of the English language

A friend of mine shared this video on Facebook earlier today, and it’s just so fantastically succinct and hilarious I had to post it here. It’s “The History of English in Ten Minutes”:

My friend found it on a blog post at Milk And Cookies, but it’s pretty widely available.

What’s particularly genius about this is the way that, by distilling the history of the English language into just these ten minutes, the video calls attention to the three main driving factors in any language’s development: religion, conquest, and the arts. Pretty much in that order, though one could make a case for military conquest outpacing religious intellectualism for language growth. My own history of the English language professor was fond of telling us that a language is just a dialect with an army, which is probably why religion became less important to the development of English around the same time the Church stopped commanding armies. At least directly, anyway.

Also something to note: The whole last two minutes of the film are about major developments in the English language that have occurred since I last studied the development of the English language! That’s how fast things change, folks.

Anyway, this is a delightful run-down of linguistic history, and a fun way to blow a Saturday morning. Enjoy!

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

4 thoughts on “An animated history of the English language

  1. Posting this comment before watching the video. My own impression of the making of (specifically) modern English is that the base stones of its edifice are the King James Bible* (religion), the sea (conquest), and Shakespeare (the arts). I’ll be back after breakfast to watch the video and comment again.

    * The KJV is one of the main reasons why Scots never evolved fully into a national language, separate from English. That’s an argument I can develop further.


  2. By and large this video sails close to the wind. I capsized laughing and, being a broad-beamed lass, I was taken aback when my stern hit the deck. You’d have thought I was three sheets in the wind! I’ll share this clip with my mates, it’s quite a skylark*.


    *That’s an interesting word. It’s actually a loan word, via the sea, from Irish/Scottish Gaelic. It’s the word ‘sgeulachd’ which means ‘story’. Leisure time on board a sailing ship was usually prefaced by the first mate calling out “Dance and skylark!” So many British sailors were irish or Scottish, including promotees to mate, that the order passed from the Gaelic “Danns ‘s sgeulachd” into English seamlessly. The order meant that it was time to cease work and gather together for a quick hornpipe and a yarn.

    1. Hurray! I’m so glad you chimed on this! And what a wonderful little lesson on “skylark”! I had no idea of its origins. I’m fascinated by Scots Gaelic, actually, though my favorite word, necessarily, is uisge beatha! πŸ˜‰ Seriously, though, when we were in Scotland a few years ago, I often tuned the car’s radio to the Gaelic stations just to hear the language. Plus, my father’s father was a seaman, as were all his paternal line before him, so any story about naval jargon and slang is wonderful for me!

      My great-aunt speaks Doric, which is something else entirely but which is equally delightful to hear spoken. But that’s a different conversation. πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: