English is easily the most widely spoken Germanic language, and as such an astronomical 359 million people spoke it as their first language – according to 2010 statistical figures. And these numbers only include the native English speakers, with English estimated to be the most commonly spoken language in the world including non-native (second language) speakers. However beyond just numbers, there is history to consider; and given English’s extensive 1,400 years of legacy, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the language has its fair share of loan-words from other linguistic scopes. The varied examples include words like algorithm (derived from Arabic al-Khwārizmī, part of the moniker of noted medieval mathematician Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī), avatar (derived from Sanskrit, based on the Vedic concept of descent of a deity or god to Earth) and renegade (derived from Spanish renegado, meaning ‘Christians who had turned Muslims’).
And as it turns out, other that relatively complex words, there are also a slew of fairly basic words in English that are derived from other languages. ‘Cowboy Professor’ Dr. Jackson Crawford, a historical linguist and a current faculty member of the Department of Scandinavian at the University of California, presents an assortment of such words that are borrowed from Old Norse.
Once again, reverting to history, Old English was brought to the shores of Britain circa 5th century AD, by groups of Anglo-Saxon settlers who probably maintained contact with their Germanic kinsmen from the northern parts of continental Europe. And interestingly enough, the very term ‘Old English’ in itself can be slightly misleading to modern speakers, since this language comprised a host of vocabulary derived directly from Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects, later sprinkled with some Latin, Celtic and Norse influences. Pertaining to the latter, many of the Scandinavian invaders (and traders), often conveniently grouped as Vikings, established their domains (Danelaw) in the medieval British Isles, from the later half of 9th century AD to the early decades of 11th century AD.
And finally, since we are talking about the historical progression and its influences, the Open University has concocted a nifty animated video that aptly presents the history and evolution of English through the years (starting from 5th century AD) with dollops of ‘British’ humor.