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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Very cool: History of English in 2 minutes

From the OxfordWords blog:
View an animation showing the growth of English  here.
This animation uses data from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to show how English has developed by borrowing or adapting words from different languages and regions of the world, from 1150 to the present day. These patterns of word-borrowing reflect the changing demography of the English-speaking world; cultural and economic influences on Britain; the spread of explorers, traders, and settlers; and encounters with other cultures.
Each data point shown here represents the first recorded use of a word in English, positioned according to the language from which the word was borrowed. The size of the data point indicates the frequency of the word: larger bubbles for higher-frequency words, smaller bubbles for lower-frequency words. You can pause the animation and hover over bubbles for more information about each word.
The progress bar at the bottom tracks the growth of English, subdivided into the major language groups from which words are derived. This reflects not only the number of recorded words in the language, but also how important those words are (how frequent they are in modern English). This shows how English has remained overwhelmingly dominated by the major language families of western Europe – Germanic, Romance, and Latin. The 7700 words derived from Germanic languages (the blue component of the progress bar) account for 49% of all English usage today. By contrast, the small yellow component at the end of the progress bar represents all borrowings from languages outside Europe: this includes about 5200 words recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, but accounts for only about 0.2% of all English usage today.
It’s striking to see how much of modern English was already established by 1150. Although the language at this stage contained relatively few words that have survived into modern English, these include most of the core words that we use all the time (the, run, head, etc.). So the summed frequencies of these words is very high, which is why at 1150 the progress bar is already over half-way to its modern total.

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.