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The opening to the Old English epic poem Beowulfhandwritten in half-uncial script: We of the Spear-Danes from days of yore have heard of the glory of the folk-kings In the fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain as the Roman economy and administration collapsed.
A few short inscriptions from the early period of Old English were written using a runic script. Its grammar was similar to that of modern Germanand its closest relative is Old Frisian. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs had many more inflectional endings and formsand word order was much freer than in Modern English.
Modern English has case forms in pronouns he, him, his and a few verb endings I have, he hasbut Old English had case endings in nouns as well, and verbs had more person and number endings. Although, from the beginning, Englishmen had three manners of speaking, southern, northern and midlands speech in the middle of the country, … Nevertheless, through intermingling and mixing, first with Danes and then with Normans, amongst many the country language has arisen, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing.
John of Trevisaca. Middle English is often arbitrarily defined as beginning with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror inbut it developed further in the period from — First, the waves of Norse colonisation of northern parts of the British Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries put Old English into intense contact with Old Norsea North Germanic language.
Norse influence was strongest in the Northeastern varieties of Old English spoken in the Danelaw area around York, which was the centre of Norse colonisation; today these features are still particularly present in Scots and Northern English.
However the centre of norsified English seems to have been in the Midlands around Lindseyand after CE when Lindsey was reincorporated into the Anglo-Saxon polity, Norse features spread from there into English varieties that had not been in intense contact with Norse speakers.
Some elements of Norse influence that persist in all English varieties today are the pronouns beginning with th- they, them, their which replaced the Anglo-Saxon pronouns with h- hie, him, hera. The Norman language in England eventually developed into Anglo-Norman. Because Norman was spoken primarily by the elites and nobles, while the lower classes continued speaking Anglo-Saxon, the influence of Norman consisted of introducing a wide range of loanwords related to politics, legislation and prestigious social domains.
The distinction between nominative and accusative case was lost except in personal pronouns, the instrumental case was dropped, and the use of the genitive case was limited to describing possession.
The inflectional system regularised many irregular inflectional forms,  and gradually simplified the system of agreement, making word order less flexible.
By the 12th century Middle English was fully developed, integrating both Norse and Norman features; it continued to be spoken until the transition to early Modern English around In the Middle English period, the use of regional dialects in writing proliferated, and dialect traits were even used for effect by authors such as Chaucer.
Early Modern English Main article: Early Modern English Graphic representation of the Great Vowel Shiftshowing how the pronunciation of the long vowels gradually shifted, with the high vowels i: Early Modern English was characterised by the Great Vowel Shift —inflectional simplification, and linguistic standardisation.
It was a chain shiftmeaning that each shift triggered a subsequent shift in the vowel system. Mid and open vowels were raisedand close vowels were broken into diphthongs. For example, the word bite was originally pronounced as the word beet is today, and the second vowel in the word about was pronounced as the word boot is today.
The Great Vowel Shift explains many irregularities in spelling since English retains many spellings from Middle English, and it also explains why English vowel letters have very different pronunciations from the same letters in other languages.
Aroundthe Court of Chancery in Westminster began using English in its official documentsand a new standard form of Middle English, known as Chancery Standarddeveloped from the dialects of London and the East Midlands.
InWilliam Caxton introduced the printing press to England and began publishing the first printed books in London, expanding the influence of this form of English.
Even after the vowel shift the language still sounded different from Modern English: Many of the grammatical features that a modern reader of Shakespeare might find quaint or archaic represent the distinct characteristics of Early Modern English.
The Foxes haue holes and the birds of the ayre haue nests  This exemplifies the loss of case and its effects on sentence structure replacement with Subject-Verb-Object word order, and the use of of instead of the non-possessive genitiveand the introduction of loanwords from French ayre and word replacements bird originally meaning "nestling" had replaced OE fugol.
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