This is a great story. But really, I made it sound way more simple than it really is. You probably have some questions already, if you’re a critical sort of person. Like:
If the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Friesians all conquered areas of Celtic Britain, why is it that England is called England (which comes from Angle-land, the Land of the Angles) and not Saxonland or Juteland?
If Old English has not been spoken since before the twelfth century, how do we know what it sounded like?
When and how did Old English become the modern language that we speak today?
Clearly, there is way more to it. Here are some resources that you can use to explore it further:
The British Library has many great resources connected with the evolution of the English language and with the earliest complete work of literature in old English, the epic poem Beowulf. Click on this link to hear recordings of Old English and to examine texts in Old Engslish: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/changlang/activities/lang/beowulf/beowulfpage1.html
This link will bring you to an interactive timeline of the English language starting in the year 1000: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/timeline/index.html
This link contains a wealth of information about the development of English, along with recordings of people reading texts in Old and Middle English: http://www.1066andallthat.com/english_old.asp
If you want to read about this subject in depth, I recommend Bill Bryson’s book, English and How It Got That Way, or The Story of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The PBS series entitled The Story of English is also a great resource.
This is the quote from Simeon Potter which inspired the visual exercise at the beginning of the lecture: "English and French expressions [in English] may have similar denotations but slightly different connotations and associations. Generally the English words are stronger, more physical, and more human. We feel more at ease after getting a hearty welcome than after being granted a cordial reception. Compare freedom with liberty, friendship with amity, kingship with royalty, holiness with sanctity, happiness with felicity, depth with profundity, and love with charity." (Simeon Potter, Our Language, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950/66, pp. 37-38.)
Wiktionary.org provides a lengthy list of English words with French origins. (You can find the list here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Transwiki:List_of_English_words_of_French_origin). Spend some time perusing the list; then take a look at this list of modern English words with Saxon origins: http://www.ibiblio.org/lineback/words/sax.htm. Find some sets of synonyms, compare them, and see if Potter’s assessment that the English words feel “stronger, more physical, and more human” seems accurate to you. Which examples prove or disprove his assertion?