In the fifth century A.D. the Angles and the Saxons came over to these islands from northern Europe bringing their language with them. They pushed the native Celtic-speaking people to the far north and west of the land, which explains why Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh exist as separate languages.
So, for 500 years we spoke English. Let’s call it Old English.
1066 was a good year for William of Normandy. His nickname changed from William the Bastard to William the Conqueror, which indicates how successful he was.
Although Normandy was separate from France at that time, William and his entourage spoke French, and for several generations all the kings and queens of England spoke the language of their conquering forefather. In fact, the first King to speak English fluently was Henry III (1216-1272), but it was still not his first language. Henry IV (crowned in 1399) was the first King of England to speak English as a mother tongue. For the next few centuries the royals spoke English, until the German-speaking Hanoverians came to the throne in 1714.
But the main point is the language. When William arrived in 1066 there were not many language schools to help the common people learn French. So, the common people…
…used their hands, working in the fields, eating cow and pig to stay alive.
And the noble ruling class did not…
…undertake anything manually, but preferred to reside in castles, consuming beef and veal and pork in order to survive
Can you see what’s happening here? It was not just people’s lives that were different but the very words that came to describe them. Even now, a thousand years later, the French (Latinate) word is always the higher register alternative.
Sentiment sounds rather more elegant than feeling. Fragrance much better than smell.
A prior arrangement sounds more formal than something I planned before.
Shall I stop there or carry on? Or should I say “finish or continue”?
And so on. There are hundreds of examples. (A century is a classier way of saying a hundred years!)
This is just a brief introduction to where English has come from, and why we have so many more words, and more varied spelling patterns, than many languages that have evolved from one just direct source.