Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility, resulting in an enormous and varied vocabulary.
Our main source for the culture of the Germanic peoples (the ancestors of the English) in ancient times is Tacitus' Germania. While remaining quite conversant with Roman civilisation and its economy, including serving in the Roman military, they retained political independence. We can be certain that Germanic settlement in Britain was not intensified until the time of Hengist and Horsa in the fifth century, since had the English arrived en-masse under Roman rule, they would have been thoroughly Christianised as a matter of course. As it was, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived as pagans, independent of Roman control.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern (or Gwrtheyrn from the Welsh tradition), King of the Britons, invited the "Angle kin" (Angles led by Hengest and Horsa) to help him in conflicts with the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the southeast of England. Further aid was sought, and in response "came men of Ald Seaxum of Anglum of Iotum" (Saxons, Angles and Jutes). The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms, known as the heptarchy. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated, and the identification of the tribes with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes is no longer accepted as an accurate description (Myres, 1986, p. 46ff), especially since the Anglo-Saxon language is more similar to the Frisian languages than any of the others.
The invaders' Germanic language displaced the indigenous Brythonic languages of what became England. The original Celtic languages remained in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. The dialects spoken by the Anglo-Saxons formed what is now called Old English. Later, it was strongly influenced by the North Germanic language Norse, spoken by the Vikings who invaded and settled mainly in the north-east of England (see Jórvík and Danelaw). The new and the earlier settlers spoke languages from different branches of the Germanic family; many of their lexical roots were the same or similar, although their grammars were more distinct, including the prefix, suffix and inflection patterns for many words. The Germanic language of these Old English-speaking inhabitants was influenced by contact with Norse invaders, which might have been responsible for some of the morphological simplification of Old English, including the loss of grammatical gender and explicitly marked case (with the notable exception of the pronouns). The most famous surviving work from the Old English period is a fragment of the epic poem "Beowulf" composed by an unknown poet; it is thought to have been substantially modified, probably by Christian clerics long after its composition.
The period when England was ruled by Anglo-Saxon kings, with the assistance of their clergy, was an era in which the Old English language was not only alive, but thriving. Since it was used for legal, political, religious and other intellectual purposes, Old English is thought to have coined new words from native Anglo-Saxon roots, rather than "borrow" foreign words. (This point is made in a standard text, The History of the English Language, by Baugh).
The use of Anglo-Saxon to describe a merging of Anglian and Saxon languages and cultures is a relatively modern development. According to Lois Fundis (Stumpers-L, Fri, 14 Dec 2001), "The first citation for the second definition of 'Anglo-Saxon', referring to early English language or a certain dialect thereof, comes during the reign of Elizabeth I, from a historian named Camden, who seems to be the person most responsible for the term becoming well-known in modern times".
While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued until 1154, most other literature from this period was in Old Norman or Latin. A large number of Norman words were taken into Old English, with many doubling for Old English words. The Norman influence is the hallmark of the linguistic shifts in English over the period of time following the invasion, producing what is now referred to as Middle English. English was also influenced by the Celtic languages it was displacing, most notably with the introduction of the continuous aspect, a feature found in many modern languages, but developed earlier and more thoroughly in English. English spelling was also influenced by Norman in this period, with the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds being spelled th rather than with the Old English letters þ (thorn) and ð (eth), which did not exist in Norman. The most famous writer from the Middle English period was Geoffrey Chaucer and of his works, The Canterbury Tales is the best known.
English literature started to reappear around 1200, when a changing political climate and the decline in Anglo-Norman made it more respectable. The Provisions of Oxford, released in 1258, were the first English government document to be published in the English language since the Conquest. Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English when he did so in 1362. By the end of that century, even the royal court had switched to English. Anglo-Norman remained in use in limited circles somewhat longer, but it had ceased to be a living language.
English has continuously adopted foreign words, especially from Latin and Greek, since the Renaissance. (In the 17th century, Latin words were often used with the original inflections, but these eventually disappeared). As there are many words from different languages and English spelling is variable, the risk of mispronunciation is high, but remnants of the older forms remain in a few regional dialects, most notably in the West Country.
Which can be translated as:Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kingsof spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,awing the earls. Since erst he layfriendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,till before him the folk, both far and near,who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,gave him gifts: a good king he!
(translation by Francis Gummere)
Here is a sample prose text, the beginning of The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan. The full text can be found at Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader/The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan, at Wikisource.
Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the Heavens and Earth
Rose out of chaos: or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle Flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, whyle it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in
his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper
assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served
out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel
disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;
while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was
desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from
the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand,
said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
'Please, sir, I want some more'.
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He
gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some
seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The
assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.
'Please, sir', replied Oliver, 'I want some more'.
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned
him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.