showing the historical relations between the languages of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic languages
English is an
Indo-European language, and belongs to the
West Germanic group of the
Germanic languages. Most closely related to English are the three
North Frisian and
Saterland Frisian, with which English forms the
Anglo-Frisian subgroup within West Germanic.
Low German (Low Saxon) (nr. 19-24 on the map), which evolved from
Old Saxon, is also closely related, and sometimes Low German, English, and Frisian are grouped together as the
Ingvaeonic (North Sea Germanic) languages. Furthermore, English is closely related to
Afrikaans. While Dutch and Afrikaans are classified as
Franconian languages (nr. 25, 29 and 32), Standard German is based on Thuringian-Upper Saxon dialects (nr. 30), and therefore the three languages are about equally closely related to the North Sea Germanic languages. Since the
Central German dialects (nr. 29-31) Standard German is based on, were, other than English, Dutch and Afrikaans (and also Low German), affected by the
High German consonant shift, German seems more distantly related to English than Dutch and Afrikaans, since cognates often are not so easily recognizable, but still, English and German resemble each other to a high degree (example sentence in 1) English, 2) Low German (Low Saxon) and 3) German):
- 1) The white wise flying ghost was friendly and his best friend was the green frog who sat under the elm and sang.
- 2) De witte wiese flegende Spöök was fründlich un sien best Fründ was de grööne Pogg de unner de Elm satt un sung.
- 3) Der weiße weise fliegende Geist war freundlich und sein bester Freund war der grüne Frosch der unter der Ulme saß und sang.
Modern English descends from
Middle English, which in turn descends from
Old English. Particular dialects of Old and Middle English also developed into a number of other
English (Anglic) languages, including
 and the extinct
Forth and Bargy (Yola) dialects of Ireland.
English is classified as a Germanic language because it shares new language features (different from other Indo-European languages) with other Germanic languages such as
Swedish. These shared innovations show that the languages have descended from a single common ancestor, which linguists call
Proto-Germanic. Some shared features of Germanic languages are the use of
modal verbs, the division of verbs into
weak classes, and the sound changes affecting
Proto-Indo-European consonants, known as
Verner's laws. Through Grimm's law, the word for foot begins with /f/ in Germanic languages, but its
cognates in other Indo-European languages begin with /p/. English is classified as an Anglo-Frisian language because Frisian and English share other features, such as the
palatalisation of consonants that were velar consonants in Proto-Germanic (see
Phonological history of Old English § Palatalization).
- English sing, sang, sung; Dutch zingen, zong, gezongen; German singen, sang, gesungen (strong verb)
- English laugh, laughed; Dutch and German lachen, lachte (weak verb)
- English foot, Dutch voet, German Fuß, Norwegian and Swedish fot (initial /f/ derived from Proto-Indo-European *p through Grimm's law)
- Latin pes,
stem ped-; Modern Greek πόδι pódi;
Russian под pod;
Sanskrit पद् pád (original Proto-Indo-European *p)
- English cheese, Frisian tsiis (ch and ts from palatalisation)
- German Käse and Dutch kaas (k without palatalisation)
English, like the other insular Germanic languages,
Faroese, developed independently of the continental Germanic languages and their influences. English is thus not
mutually intelligible with any continental Germanic language, differing in
phonology, although some, such as Dutch, do show strong affinities with English, especially with its earlier stages.
Because English through its history has changed considerably in response to contact with other languages, particularly
Old Norse and
Norman French, some scholars have argued that English can be considered a
mixed language or a
creole – a theory called the
Middle English creole hypothesis. Although the high degree of influence from these languages on the vocabulary and grammar of Modern English is widely acknowledged, most specialists in language contact do not consider English to be a true mixed language.