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A Quick Quiz on the History of the English Language

Review Quiz on the English Language Timeline

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Where has the English language been for the past 1,500 years, who has been using it, what habits has it acquired, and why does it refuse to stand still?

For answers to these questions (or at least some good clues), take a look at our timelines of Old English, Middle English, and Modern English: Key Events in the History of the English Language. Then give yourself two minutes to complete this multiple-choice quiz. (You'll find the answers on page two.)

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  1. The ultimate origins of the English language lie in which language family?
    (a) Indo-European
    (b) Latin
    (c) North American

  2. What is another name for Old English?
    (a) Middle English
    (b) Anglo-Saxon
    (c) Celtic

  3. Which one of the following texts was composed during the Old English period?
    (a) The Canterbury Tales
    (b) Beowulf
    (c) Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge

  4. During the Middle English period, many words were borrowed from which two languages?
    (a) Celtic and Old Norse
    (b) Urdu and Iroquoian
    (c) Latin and French

  5. Published in 1604, the first monolingual English dictionary was
    (a) Nathaniel Bailey's Universal Etymological Dictionary of the English Language
    (b) Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language
    (c) Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall

  6. Which Anglo-Irish writer proposed the creation of an English Academy to regulate English usage and "ascertain" the language?
    (a) Jonathan Swift
    (b) Samuel Johnson
    (c) Oliver Goldsmith

  7. Who published the book Dissertations on the English Language (1789), which advocated an American standard of usage?
    (a) Noah Webster
    (b) John Webster
    (c) Daniel Webster

  8. Which late-19th century novel introduced a colloquial prose style that significantly influenced the writing of fiction in the U.S.?
    (a) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    (b) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    (c) Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave by Aphra Behn

  9. The Philological Society's New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, begun in 1879, was eventually published under which title in 1928?
    (a) Roget's Thesaurus
    (b) The King's English
    (c) Oxford English Dictionary

  10. During which decade did the number of speakers of English as a second language exceed the number of native speakers for the first time?
    (a) 1920s
    (b) 1950s
    (c) 1990s
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