Etymology of English from Etymonline:

Old English Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island 5c., supposedly so-called because Angul, the land they inhabited on the Jutland coast, was shaped like a fish hook (see angle (n.))

"Old English" article from Wikipedia:

Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southern and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century.

Also, Anglish is used as a resulting language of linguistic purism. (coined by the author and humorist Paul Jennings). It is mentioned as English minus many of the non-Germanic elements.


  • Why didn't the name of the language become Anglish and survive till today?
  • Etymonline says that it comes from "Englisc" but there are three different spellings of Old English and the root is mentioned as Angul. So why from Englisc but not Anglisc?

Note: There is this question asked before: Where did the name "English" come from?

Accepted answer mentions that English is the corruption of Anglish. But there is not much detail about it. Is it ever called Anglish then? When and how is it corrupted?

Also, English is "Anglais" in French. I'm not sure if it is beyond this website if I ask why it is "Anglais" in French and if connection to other Germanic languages is related to this topic. The topic can go deeper in regards to origin of tribe names also. I may have missed some points and this can be asked in linguistics stackexchange as well.

  • 2
    Both Spanish inglés and Italian inglese derive from Old French angleis, so we see the same vowel-shift there as well.
    – tchrist
    Apr 27, 2014 at 1:49
  • 6
    Very simplistic answer: i-mutation (also called i-umlaut). The /i/ in the following syllable caused /a/ to be raised to /æ/ or /e/ to approach it. Same reason (though with some minor differences) the plural of tooth and foot is teeth and feet, and why the Danes and those from France speak (OE) Denisc and Frencisc (French). Apr 27, 2014 at 1:52
  • 3
    Why "English" but not "Anglish"? Because Umlaut. Apr 27, 2014 at 2:59
  • 1
    My missing point was umlaut then. But when did it happen exactly? And did it happen two times? Both a-restoration and i-umlaut? Also tchrist brought up another point. A detailed answer with sources would be good.
    – ermanen
    Apr 27, 2014 at 18:14
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet If you’ve time this week, some detailed, non-comment answer from you that covered i-mutation not only Æthelstan’s Englisc but which also managed to rope in OF angleis > ES inglés, IT inglese would be much appreciated, even though it is strictly speaking a bit beyond the scope of ELU.
    – tchrist
    May 8, 2014 at 13:28

6 Answers 6


It's "English" rather than "Anglish" because the vowel was subject to palatal umlaut. Umlaut is a process that occurred in many Germanic languages, Old English among them, and that caused vowels to change when they were followed by an [i] or [j]. The word English is from an Old English adjective Englisc derived from an Old English noun Engle that developed from an earlier form with i in the following syllable (Wiktionary gives the form as "Proto-West Germanic *angli").

Before a nasal consonant such as [n] or [ŋ], it was usual in Old English for a short a-sound to turn into [e] when affected by umlaut. (Meizi Piao. 2012. "An Analysis of I-Umlaut in Old English". SNU Working Papers in English Linguistics and Language, page 84)

Other examples of nouns showing the same change of original short *a to to Old English [e] due to umlaut are bench, from Old English benċ, from Proto-Germanic *bankiz, and stench, from Old English stenċ, from Proto-Germanic *stankwiz.

In England and English, the Old English [e] sound was further changed to [ɪ] due to the influence of the following velar nasal [ŋ]. The same sound change occurred in string, from Old English streng, from Proto-Germanic *strangiz.

The variant vowels in Old English

The variants Ænglisc and Anglisc do exist in Old English, but I think they were less common than Englisc. They do not seem to have contributed to the ultimate outcome in Modern English.

I'm not entirely sure why alternative spellings with Æng-, Ang- and Ong- existed for this adjective in Old English, but the Oxford English Dictionary entry for the noun "Engle" has some discussion of its Old English byforms Angle and Ongle (Old English "a" often varied in spelling with "o" when it occurred in a stressed syllable before a nasal consonant such as /n/), saying that they "show alteration either after the place name (and combining form: see below) or after classical Latin Anglus Angle".

The note on the combining form reads:

Angel, the name of the continental home of the Angles, occurs as a place name in English contexts from Old English onwards (in Old English as Angel, Ongel, in Middle English as Angle; in modern use also commonly Angeln after the German form of the name). Frequently in Old English as a combining form, sometimes in the sense ‘of or relating to the Angles (either on the continent or in England)’, but more commonly in the sense ‘of or relating to the English people or England’ (compare senses 1 and 2), as Angelcyning king of the English, Angelcynn the English people, (rare) the Angles, Angelfolc the English people

It seems that this place name did not show umlaut, so the vowel in the ethnonym and adjective might have been occasionally modified by analogy with the place name.

The general history of Old English æ

If one of the Old English alternative forms Ænglisc or Anglisc had survived until the present day, it might well have developed into the form "Anglish". The reference in Robusto's answer to ash (æ or ae) changing into E is a bit inaccurate.

  • In general, the Old English short æ/ash vowel developed to modern English "a", as in ash itself (from Old English æsċe), or in Alvin from Ælfwyn. Other examples of short ash corresponding to modern English "a" (not "e") are hat from Old English hæt(t) and back from Old English bæc. I'm not sure whether I can find an example of this outcome of short æ before a nasal consonant, though, since it did not generally occur in that context.

  • The Old English long æ/ash vowel (written ǣ in modern texts) was spelled the same way as the previous vowel in Old English, but pronounced differently, and developed to modern English e or ea. That's what happened to the vowel in even(ing) mentioned in user2310967less's answer. But this isn't relevant to the word English since this word didn't have a long vowel in Old English.

  • The Latin digraph "ae" found in aether and aesthetic is commonly simplified to e, but it is not the same thing as Old English ash: the digraph "ae" in Latinate words represents an original diphthong in Latin or Greek and was used in spelling far after the English letter ash had ceased to exist. In the context of Latinate words, "æ" is not a letter of its own: it is just a ligature of the "a" and "e" letters.

  • I for one have always puzzled over what’s behind the singular nature of England/English alone retaining the e spelling before the velar nasal with its /i/ vowel, despite how everything else got respelled to i for that. The OED notes: “England and English (and their derivatives) are the only instances in modern standard English in which the spelling with e has been retained in words showing raising of Middle English ĕ to ĭ before /ŋɡ/ (see further E. J. Dobson Eng. Pronunc. 1500–1700 (ed. 2, 1968) II. §77, and compare e.g. wing n., string n., and the forms cited at those entries).”
    – tchrist
    Jun 14, 2021 at 14:17
  • This is the only correct answer. I'm surprised the others have gotten upvotes and rewards. I guess people are just fascinated by æ
    – siride
    Mar 9, 2022 at 19:50

In the journey from Old English to what we write today, the ash (Æ) tended to metamorphose into a simple E and various "ae" forms got reduced to just "e": Ælfwyn became Elvin, Æthelræd became Ethelred, aether and aesthetic became ether and esthetic (except when @Cerb spells them), and so on. The distinction was simply planed off over the centuries. When there was no need for the superfluous Æ (because its sound was rendered with a single letter) it got dialed way down in frequency. The same thing happened, more or less, with the thorn (Þ, þ) and eth (Ð, ð) characters, because the th digraph supplanted them.

An even more obvious influence involved the printing press. In the early days of typography, fonts were imported from Germany and Italy, and those countries did not use the oddball English characters, so substitutes had to be found. "E" substituted quite nicely for the ash, and "Y" for the thorn (as we see on the signs in front of all those cutesy Ye Old Whatever shops).


Asked for citations, I lazily looked to the Web first, but real scholarship in this matter is difficult to Google. Here are some not-stringently-academic citations, together with a disclaimer.

The thorn was particularly popular as a sign for 'th' in Medieval English, but with the advent of printing came a problem. There was no thorn sign in the printing fonts, as they were usually cast outside of England. So, since the sign for thorn slightly resembled the lower-case 'y', that's what was substituted.

The thorn continued to be used, but printing caused its eventual demise from the English alphabet. As mentioned earlier, lingering proof of its existence hangs on in the outmoded 'Ye'.
Thorn — Missing Letter of the Alphabet (reposted with correct glyphs here).

Ultimately, the letter was abandoned when printing began to streamline the alphabet and eliminate unnecessary letters. Æ was separated into AE, and the language moved on. However, you can still find ash used stylistically in names like Encyclopædia Britannica and ÆON.
Mighty Markup.

Disclaimer: I feel it only fair to point out that the reference books I have at hand (printed versions, so no linky-link), suggest that the ash (or æsc in OE), was pretty much gone by 1250 due to the influence of Norman French. This was a couple hundred years before the invention of the printing press, so we cannot accept that as the proximal cause. Still, Gutenberg almost certainly put the nail in the coffin of that and the other oddball characters (including wynn and yogh — look those up for your amusement and edification sometime).

  • 5
    Ey, the OED has my back on aesthetic, you know. May 8, 2014 at 1:42
  • Think of that reference as my way of pinging you. ^_^
    – Robusto
    May 8, 2014 at 1:47
  • 1
    This is actually quite fascinating. Could you cite your resources for further reading?
    – Tucker
    May 8, 2014 at 21:13
  • One of the best and most readable histories of the English Language is David Crystal's "The Stories of English"
    – Greybeard
    Mar 9, 2022 at 16:22
  • This is wrong. It is umlaut only.
    – siride
    Mar 9, 2022 at 19:49

Vowels in English are tricky.

As @Robusto noted, in many cases Æ became E, as in æfen > even(ing), ælf > elf, but in other cases it also became A, such as æsc > ash, æcer > acre, or æfter > after. Then again, you also have it turn to O, as in æf > of, ænlic > only and other oddities such as æl > awl.

Actually, æfter is an interesting case, since it made it through to modern English with both E and A, both as after and also as eftsoons.

It’s possible that at one point these represented differing regional standards for respelling Æ with more common vowels, and that like every other spelling form in English it represents a mishmash of different groups trying to write the same language and not quite succeeding but also not quite failing. But as far as I know there’s no incontrovertible evidence to prove it.


I agree with Janus Bahs Jacquet. If you study the vowels in Anglisc, you have the vowel a with the widest mouth opening and immediately after a you have the vowel i with the narrowest mouth opening. In order to make articulation easier, the deep tongue position of the vowel a is raised to æ and then to e.

  • It's not the width of mouth-opening, but the height.
    – jimsug
    May 10, 2014 at 10:59

The E in "English" used to make more of the ash sound, but then shifted in modern English. The "Anglish" spelling has been revived though to represent the roots of the English language better. https://anglish.org

  • 4
    A different link to the same project was provided in the question already. This seems to condense points in other answers to the point where it's hardly a useful or informative summary.
    – tripleee
    Mar 9, 2022 at 13:49
  • It's also incorrect. The original sound was an /e/, mutated from /a/.
    – siride
    Mar 9, 2022 at 19:51


English was a Germanic language (Modern English is a Romance language as 60% of its vocabulary is of Latin origin while 10% is still Germanic. So English lost its Germanic roots just as French and Norman did.) therefore it uses the Germanic name: English, and this comes from the Germanic words Engle, Engel, Englisc, Englisk, and Engleis.

Anglish is of Latin origin, comes from Anglii, Angla, Anglo, Angle, and Angles; and thus is not the correct name for the original German tribe that was part of an alliance (English, Frisian, Jute, and Saxon) to invade Britannia in terms of the Germanic languages.

There is zero reference of Anglo-Saxon until the modern era. It's a fake people and a fake language that never existed until 200 years ago.

The root word for English is all sourced from proto-Germanic, Old English, Old Saxon, and Gothic dictionaries and written text from the era from the Romans and Germans. Anybody who refers to themselves as Anglo-whatever should not be included with the Germanic race since they embraced Roman culture.

Here's a wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxons and in the second paragraph it mentions the etymology of the word "Anglo-Saxon". This should have been Englisc and Saexa in England (Britain) or Englisk and Sahsa in Saxony (northern Germany).

The Old English ethnonym "Angul-Seaxan" comes from the Latin Angli-Saxones and became the name of the peoples Bede calls Anglorum[9] and Gildas calls Saxones.[10] Anglo-Saxon is a term that was rarely used by Anglo-Saxons themselves; it is not an autonym. It is likely they identified as ængli, Seaxe or, more probably, a local or tribal name such as Mierce, Cantie, Gewisse, Westseaxe, or Norþanhymbre. Also, the use of Anglo-Saxon disguises the extent to which people identified as Anglo-Scandinavian after the Viking age, or as Anglo-Norman after the Norman conquest in 1066.[11]

  • 1
    You have made some interesting if uncommon points about history and labels. Unfortunately, you seem to avoided answering the OPs question. Why 'E' instead of 'A'? Can you add anything to your answer that would address the linguistic question?
    – Mitch
    Sep 25, 2017 at 23:44
  • The "E" Should be used for those that desire German purity within the English language and since this is the original writing for Eng- before the Romans discovered the tribe. The "A" variant should be left for those that choose to embrace Latin since Modern English (like French) has developed into a Romance language and it would be better to distinguish the two languages from each other accordingly to the language group that their associated with: Romance or Germanic. People shouldn't confuse others regarding the etymology of the words English and Anglish both have distinctly separate origins.
    – Joe
    Sep 26, 2017 at 0:38
  • Answering a 'why' with a 'should' is another uncommon method of communication that I am not used to. Also 'distinctly separate' sounds a bit hyperbolic (as far as absolute statements can be hyperbolic). At some point there was one word that was used by two communities and the sound changes in the two paths diverged (either from the beginning or the word was borrowed and mangled into the different phonology). Is that what you are trying to get across?
    – Mitch
    Sep 26, 2017 at 0:53
  • This is difficult because the character limit. Yes there was one word. Engel is found in proto-Germanic and Old Germanic. The changes in spelling of the words did occur (Englisc [Old English], Englisk [Old Saxon], Engleis [Frankish and Old French]) but the phonological shift didn't occur till later and this is only found in the Romance versions and North Sea Germanic.
    – Joe
    Sep 26, 2017 at 1:02
  • 2
    +1 because your answer offers a different perspective, but to call English a romance language because its vocabulary is 60% Latin is overreaching it a bit, although the percentage, technically, is correct. I'm not sure about the 10% German though, unless you are referring to this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 26, 2017 at 9:15

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