Scroll back and forth through the dates in the timeline below using the arrows either side. You can then read more about each time period, see images and even play videos.
Colonisation of Barbados
Having been claimed in the name of James I in 1625, a party of settlers arrives to occupy the island in February 1627.
The ‘Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ is founded in November 1660, five months after the Restoration of the monarchy.
Newton’s Principia Mathematica
Isaac Newton publishes his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in Latin.
Newton publishes his Opticks in English.
Act of Union
The ‘Act of Union’ unites the Parliaments of England and Scotland, creating the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.
Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish writer and satirist, writes A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, in which he argues for the standardisation and ‘fixing’ of the English language.
Samuel Johnson publishes his Dictionary of the English Language, which becomes the model for English language lexicography for the next century and a half.
Robert Lowth, Lord Bishop of London, writes his Short Introduction to English Grammar, one of the most influential of eighteenth-century English grammars and still in use in early twentieth-century Britain.
American War of Independence
In July 1776, thirteen British colonies declare their independence after war and create a new nation, the United States of America. This is the first country beyond the British Isles to have English as its primary language.
Penal colonies established in Australia
The ‘First Fleet’ arrives in New South Wales with one and a half thousand emigrants, approximately 800 of whom are convicts. The first European colony in Australia is established.
Murray’s English Grammar
Grammarian Lindley Murray writes English Grammar, one of the most influential of eighteenth-century grammars, particularly in the United States.
The Louisiana Purchase
The United States buys France’s North American territories, thus vastly increasing its size.
British slave trade ends
The British Parliament passes the ‘Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’. While this ends the British slave trade, slavery itself remains legal in the British Empire until the ‘Slavery Abolition Act’ of 1833.
Webster’s American Dictionary
Most of the differences between British and American spelling can be attributed to Noah Webster, whose most influential work is his American Dictionary of the English Language.
Anglicism in British colonies
Charles Trevelyan outlines why English literature is better than vernacular literatures by way of providing a rationale for education via the medium of English in British colonies.
Treaty of Waitangi
Treaty in which the Maoris cede the rights of government in New Zealand to the British.
Irish Free State established
The Irish Free State – a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire – is established in December 1922 as a result of the ‘Anglo-Irish Treaty’ of 1921.
Publication of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary
The production of the ten-volume Oxford English Dictionary takes over half a century, and involves contributions from hundreds of scholars and editors, led by James Murray (1837-1915). The first edition is finally completed in 1928.
Start of the ‘Late modern English’ period
The ‘Late modern English’ period begins c. 1950.
Independence from British colonial rule for Malay states
The states of the Malay peninsula gain independence in 1957. In 1963 they are joined by Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to create the country of Malaysia. Singapore leaves to become an independent state in 1965.
First edition of ASCII
The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) is devised to enable texts created on one computer to be read on others. It places users of non-English languages at a disadvantage because it initially makes no provision for non-English writing systems.
Publication of the first COBUILD dictionary
The Collins COBUILD dictionary is the first to be based on statistical analysis of contemporary English speech and text. The work is carried out by researchers at the University of Birmingham under the direction of John Sinclair.
Proposal of UNICODE
Proposed by Joseph Becker, a computer scientist working for Xerox, UNICODE is a single code based on ASCII but potentially capable of representing every symbol in every human writing system. It has helped to erode the initial dominance of English on the internet.
Launch of BBC World News
In the wake of the First Gulf War, the BBC World Service launches a television news channel to compete with CNN (the US cable news channel).
End of apartheid in South Africa
Although South Africa gained independence from Britain in 1910, it is not until the first free elections of 1994 (four years after Nelson Mandela’s release from jail) that apartheid is ended and all people of the country can be said to be ‘free’.
First social network site
SixDegrees is the first dedicated social networking site on the world wide web. It proves a commercial failure, but pioneers many of the features of later social network sites such as Facebook (launched 2004), Mixi (2004), Bebo (2005), and Twitter (2006).
Launch of Google
Google – the company behind what becomes the world’s most popular web search engine – is founded by Larry Page and Sergei Brin, two former Stanford University PhD students. In 2004, it begins its project for a searchable database of all printed books.
English-medium education policy introduced in Malaysia
English is reintroduced into Malaysian schools as a medium of instruction for science and mathematics, following its wholesale replacement by the national language over the previous 30 years. In 2010 this policy is reversed, with English once again becoming a subject rather than a medium of instruction.