|Region||British Isles (originally)|
L2 speakers: 400 million;
as a foreign language: 600–700 million
|Manually coded English|
Official language in
Countries of the world where English is a majority native language
Countries where English is official but not a majority native language
English is a language that started in Anglo-Saxon England. It is originally from Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialects. English is now used as a global language. There are about 375 million native speakers (people who use it as their first language) in the world.
English is the only official language or one of the official languages of nearly 60 countries. It is also the main language of more countries in the world than any other. It is the primary language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the official languages in Singapore, India, Hong Kong, and South Africa. It is widely spoken in parts of the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia.
In 2005, it was estimated that there were over 2 billion speakers of English. English is the first foreign language for most learners who have another main language. It is an official language of the United Nations, European Union, and many other international organizations. It is the most widely-spoken Germanic language, with at least 70% of Germanic speakers speaking English. About 220 million others use it as their second language. It is, together with German, the most important language of science and technology. It is often used in work and travel and trade, and there are at least a billion people who are learning it. That makes English the largest language by number of speakers.
English has changed and developed over time, like all other languages. The most obvious changes are the many words taken from Latin and Old French, which then came to Old English and then Modern English, which is used today.
English grammar has also become very different from other Germanic languages, but it stayed different from Romance languages. Because nearly 60% of the vocabulary comes from Latin, English is sometimes called the Germanic language that is the most Latin, and it is often mistaken for being a Romance language.
History[change | change source]
Germanic tribes (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes) came to Britain from around 449 AD. They made their home in the south and east of the island, pushing out the Celtic Britons who were there before them, or making them speak the English language instead of the old Celtic languages. Some people still speak Celtic languages today, in Wales (Welsh) and elsewhere. Gaelic is the Scottish Celtic language, still spoken by some in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. "Scots" is a dialect of English, taken from the English spoken in Northumbria. Irish Gaelic is spoken by very few people today.
The Germanic dialects of the different tribes became what is now called Old English. The word "English" comes from the name of the Angles: Englas. Old English did not sound or look much like the English spoken today. If English speakers today were to hear or read a passage in Old English, they would understand just a few words.
The closest language to English that is still used today is Frisian, spoken by about 500,000 people living in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. It is much like English, and many words are the same. The two languages were even closer before Old English changed to Middle English. Today, speakers of the two languages would not be able to understand each other. Dutch is spoken by over 20 million people, and is more distant from English. The number of speakers of German is even greater, and even more distant. All these languages belong to the same West Germanic family as English.
Many other people came to England later at different times, speaking different languages, and these languages added more words to make today's English. For example, around 800 AD, many Danish and Norse pirates, also called Vikings, came to the country, established Danelaw. So, English got many Norse loanwords. Their languages were Germanic languages, like Old English, but are a little different. They are called the North Germanic languages.
When William the Conqueror took over England in 1066 AD, he brought his nobles, who spoke Norman, a language closely related to French. English changed a lot because it was mostly being spoken instead of written for about 300 years. All official documents were written in Norman French. English borrowed many words from Norman at that time, and also began to drop the old word endings. English of this time is called Middle English. Geoffrey Chaucer is a well known writer of Middle English. After more sound changes, Middle English became Modern English.
English continued to take new words from other languages, for example mainly from French (around 30% to 40% of its words), but also Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. Because scientists from different countries needed to talk to one another, they chose names for scientific things in the languages they all knew: Greek and Latin. Those words came to English also, for example, photography ("photo-" means "light" and "-graph" means "picture" or "writing", in Greek. A photograph is a picture made using light), or telephone. So, English is made of Old English, Danish, Norse, and French, and has been changed by Latin, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Dutch and Spanish, along with some words from other languages.
English grammar has also changed, becoming simpler and less Germanic. The classic example is the loss of case in grammar. Grammatical case shows the role of a noun, adjective or pronoun in a sentence. In Latin (and other Indo-European languages), this is done by adding suffixes, but English usually does not. The style of English is that meaning is made clear more by context and syntax.
The history of the British Empire has added to the spread of English. English is an important language in many places today. In Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United States, among others (like those in the Commonwealth of Nations), English is the main language. Because the United Kingdom (the country where England is) and the United States have historically been powerful in commerce and government, many people find it helpful to learn English to communicate in science, business, and diplomacy. This is called learning English as an additional language, English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL).
English literature has many famous stories and plays. William Shakespeare was a famous English writer of poems and plays. His English is Early Modern English, and not quite like what people speak or write today. Early Modern English sounded different, partly because the language was beginning a "great vowel shift". Later, many short stories and novels also used English. The novel as we know it is first seen in 18th century English. Therefore, today, many famous songs and movies (cinema films) use the English language.
Recent developments of the English language include the usage of artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT by OpenAI, which uses predictive algorithms to write new texts. There is legitimate concern of whether AI is fully capable of writing, proofreading, or editing English language. So in a real sense, the history of English is continuing to develop in the current day.
Grammar[change | change source]
English grammar started out based on Old English, which is considered to be a Germanic language. After the Norman French conquered England in 1066, parts of the Latin language were brought to the English language by the Norman French.
Nouns[change | change source]
There are different types of nouns in English, like proper nouns and common noun. To show if a noun is plural, which means there is more than one of the noun, usually "-s" is added at the end of a word.
Pronouns[change | change source]
Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun to avoid repetition. There are different types of pronouns in the English language. The most important ones are:
- Personal pronouns
- Demonstrative pronouns
- Relative pronouns
- Interrogative pronouns
- Indefinite pronouns
- Dummy pronouns
Verbs[change | change source]
Verbs in English show the action or the state of a sentence. Verbs can come in different shapes in a sentence based on the time or condition we are talking about. For example, the verb "eat" changes to "ate" in past.
Adjectives[change | change source]
Adjectives are words that describe a noun. In English they always come before a noun to give you more information about that noun. You can see this in the sentence "the red apples are juicy."
Spelling[change | change source]
Written English uses a range of historical spelling patterns that changed over time due to political and cultural changes. As a result, different words can use the same letters and combinations for very different sounds. For example, "-ough" was once a guttural but has become different in "through" (threw), "rough" (ruff), "dough" (doe) or "cough" (coff).
Many English-speaking countries spell words differently. Some words that are spelled one way in the United Kingdom and many other countries in the British Commonwealth are spelled differently in the United States.
|US spelling||UK spelling|
Alphabets[change | change source]
There are 26 letters in the English alphabet:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Vocabulary[change | change source]
Nearly 60% of the vocabulary in the English language comes from Latin and its descendants, mainly French:
- Langue d'oïl (French): 29.3%
- Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin and Frankish (Germanic language): 28.7%
- Germanic languages: 24% (inherited from Old English/Anglo-Saxon, Proto-Germanic, Old Norse, etc. without including Germanic words borrowed from a Romance languages)
- Greek: 5.32%
- Italian, Spanish and Portuguese: 4.03%
- Derived from proper names: 3.28%
- All other languages: less than 1%
However, the most common words are more often those of Germanic origin. Also, expressions and typical short phrases are often of Germanic origin.
Related pages[change | change source]
- Indian English
- American English
- Australian English
- British English
- Canadian English
- Jamaican English
- South African English
- New Zealand English
- Pakistani English
- Scottish English
References[change | change source]
- Oxford 2015, Entry: English – Pronunciation. sfn error: no target: CITEREFOxford2015 (help)
- Crystal, David (ed) 2005. The Penguin Concise Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Reference, pp. 424–426.
- Curtis, Andy. Color, race, and English language teaching: shades of meaning. 2006, page 192.
- Crystal, David 2008. Two thousand million?. English Today. 24 (1): 3–6. 
- Baugh, Albert C. & Cable, Thomas 2012. A history of the English language. 6th ed, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-41-565596-X
- "Comparison between English, German and Dutch (in Italian)". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-06-01.
- These words come mostly from Greek, but are translated into the Latin alphabet, which English uses.
- Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London, 1957); John J. Richetti, Popular Fiction before Richardson. Narrative Patterns 1700–1739 (1969); Lennard J. Davis, Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (New York: Norton, 1990).
- "What Is a Noun?". Nouns: Types of Nouns With Examples | Grammarly. 2017-03-21. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
- "LanGeek | Pronouns in English Grammar". Langeek. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
- "Eat Ate Eaten | Learn English". www.ecenglish.com. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
- Smith, Bridie (17 November 2009). "It's offishal - English iz darned hard to learn". The Age. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
- Crystal, David (2012). Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling. New York: Picador St. Martin's Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 9781250056122.