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English language

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English (English)
Spoken in: United Kingdom, United States; Canada, Australia and other nations in the Commonwealth of Nations, and others
Region: Primarily Western Europe, North America and Australasia
Total speakers: First language: about 340 million

Second language: about 600 million

Ranking: 2
Genetic classification: Indo-European

 Germanic
  West
   Old Saxon/Old Low German
    Old English
     English

Official status
Official language of: see below
Regulated by: None
Language codes
ISO 639-1en
ISO 639-2eng
SILENG
See also: LanguageList of languages

The English language is a West Germanic language that originated in England from Old English (Anglo-Saxon), which in turn developed from languages brought by settlers from northern Germany. It is the second most common first language, with around 340 million native speakers worldwide. English has lingua franca (diplomatic language) status in many parts of the world, due to the military, economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries and the United States beginning in the 20th century. It is the most widely learned second language, largely due to the former extent of the British Empire, which mandated English as the official language. Today, its importance is also greatly due to the influence the United States exerts through radio, television, cinema, scientific publications and the Internet.

Contents

History

Main article: History of the English language

English is descended from languages spoken by Germanic tribes that migrated from what is now northern Germany and perhaps Denmark to what is now England. These tribes are traditionally identified as the Frisians, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern, King of the British Isles, issued an invitation to the "Angle kin" (Angles, led by Hengest and Horsa) to help him against the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the South-East. Further aid was sought, and in response "came men of Ald Seaxum of Anglum of Iotum" (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes). The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated.

These Germanic invaders dominated the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants, whose languages survived largely in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland. The dialects spoken by these invaders formed what would be called Old English, which was a very similar language to modern Frisian. Later, it was also strongly influenced by the North Germanic language Old Norse, spoken by Norse who settled mainly in the North-East (see Jorvik). English, England, and East Anglia are derived from words referring to the Angles: Englisc, Angelcynn, and Engleland.

For the 300 years following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Kings of England spoke only French, using it as the Court language. A large number of French words were assimilated into Old English, some words doubling with Saxon words (for instance ox and beef, sheep and mutton). The Old English also lost most of its inflections, resulting in Middle English. Around the year 1500, the Great Vowel Shift transformed Middle English to Modern English. The most famous surviving works from Old and Middle English are Beowulf and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, respectively.

Modern English, the language described by this article, began its rise around the time of William Shakespeare.

Classification and related languages

The English language belongs to the western sub-branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest undoubted living relative of English is Frisian. Frisian is a language spoken by approximately half a million people in the Dutch province of Friesland (Frysln), in nearby areas of Germany, and on a few islands in the North Sea.

After Frisian, the next closest relative is the modern Low Saxon language of the eastern Netherlands and northern Germany. Other less closely related living languages include Dutch, Afrikaans, German and the Scandinavian languages. Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (pronunciations are not always identical, of course), as English absorbed a tremendous amount of vocabulary from the Norman language after the Norman conquest and from French in further centuries; as a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to the French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional differences in meaning.

Geographic distribution

Missing image
English_dialects1997.png
Distribution of native English speakers by dialect (1997)

English is the primary language in Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados (Caribbean English), Bermuda, Dominica, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica (Jamaican English), New Zealand (New Zealand English), Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom (British English) and the United States of America (American English).

English is also one of the primary languages of Belize (with Spanish), Canada (with French), India (with Hindi and 21 other state languages), Singapore (with Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and other Asian languages) and South Africa (along with Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and Northern Sotho).

In Hong Kong, English is an official language and is widely used in business activities. It is taught from kindergarten level, and is the medium of instruction for a few primary schools, many secondary schools and all universities. Substantial numbers of students acquire native-speaker level. It is so widely used and spoken that it is inadequate to say it is merely a second or foreign language, though there are still many people in Hong Kong with poor or no command of English.

Although English is not an official language of the United States federal government, it is for 27 of the 50 state governments (Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico have also designated Hawaiian, French, and Spanish as official languages in conjunction with English, respectively). It is an official language, but not native, in Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

English is the most widely used and learned "foreign" language in the world, and, as such, many linguists believe it is no longer the exclusive cultural emblem of "native English speakers," but rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it grows in use. Others theorise that there are limits to how far English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes. It is the language most often studied as a foreign language in Europe (32.6%), followed by French, German and Spanish. It is also the most studied in Japan, South Korea and in the People's Republic of China, where it is compulsory for most high school students.

Dialects and regional variants

Main article: List of dialects of the English language

Varieties of English
AAVE (Ebonics)
American English
Australian English
British English
Canadian English
Caribbean English
Commonwealth English
English English
Hawaiian English
Hiberno-English
Highland English
Hong Kong English
Indian English
International English
Jamaican English
Liberian English
Malawian English
Malaysian English
Mid Ulster English
Newfoundland English
New Zealand English
Philippine English
Scottish English
Singaporean English
South African English
Standard English
Welsh English

The expansiveness of the British and the Americans has spread English throughout the globe. It is now the second- or third-most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese; whether English or Spanish has more native speakers depends on who is doing the counting and how they count. Due to its global spread, it has bred a variety of English dialects and English-based creoles and pidgins.

The major varieties of English in most cases contain several sub-varieties, such as Cockney within British English, Newfoundland English within Canadian English, and African American Vernacular English ("Ebonics") within American English. English is considered a pluricentric language, with no variety being clearly considered the only standard.

Scots is an English dialect. Pronunciation, grammar and lexis differ, sometimes substantially. The Scottish dialect retains many German aspects including gutteral pronounciations, eg "Its a moon licht nicht".

Due to English's wide use as a second language, English speakers can have many different accents, which may identify the speaker's native dialect or language. For more distinctive characteristics of regional accents, see Regional accents of English speakers. For more distinctive characteristics of regional dialects, see List of dialects of the English language.

Many countries around the world have blended English words and phrases into their everyday speech and refer to the result by a colloquial name that implies its bilingual origins, which parallels the English language's own addiction to loan words and borrowings. Named examples of these ad-hoc constructions, distinct from pidgin and creole languages, include Engrish, Wasei-eigo, Franglais and Spanglish. (See List of dialects of the English language for a complete list.) Europanto combines many languages but has an English core.

Constructed variants of English

  • Basic English is simplified for easy international use. It is used by some aircraft manufacturers and other international businesses to write manuals and communicate. Some English schools in the Far East teach it as an initial practical subset of English.
  • Special English is a simplified version of English used by the Voice of America. It uses a vocabulary of 1500 words.
  • English reform is an attempt to collectively improve upon the English language.
  • Seaspeak and the related Airspeak and Policespeak, all based on restricted vocabularies, were designed by Edward Johnson in the 1980s to aid international cooperation and communication in specific areas.
  • European English is a new variant of the English language created to become the common language in Europe

Sounds

Vowels

Missing image
English_vowels.png
Diagram of English vowels arranged in the vowel space


IPA Description word
monophthongs
Close front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Near-close near-front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Open-mid front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Near-open front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Open back rounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd Template:Footnote
Open-mid back rounded vowel pTemplate:Bold dark reded Template:Footnote
Open back unrounded vowel brTemplate:Bold dark red
Near-close near-back rounded vowel gTemplate:Bold dark redd
Close back rounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark reded
Open-mid back unrounded vowel~Near-open central vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Open-mid central unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd Template:Footnote
Schwa RosTemplate:Bold dark red's Template:Footnote
Close central unrounded vowel rosTemplate:Bold dark reds Template:Footnote
diphthongs
Close-mid front unrounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark reded
Close-mid back rounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark redde
Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-front rounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark red
Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark red
Open-mid back rounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark red

Notes:

It is the vowels that differ most from region to region.

Where symbols appear in pairs, the first corresponds to the sounds used in North American English, the second corresponds to English spoken elsewhere.

  1. North American English lacks this sound; words with this sound are pronounced with or . According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), this sound is present in Standard Canadian English.
  2. Many dialects of North American English don't have this vowel. See cot-caught merger.
  3. The North American variation of this sound is a rhotic vowel.
  4. Many speakers of North American English don't distinguish between these two unstressed vowels. For them, roses and Rosa's are pronounced the same, and the symbol usually used is schwa .
  5. This sound is often transcribed with or with .
  6. The letter U can represent either /u/ or the iotated vowel /ju/.

Consonants

This is the English Consonantal System (including dialect sounds) using IPA symbols.

  bilabial labiodental interdental alveolar palato-alveolar palatal velar glottal
plosive          
nasal         Template:Footnote  
flap       Template:Footnote        
fricative   Template:Footnote Template:Footnote   Template:Footnote
affricate         Template:Footnote      
approximant       Template:Footnote      
lateral approximant              
  1. The velar nasal is a non-phonemic allophone of /n/ in some northerly British accents, appearing only before /g/. In all other dialects it is a separate phoneme, although it only occurs in syllable codas.
  2. The alveolar flap is an allophone of /t/ and /d/ in unstressed syllables in North American English and increasingly in Australian English. This is the sound of "tt" or "dd" in the words latter and ladder, which are homophones in North American English. This is the same sound represented by single "r" in some varieties of Spanish.
  3. In some dialects, such as Cockney, the interdentals /θ/ and /ð/ are usually merged with /f/ and /v/, and in others, like African-American Vernacular English, /ð/ is merged with /d/. In some Irish varieties, /θ/ and /ð/ become the corresponding dental plosives, which then contrast with the usual alveolar plosives.
  4. The labialisation of in initial position is often ignored in phonetic transcriptions, because it is not contrastive.
  5. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is used only by Scottish or Welsh speakers of English for Scots/Gaelic words such as loch or by some speakers for loanwords from German and Hebrew like Reich or Chanukah /xanuka/, or in some dialects such as Scouse (Liverpool) where the affricate [kx] is used instead of /k/ in words such as docker . In most speakers, the sounds [k] and [h] are used instead.
  6. Voiceless w is found in Scottish, upper-class British, some eastern United States, and New Zealand accents. In all other dialects it is merged with /w/.

Basic sound-letter correspondence

IPA Alphabetic representation Dialect-specific
p p
b b
t t, th (rarely) th thing (African-American, Hiberno-English, New York)
d d th that (African-American, Hiberno-English, New York)
[[alveolar flap|]] intervocalic d, t latter, ladder (American English and sometimes Australian English; also see flapping)
k c (+ a, o, u, consonants), k, ck, ch, qu (rarely) conquer, kh (in foreign words)
g g, gh, gu (+ a, e, i), gue (final position)
ʔ ' Hawai'i (in words of foreign origin) t butter (Cockney), eight (Estuary English)
m m
n n
[[palatal nasal|]] ny, ñ (only in words of foreign origin) ny, ni (various, only when followed by a vowel)
ŋ n (before g or k), ng
f f, ph, gh (final, infrequent) laugh, rough th thing (Cockney, Estuary English)
v v th with (Cockney, Estuary English)
θ th
th
s s, c (+ e, i, y), sc (+ e, i, y)
z z, s (finally or occasionally medially), ss (rarely) possess, dessert, word-initial x xylophone
[[voiceless postalveolar fricative|]] sh, sch, ti portion, ci suspicion; si/ssi tension, mission; ch (esp. in words of French origin); rarely su sugar su insure
[[voiced postalveolar fricative|]] si division, zh (in foreign words), z azure, su pleasure, g (in words of French origin)(+e, i, y)
x kh, ch, h (in foreign words) occasionally ch loch (Scottish English, Welsh English)
h h (initially, otherwise silent)
[[voiceless postalveolar affricate|]] ch, tch occasionally tu future, culture
[[voiced postalveolar affricate|]] j, g (+ e, i, y), dg (+ e, i, consonant) badge, judgment
[[alveolar approximant|]] r
j y (initially or surrounded by vowels)
l l
[[velarized alveolar lateral approximant|]] l milk (this sound occurs in most English dialects)
[[labial-velar approximant|]] w, wh l milk (Pittsburgh English, Cockney)
[[voiceless labial-velar fricative|]] wh (Scottish English)

See also

International Phonetic Alphabet for English

Grammar

Main article: English grammar

English grammar is based on its Germanic roots, though some scholars during the 1700s and 1800s attempted to impose Latin grammar upon it, with little success. English is just slightly inflected, much less so than most Indo-European languages. It compensates for this by placing more grammatical information in auxiliary words and word order, through retaining features like:

  • Possessive (sometimes called the saxon genitive, but which has developed into a clitic)
    • He is Alfredo's best friend. -'s
  • 3rd person singular present
    • Alfredo works. -s
  • past tense
    • Alfredo worked. -ed
  • present participle/ progressive
    • Alfredo is working. -ing
  • past participle
    • The car was stolen. -en
    • Alfredo has talked to the police. -ed
  • gerund
    • Working is good for the soul. -ing
  • plural
    • All your sigs are mine. -s
  • comparative
    • Alfredo is smarter than Ricky. -er
  • superlative
    • Alfredo has the bluest eyes. -est

It must be noted that, unlike other Germanic languages or the Romance languages, English nouns do not take gender and verbs can take the "ing" ending. However, despite this relative straightforwardness, as any native speaker (or those attempting to master it) knows, English has its own set of maddening idiosyncrasies. See American and British English differences. See also English plural.

Vocabulary

Almost without exception, Germanic words (which include all the basics such as pronouns and conjunctions) are shorter, and more informal. Latinate words are often regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is often a sign of either pretentiousness (as in the stereotypical policeman's talk of "apprehending the suspect") or obfuscation (as in a military document which says "neutralize" when it means "kill"). George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language gives a thorough treatment of this feature of English.

An English-speaker is often able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: "come" or "arrive"; "sight" or "vision"; "freedom" or "liberty". The richness of the language is that such synonyms have slightly different meanings, enabling the language to be used in a very flexible way to express fine variations or shades of thought. List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents

In everyday speech the majority of words will normally be Germanic. If one wishes to make a forceful point in an argument in a very blunt way, Germanic words will usually be chosen. A majority of Latinate words (or at least a majority of content words) will normally be used in more formal speech and writing, such as a courtroom or an encyclopedia article.

English is noted for the vast size of its active vocabulary and its fluidity. English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and imports new words which often come into common usage. In addition, slang provides new meanings for old words. In fact this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage. See also sociolinguistics.

Number of words in English

As the General Explanations at the beginning of the Oxford English Dictionary state:

The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits.... there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.

The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly vast, but assigning a specific number to its size is more a matter of definition than of calculation. Unlike other languages, there is no Academy to define officially accepted words. Neologisms are coined regularly in medicine, science and technology; some enter wide usage, others remain restricted to small circles. Foreign words used in immigrant communities often make their way into wider English usage. Archaic, dialectal, and regional words might be considered 'English' or not.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) includes over 500,000 headwords, following a rather inclusive policy:

It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang. (Supplement to the OED, 1933).

Word origins

Main article: Lists of English words of international origin

One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words which are Germanic (mostly Old English), and those which are "Latinate" (Latin-derived, mostly from Norman French but some borrowed directly from Latin).

A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd edition) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973) which estimated the origin of English words as follows:

  • French, including Old French and early Anglo-French: 28.3%
  • Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%
  • Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Dutch: 25%
  • Greek: 5.32%
  • No etymology given: 4.03%
  • Derived from proper names: 3.28%
  • All other languages contributed less than 1%

James D. Nicoll made the oft-quoted observation: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." [1] (http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1990May15.155309.8892%40watdragon.waterloo.edu&oe=UTF-8&output=gplain)

Writing system

Main article: English alphabet

English is written using the Latin alphabet. The spelling system or orthography of English is historical, not phonological. The spelling of words often diverges considerably from how they are spoken, and English spelling is often considered to be one of the most difficult to learn of any language that uses an alphabet. See English orthography.

Written accents

English includes some words which can be written with accent marks. These words have mostly been imported from other languages, usually French. But it is increasingly rare for writers of English to actually use the accent marks for common words, even in very formal writing, to the point where actually writing the accent may be interpreted as a sign of pretension – though this view is counterbalanced by the view that fine typography should preserve accents, especially where it makes a distinction in pronunciation (compare faade vs facade which would rhyme with cascade). The strongest tendency to retain the accent is in words that are atypical of English morphology and therefore still perceived as slightly foreign. For example, caf has a pronounced final e, which would be silent by the normal English pronunciation rules.

Some examples: ngstrm, appliqu, attach, blas, bric--brac, caf, clich, crme, crpe, faade, fianc(e), flamb, nave, n(e), papier-mch, pass, piata, protg, raison d'tre, rsum, risqu, ber-, vis--vis, voil. For a more complete list, see List of English words with diacritics.

Some words such as rle and htel were first seen with accents when they were borrowed into English, but now the accent is almost never used. The words were considered very French borrowings when first used in English, even accused by some of being foreign phrases used where English alternatives would suffice, but today their French origin is largely forgotten. The accent on "lite" has disappeared most of the time by today, but Time Magazine still uses it.

It is also possible to use a diaeresis to indicate a syllable break, but again this is often left out or a hyphen used instead. Examples: coperate (or co-operate), das, nave, nol, relect (or re-elect). One publication that still uses a diaeresis to indicate a syllable break is the New Yorker magazine.

Written accents are also used occasionally in poetry and scripts for dramatic performances to indicate that a certain normally unstressed syllable in a word should be stressed for dramatic effect, or to keep with the meter of the poetry. This use is frequently seen in archaic and pseudoarchaic writings with the -ed suffix, to indicate that the "e" should be fully pronounced, as with cursd.

In certain older texts (typically in British English), the use of ligatures is common in words such as archology, œsophagus, and encyclopdia. Such words have Latin or Greek origin. Nowadays, the ligatures have been generally replaced in British English by the separated letters "ae" and "oe" ("archaeology", "oesophagus") and in American English by "e" ("archeology", "esophagus").

See also

Dialects

Pronunciation

Social

Grammar

Usage

External links

Further reading

  • A History of the English Language by Albert Baugh and T. Cable (London, 2002)
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, by David Crystal
  • The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthuraf:Engels (taal)

als:Englische Sprache ang:Nwe Englisc sprǽc ar:إنجليزية ast:Ingls id:Bahasa Inggris ms:Bahasa Inggeris zh-min-nan:Eng-g be:Ангельская мова br:Saozneg bg:Английски език ca:Angls cs:Angličtina cy:Saesneg da:Engelsk (sprog) de:Englische Sprache nv:Bilagana bizaad et:Inglise keel el:Αγγλική Γλώσσα es:Idioma ingls eo:Angla lingvo fr:Anglais ga:Barla gl:Ingls ko:영어 hi:अंग्रेज़ी भाषा io:Angla linguo ia:Lingua anglese id:Bahasa Inggris iu:ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑎᑐᑦ is:Enska it:Lingua inglese jv:Basa Inggris he:אנגלית kw:Sowsnek sw:Kiingereza la:Lingua Anglica li:Ingels lt:Anglų kalba hu:Angol nyelv mg:Anglisy fiteny nl:Engels ja:英語 no:Engelsk sprk nn:Engelsk sprk pi:Āngalabhāsā nds:Ingelsch pl:Język angielski pt:Lngua inglesa ro:Limba engleză ru:Английский язык sco:Inglis leid se:Eaŋgalsgiella simple:English language sl:Anglečina sr:Енглески језик fi:Englannin kieli sv:Engelska tl:Wikang Ingles th:ภาษาอังกฤษ vi:Tiếng Anh tr:İngilizce uk:Англійська мова zh:英语

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