The English language is the predominant language of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, as well as other former members of the British Empire. Due to the enormous economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the these nations, English functions as the world's major international language.
History and Development
English is considered a member of the Germanic language family, one of the oldest surviving Germanic languages within the North-Sea Germanic/Ingvaeonic sub-grouping of this family, with a vocabulary based upon Saxon, Angle, and Jute descent. The language has changed considerably in its existence; predecessors to modern English are highly distinct and are often mistaken for a completely different language, as evident in Old-English and Middle English. In the Middle Ages, loanwords entered from Latin, due to its use as a literary and ecclesiastical language, and from Old Norse. French, amongst other Romance languages, has had a large impact on the language as well, due to the conquest of England by the French speaking Normans in 1066 AD. French also had a great impact on the language as it was the Lingua-Franca, considered so up until World War II (when English itself became the Lingua-Franca), in subjects such as law, science, philosophy, and politics.
Scholars typically identify several key factors in the development of the language in regards to the insurgence of non-native terminology. These times include the influence of French, mentioned above, the commerce England had with Spain, introducing Spanish to the language, and the effect of the Renaissance and Enlightenment period, which brought Latin and Greek based words to the language. Based on the history of the English language, it is sometimes compared to a common Creole language due to the many factors that have helped it develop over hundreds of years.
After World War II, the rise of the United States as a world superpower led to English replacing French as the Lingua-Franca, becoming the world's most used language for diplomacy, commerce, science, and so forth. Because of this, Modern English is considered the world's most important international language by many.
English spelling, technically phonetic based on the Latin alphabet, has changed considerably over time. Because England had vast differences in pronunciations and dialects, and because there was no standardized agreement of how to represent each sound nor which Roman letters corresponded to which sound, spelling was quite variable. Standard spellings did not come about until the late seventeenth century. In or around 1828 in the United States, the lexicographer Noah Webster argued for simplifying some spellings which were no longer phonetic, such as the -our in words such as "colour". Most, though not all, of his proposed changes were adopted, such that US English spelling differs from UK English in some hundreds of instances. UK English spelling is the standard in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and most of the Commonwealth of Nations including Canada and Australia; US English spelling is the standard in the United States and its territories.
The term "English" may also be used to refer to a person from the United Kingdom born in the country of England, or to describe something from England or with characteristics particular to that place.
Differences with other languages
In contrast with German, the English language requires designation of ongoing activities by appending "ing" to the verb, as in "he was running into the end zone when he dropped the football" or "I am teaching writing". Notice that a form of the verb "to be" is used as a helping verb; thus, constructions like "I do teaching writing" are ungrammatical.
English is considered a weakly inflected language. This means that the grammatical functions of words do not primarily depend on suffixes, prefixes, or vowel changes. Instead, meaning primarily depends on word order. Although Old English was highly inflected, this property was lost during the period of Viking occupation and the Danelaw. Old Norse and Old English shared a similar core vocabulary, but varied in their inflections. In England, these inflections were dropped through interactions between speakers of the two languages. Today, English and Danish are two of the least inflected Indo-European languages, although it is unlikely that the version of Old Norse spoken in England influenced the Danish language.
English is one of the few languages where grammatical gender is almost entirely determined by biological sex. Males are masculine, females are feminine, and inanimate objects are neuter. An exception is ships, which are sometimes treated as feminine.
- Jordan, John-Erik. "139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language". Babbel Magazine. Lesson Nine GmbH.
- Hannan, Daniel. (2013). Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins. P. 75.
- Stratton, Clarence. (1963). "Gender". In The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation.