English is a West Germanic language that developed from Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. English, having its major roots in Germanic languages, derives most of its grammar from Old English. As a result of the Norman Conquest, it has been heavily influenced by French and Latin. From England it spread to the other countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others, particularly those in the Anglophone Caribbean. As a result of these historical developments, English is the official language in many countries such as Pakistan, Ghana, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and the Philippines.
Mandarin Chinese and Hindi have more native speakers than does English; however, the geographic distribution of Mandarin and Hindi is more limited than that of English. English also is the most widely spoken Germanic language. English spread to many parts of the world through the expansion of the British Empire, but did not acquire lingua franca status in the world until the late 20th century, when American culture began to overpower that of others on the global scale. Following World War II, the economic and cultural influence of the United States increased and English permeated other cultures, chiefly through development of telecommunications technology. Because a working knowledge of English is required in many fields, professions, and occupations, education ministries throughout the world mandate the teaching of English.
English is an Anglo-Frisian language brought to southeastern Great Britain in the 5th century AD and earlier by Germanic settlers and Germanic auxiliary troops from various parts of northwest Germany as well as Jutland.
Then came the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. For about 300 years following, the Norman kings and the high nobility spoke only Anglo-Norman which was very close to Old French. A large number of Norman words found their way into Old English, leaving a parallel vocabulary that persists into modern times. The Norman influence strongly affected the evolution of the language over the following centuries, resulting in what is now referred to as Middle English.
During the 15th century, Middle English was transformed by the Great Vowel Shift, the spread of a standardised London-based dialect in government and administration, and the standardising effect of printing. Modern English can be traced back to around the time of William Shakespeare.
Classification and related languages
The English language belongs to the western sub-branch of the Germanic branch, which is itself a branch of the Indo-European family of languages.
The question as to which is the nearest living relative of English is a matter of some discussion. Apart from such English-lexified creole languages such as Tok Pisin, Scots — which is spoken primarily in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland — is the Germanic variety most closely associated with English. Like English, Scots ultimately descends from Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon. The closest relative to English after Scots is Frisian, which is spoken in the Northern Netherlands and Northwest Germany. Other less closely related living West Germanic languages include German itself, Low German, Dutch and Afrikaans. The North Germanic languages of Scandinavia are less closely related to English than the West Germanic languages.
Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker because English absorbed a large vocabulary from French, via the Norman after the Norman Conquest and directly from French in further centuries. As a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to French, with some minor spelling differences as well as occasional divergences in meaning.
According to the World Factbook and the Guinness World Records, English is currently the 2nd most commonly spoken language in the world. It is behind only Mandarin, which has over 1 billion speakers. English is today the third most widely distributed language as a first spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and Hindi. About 377 million people use one of the versions of English as their mother tongue, and a similar number of people use one of them as their second or foreign language as well. English is used widely in either the public or private sphere in more than 100 countries. In addition, the language has occupied a prominent place in international academic and business communities. The current status of the English language at the start of the new millennium compares with that of Latin in most of Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. English is also the most widely used language for young backpackers who travel across continents, regardless of whether it is their mother tongue or a secondary language.
Although the language is named after England, the United States now has more first-language English speakers than the rest of the world combined. The United Kingdom comes second, with England indeed having as many English speakers as the rest of the world combined (aside from the USA). Canada is third, and Australia fourth, with those four comprising 95% of native English speakers. Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers and now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country. Following India are the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Germany and the United States.
English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (Canadian English), the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Isle of Man, Jamaica (Jamaican English), Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand (New Zealand English), Ireland (Hiberno-English), Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom (various forms of British English), the U.S. Virgin Islands and the United States (various forms of American English).
English is also an important minority language of South Africa (South African English), and in several other former colonies or current dependent territories of the United Kingdom and the United States, for example Hong Kong, Singapore, Mauritius, and the Philippines.
In Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia use English as either an official language or a de facto common language, and it is taught in all private and public schools as a mandatory subject. There are a considerable number of native English speakers in urban areas in both countries. In Hong Kong, English is co-official with Chinese, and is widely used in business activities. It is taught from infant school and kindergarten, and is the medium of instruction for a few primary schools, many secondary schools and all universities including online universities. Substantial numbers of students reach native-speaker fluency. It is so widely used that it is inadequate to say that it is merely a second or foreign language.
The majority of English native speakers (67 to 70 per cent) live in the United States. Although the U.S. Federal government has no official languages, English has been given official status by 27 of the 50 state governments.
In many other countries, where English is not a first language, it is an official language. These countries include Belize, Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, India, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
English is the most widely learned and used foreign language, and as such, some linguists believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural sign of ‘native English speakers’, but is rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow. Others believe there are limits to how well English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes. English is the language most often studied as a foreign language in the European Union (by 89% of schoolchildren), followed by French (32%), German (18%), and Spanish (8%). It is also the most studied in the People’s Republic of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. English is also compulsory for most secondary school students in the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.
English as a global language
Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a “global language”, the lingua franca of the modern era. It is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world. It is also, by international treaty, the official language for aircraft/airport and maritime communication, as well as being one of the official languages of both the European Union and the United Nations, and of most international athletic organizations, including the Olympic Committee. Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world. English is also the most commonly used language in the sciences. In 1997, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.
Because of English’s wide use as a second language, English speakers have many different accents, which often signal the speaker’s native dialect or language.
Just as English itself has borrowed words from many different languages over its history, English loanwords now appear in a great many languages around the world, indicative of the technological and cultural influence of its speakers.