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History of English

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The English language is third in the world when it comes to the number of native speakers, and for the overall number of speakers all over the world, it gets the top position. It’s the official language of 53 countries, institutions such as the UN and EU, and many world trade, maritime, aerial and other organizations. It’s often called the contemporary lingua franca – or global language. As for its origins, English is a Germanic language belonging to the Indo-European family. Deriving from Anglo-Saxon, English underwent a very specific kind of development resulting from a series of factors: the island situation of Great Britain, Norman influences and the impact of Latin, as well as the global diffusion of the language.

Origins

English is an Indo-European language belonging to the family of Germanic languages. It derived from the so-called Anglo-Saxon. In the 5th Century, the Angles and Saxons, living in the area of West Germany, invaded England. Their dialects spread and interacted with the speech of the local Celts, thus forming the Anglo-Saxon language. English is an Anglo-Frisian language, similar to the dialects spoken in present-day Western Germany and Netherlands (the historical area of Frisia). It was strongly influenced by French – first during the domination of the Normans, and then by Latin in the Renaissance. The primary mixture of dialects, the influence of French and unique development as an island language resulted in a quite different linguistic system when compared to other Germanic languages.

Official Language

English is today the official language of 53 countries, including the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It’s the official language of the UN, the EU, the Olympic Committee, and aerial and maritime transport organizations all over the world. The contemporary status of English as a global language has a historical and linguistic explanation. Due first to the British Empire and its post-colonial impact, the language spread over huge territories. After World War II, the economic and political influence of the USA immensely accelerated the process. Some linguists also base the impressive popularity of English on specific phonetic and grammatical features that make English easier to learn than various other languages (easy pronunciation, almost total submission of gender, verb personal flexion, etc). Combining native and second-language speakers, English is spoken by about one billion people in the world.

Varieties

Due to its extremely wide distribution, it’s quite difficult to determine the dialects and varieties of English. Based on geographical distribution, English spoken in various countries developed in a specific way, thus forming a regional variety. Dialects formed within these national linguistic varieties – Cockney in Britain, the Newfoundland variety in Canadian, etc. Often, when English co-exists as a second official language, it interacts with the other local language to form a specific variety.

Brief History

The history of English started in the 5th Century, when the Angles and Saxons from the region of Frisia (western Germany and the Netherlands) invaded England. Their dialects spread over the island and evolved to form the so-called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Some linguists claim that the dialects of Angles and Saxons interacted with the language of the local Celts to finally form a  new language.

Old English was strongly influenced by the speech of the Normans. They invaded England at the end of the 10th Century and remained dominant until the beginning of the 13th Century, thus hugely impacting Old English and transforming it into so-called Middle English. Normans who spoke Old French and English at that time came to use a huge amount of French vocabulary in official terminology, and also common topics such as food, clothing, agriculture, etc. At that time, English adopted the Latin alphabet for its writing system.

A second period of strong influence from French was the Renaissance, when a great number of lexical units were re-adopted from the Romance languages through Latin or French once again.

Modern English is considered to have started its development in the Elizabethan period.

Did you know?

Though extremely popular and spoken by everyone around us, English is the third language when it comes to the number of native speakers, preceded by Mandarin Chinese and Spanish only.

75 percent of contemporary English words derive from French

English is the official language in 53 countries all over the world. One of the reasons for its huge popularity, besides the impact of Great Britain, the USA, and the simplicity of its grammar and pronunciation, is the fact that it has a very specific quality of quickly adapting to the changing reality.


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