English Language History
The language with up to a billion students worldwide
English, with 378 million native speakers internationally, has the third largest number of native speakers of all global languages. Chinese is number one with over 900 million native speakers, followed by 442 million people born speaking Spanish. However, English is the most commonly spoken language worldwide with over one billion speakers from nearly every country. More than double the number of native speakers has learned English as a secondary language. Thus, the common term “ESL” (English as a second language) speakers was derived.
The United Nations selected English as one of its six official languages. As the language that is spoken extensively on every continent, English is often chosen as the universal language used in official documents and teaching. Likewise, the entertainment industry has adopted English as it is standard language in several countries. Although, there are some differences in the verbal and written versions of Canadian, American, Australian and British English, generally English speakers can understand each other. British English is still spoken as the official language in several of the formerly colonised countries in Africa and the Caribbean. These countries have English nuances adapted to their cultures and vocal accents. Then again, even within the same country, regional accents and vocabulary choices can make communication challenging at times.
Origin & Roots of the English Language
English is a member of the Indo-European family of languages. It is related to Dutch, Frisian and German with a significant amount of vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek and many other languages. English evolved from the Germanic languages brought to Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and other Germanic tribes and are known collectively as Anglo-Saxon or Old English.
The history of the English language can be divided into three significant time periods: Old English, Middle English and Modern English. Old English dates back between 450 and 1100 A.D., the time when Germanic tribes started invading and settling in the British Isles. The British Isles natives spoke Celtic languages and were driven out of their land into areas such as modern-day Scotland and Ireland. It is for this very reason that the English language also has quite a number of words of Celtic origin. The Vikings also managed to influence Old English a great deal by incorporating their Scandinavian languages.
The beginning of the Middle English period is marked by the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. The Normans who captured England brought with them a language that was similar to French in many ways. This French-like language became the language of the Royal Court, while English continued to be spoken by members of the royal class causing a significant linguistic divide. Even though English became popular in England once again during the 14th century, this didn’t happen without the addition of a number of French words.
The Modern English period is divided into two major categories, namely Early Modern English and Late Modern English somewhere between 1700-1800. While Early Modern English is characterised by a distinct change in pronunciation, the primary change in Late Modern English was the additions, subtraction and changes of words. For example, it is rare to hear the pronouns thou, thee and thy anymore except in historical literature, religious texts or poetry.
As technology advances and colloquial words permeate the world via the Internet, the language continues to evolve. Being a relatively new language, English was quick to progress and developed to reach the level of popularity that it enjoys today with relative ease.
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