Five Compelling Quotes about the English Language
Both Chinese and Hindi have more native speakers than the English language, with roughly 982 million and 460 million, respectively. However, with 375 million native speakers, the English language is the most spoken in the world. It’s also a second language for more than 1.1 billion people. This makes the total number of speakers around 1.5 billion worldwide.
Why is English such a popular language globally? It might have something to do with historic British expansion. There was a time when it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire. Or perhaps it’s related to the global economy, which long treated English as the universal language of business.
Likely, both of these factors played a role. However, it’s also worth noting that English is an incredibly versatile and expressive language that lends itself to evolution. As a result, the English language is constantly growing and changing. This helps provide endless opportunities to express emotions, and ideas, and to create new identities.
Those who are most familiar with the English language, including linguists, authors, and literary historians, have plenty to say on the subject.
1. The English Language is Incredibly Versatile
Noting both the versatility and appeal of English as a whole, American linguist and author Richard Lederer says, “English is the most universal language in history, way more than the Latin of Julius Caesar. It’s the most punderful language because its vocabulary has a certain critical mass that makes a lingo good for punning.”
Indeed, one of the most notable advantages of the English language is how flexible it can be. Although the English alphabet features just 26 characters, the ways they combine to create words and express meaning are practically infinite. More importantly, however, is that words can have multiple meanings, and the accepted meaning of a word can change over time. Words can also merge together to create new terminology that conveys greater meaning than the sum of its parts. English is also famous for adopting words from other languages. This openness to evolution is not just an indicator of English-speaking cultures that embrace change, but of the language’s ability to change with a culture over time.
2. English is an Expressive Language
“The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself,” said Sir Derek Walcott, Saint Lucian poet, playwright, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
English translation can be incredibly difficult because of the complex expressions and flexible nature of the English language. However, these are also its greatest strengths, especially when it comes to expressing ideas and emotions.
3. Mastery of the English Language Is No Easy Feat
Crime writer and poet Dorothy L. Sayers aptly summed up the process of learning English when she said, “The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity; so have some little frocks; but they are both not the kind of thing you can run up in half an hour with a machine.”
It is widely agreed upon in linguist circles, not to mention anecdotally, that English is among the most difficult languages to learn. Oddly enough, this is even true for many native speakers. Consider how many English speakers confuse there, their, and they’re. Others stumble over rules like “i before e, except after c,” because there are so many exceptions. Now think how difficult it must be for non-native speakers to learn such a wildly dynamic and contradictory language. There’s no shortage of instances where the English translation is a matter of knowing the rules and when to break them.
4. Shakespeare is an English Institution
Of the beloved William Shakespeare, American literary historian and author Stephen Greenblatt say, “First of all, there was a volcano of words, an eruption of words that Shakespeare had never used before that had never been used in English before. It’s astonishing. It pours out of him.”
Shakespeare is typically the greatest playwright in history. He had an amazing knack for observing the human experience and making it relatable and entertaining. Perhaps his greatest feat, however, was finding the right words to describe it all—or simply making up new English words when the ones he wanted didn’t exist. Shakespeare is credited with adding thousands of words to the English language throughout his life and career, including common phrases that are still in use today.
5. There’s Always Room for More
As French author Mireille Guiliano notes, “In France we have a saying, joie de vivre, which doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.”
Language is inextricably linked to culture, insofar as we use language as an expression of social and cultural values, ideals, morals, and the principles that govern our lives.
However, English isn’t perfect. Sometimes infusing its sentiments with words and phrases from another language is the best way to express the true essence of a feeling or act. In doing so, the language becomes an even richer mélange.
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