Origins of the English Language

There are approximately 7 billion people in the world and around 400 million speak English as their native tongue. Between 1.5 and 2 billion people have at least a slight competence in the language. This makes English the third-most spoken language in the world behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Fifty-two nations claim English as their official language while fifty-three more have a high rate of competency with the language. The countries with the highest populations of English speakers are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and surprisingly, India. It is also quite popular in many other nations including Brunei, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Malaysia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany ‘ all of which have at least 50% of their populations fluent in English. English is also the most popular language used on the Internet, used more than most other languages combined. But English was not always how it is today. The English language evolved through different stages beginning with Anglo-Saxon.

Anglo-Saxon English

Anglo-Saxon English is commonly referred to as ‘Old English.’? It had four major dialects: Kentish, Merican, Northumbrian and West Saxon. It was originally spoken by Germanic tribes who drove the Celts into the islands of Britain and Ireland, which is why English is considered a Germanic language. The language was not forced upon the Celts, but rather they adopted it of their own volition. In fact, even today you can see many distinct similarities between English and German. Many words in Old English were taken from Latin as it was still considered the formal language of the times (500-1200AD).

Middle English

Middle English is considered simplified Old English and it was used from about 1100 to 1500. It borrowed heavily from the French. Like its predecessor, Old English, Middle English brought with it no prestige and was considered informal at first. Even the laws were written in French. However, once the Magna Carta was written in 1215 and the Serfs were freed, the language grew and expanded to the nobility. Middle English had less word order variation than Old English. The language changed a lot during this phase. Some alterations included three letters being removed and the adoption of the letter V, the ‘th’? diagraph was used much more frequently and many instances of the letter U were converted to O. Middle English is often called Chaucer’s Language because of the impact Geoffrey Chaucer’s writing had on the standard during the time period. Evidently, the most transitional period actually began in 1420, twenty years after Chaucer’s death.

Modern English

The first developments of Modern English began around the year 1500. With it some semantics changed and auxiliary verbs came into use. Spelling too was reformed. Shakespeare’s work was actually written during the earlier part of Modern English so many Middle English forms such as ‘thou’ and ‘dost’? were still used commonly. Thou eventually became ‘you’ as did ‘thee’ and ‘ye.’? Essentially there was less discernment between the nominative, accusative and dative cases.

English Today

Since its birth, English has changed more than any other Indo-European language. Even today the language varies in different parts of the world. For example, most of the English-speaking world refers to visible light as colour, but the United States spells it color, without the u. Pronunciation of certain words also differs. Some vocabulary used in certain parts of the world is not the same as in others. What the British refer to as rubbish, people in the United States call trash. Vocabulary differences can be observed even between two cities in the same state. What may be considered acceptable in an urban setting may be seen differently elsewhere and vice versa. About half of the United States refers to cola as soda while the rest call it pop. It is suggested that customs are researched when visiting a new place, even if it’s in the same country and the people speak your language.

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