English The language which originated in England and is now widely spoken on six continents. It is the primary language of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various small island nations in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is also an official language of India, the Philippines, and many countries in sub Saharan Africa, including South Africa. English is a member of the western group of the Germanic languages (itself part of the Indo European language family) and is closely related to Frisian, German, and Netherlandic (Dutch and Flemish).
In the 16th century, English was the mother tongue of only a few million people living in England, but owing to that nation's colonization of other parts of the globe and other historical factors, English was the native language of more than 350 million people by the late 20th century. It is thus the mother tongue of more people than any other language except Mandarin Chinese. English is the most widely taught foreign language and is also the most widely used second language I. e., One that two people communicate in when they cannot understand each other's native speech. It became the international language of scientific and technical discourse in the 20th century and was also widely adopted for use in business and diplomacy. In the entire world, one person in seven speaks English as either a primary or secondary language.
English is an analytic (I. e., Relatively uninflected) language, whereas Proto Indo European, the ancestral tongue of most European, Iranian, and North Indian languages, is synthetic, or inflected. (Inflections are changes in the form of words to indicate such distinctions as tense, person, number, and gender.) Over thousands of years, English has lost most of its inflections, while other European languages have retained more of theirs. Indeed, English is the only European language in which adjectives have no distinctive endings, aside from determiners and endings denoting degrees of comparison.
Another characteristic is flexibility of function. This means that one word can function as various parts of speech in different contexts. For example, the word "book" can be an adjective in "book review," a noun in "read a book," or a verb in "book a room." Because other European languages retain more inflectional endings than does English, they almost never have this characteristic. A third feature, openness of vocabulary, allows English to admit words freely from other languages and to create compounds and derivatives.
In England, British Received Pronunciation (RP) is the usual speech of educated people. In the United States, Inland Northern (popularly known as General American) is commonly used. In both countries, however, other pronunciations are acceptable.
British Received Pronunciation and American Inland Northern show several divergences: (1) After some vowels American has a semiconsonantal glide. (2) The vowel in "cod," "box," and "dock" is pronounced like "aw" in British and a sound similar to "ah" in American. (3) The vowel in "but," "cut," and "rung," is central in American but is fronted in British. (4) The vowels in the American "bath" and "bad" and in the British "bad" are all pronounced the same, but the
Vowel in the British "bath" is pronounced like "ah," since it is before one of the fricatives S, F, or Th (as in "thin"). (5) When a high back vowel is preceded by T, D, or N In British, a glide (consonantal Y) is inserted between them (E. g., "tulip," "news"); in American the glide is omitted.
The 24 consonantal sounds comprise six stops (plosives): P, B, T, D, K, G; the fricatives F, V, Th (as in "thin"), Th (as in "then"), S, Z, Sh (as in "ship"), Zh (as in "azure"), and H; two affricatives, Ch (as in "church") and J (as in "jam"); the nasals M, N, and Ng (as in "young"); the lateral L; the vibrant or retroflex R; and the semivowels Y And W. American and British consonants have the same pronunciation with two exceptions: (1) When R Occurs after a vowel, it is dropped in British but pronounced in American. (2) A T Between two vowels is pronounced like T In "top" in British, but in American the sound is close to that of a D.
English is a strongly stressed language, with four degrees of stress: primary, secondary, tertiary, and weak. A change in stress can change the meaning of a sentence or a phrase. Although in comparison with other languages English stress is less predictable, there is a tendency toward antepenultimate (third syllable from the last) primary stress. This is apparent in such five syllable words as equanímity, longitúdinal, and notoríety. French stress is often sustained in borrowed words, E. g., Bizárre, critíque, and hotél.
Pitch, or musical tone, may be falling, rising, or falling rising. Word tone, which is also called pitch, can influence the meaning of a word. Sentence tone is called intonation and is especially important at the end of a sentence. There are three important end of sentence intonations: falling, rising, and falling rising. The falling intonation is used in completed statements, commands, and some questions calling for "yes" or "no" answers. Rising intonation is used in statements made with some reservation, in polite requests, and in certain questions answerable by "yes" or "no." The third type of intonation, first falling and then rising pitch, is used in sentences that imply concessions or contrasts. American intonation is less singsong and stays in a narrower range than does British.
The words of the English language can be divided according to their function or form into roughly eight categories, or parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Modern English nouns, pronouns, and verbs are inflected, but adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections are not. Most English nouns have the plural inflection ( E)S, though some remain unchanged (E. g., Deer). Five of the seven personal pronouns have separate forms for subject and object. English verbs are not complex. Regular or weak verbs have only four forms, strong verbs have five, and "to be" has eight. Some verbs ending in T Or D Have only three forms.
Besides employing inflection, English exhibits two other main morphological (structural) processes affixation and composition and two subsidiary ones back formation and blend. Affixes, word elements attached to a word, may either precede as prefixes (pre, dis ) or follow as suffixes ( able, er). They can be native (over, ness), Greek (hyper ), or Latin ( ment). English makes varied use of affixes; often, many different ones have the same meaning, or the same one has many meanings. Suffixes are attached more closely to the stem than are prefixes and often remain permanent.
Composition, or compounding, describes putting two free forms together to form a new word. The new word can differ from the previous forms in phonology, stress, and juncture. Five types of compounds are defined by describing the relationship of the free forms to each other: (1) a compound in which the first component noun is attributive and modifies the second noun (E. g., Cloverleaf, beehive, vineyard); (2) one made up of a noun plus an agent noun, itself consisting of a verb plus agent suffix (E. g., Icebreaker, landowner, timekeeper); (3) a verb plus an object (E. g., Pastime, scarecrow, daredevil); (4) an attributive adjective plus a noun (E. g., Bluebell, grandson, shorthand); and (5) a noun and a present participle (E. g., Fact finding, heartrending, life giving).
Back formation, the reverse of affixation, is the analogical formation of a new word falsely assumed to be its derivation. The verbs "to edit" and "to act" have been formed from the nouns "editor" and "actor," respectively. Blends fall into two groups: (1) coalescences, such as "bash" from "bang" and "smash," and (2) telescoped forms, called portmanteau words, such as "motorcade" from "motor cavalcade."
In English syntax, the main device for indicating the relationship between words is word order. In the sentence "The girl loves the boy," the subject is in initial position, and the object follows the verb; transposing the order of "boy" and "girl" would change the meaning. In contrast to this system, most other languages use inflections to indicate grammatical relationships. In Puerum puella amat, Which is the Latin equivalent of "The girl loves the boy," the words can be given in any order (for example, Amat puella puerum) because the um Ending on the form for "boy" (Puerum) indicates the object of the verb regardless of its position in the sentence.
English sentences generally start with the subject first, followed by the verb and then by the object. Adjectives or other single words that modify nouns are placed before the noun, while whole phrases acting as modifiers are usually placed after the noun. Adverbs are normally more mobile than adjectives, and they can occur either before or after the verb they modify. As their etymology implies, prepositions usually precede nouns, but there are a few exceptions, E. g., "the whole world over." Because of the laxity of syntactic principles, English is a very easy language to speak poorly.
English has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, chiefly because of its propensity for borrowing and because the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century introduced vast numbers of French words into the language. The vocabulary of Modern English is thus approximately half Germanic (Old English and Scandinavian) and half Romance or Italic (French and Latin), with copious importations from Greek in science and borrowings from many other languages. Almost all basic concepts and things come from Old English, or Anglo Saxon, as do most personal pronouns, all auxiliary verbs, most simple prepositions, all conjunctions, and almost all numbers. Many common nouns, adjectives, and verbs are of Scandinavian origin, a fact due to the Scandinavian invasions of Britain. The English language owes a great debt to French, which gave it many terms relating to dress and fashion, cuisine, politics, law, society, literature, and art. Comparison between French and English synonyms reveals the former to be more intellectual and abstract, and the latter more human and concrete. Many of the Greek compounds and derivatives in English have Latin equivalents with either similar or considerably different meanings.
The English adopted the 23 letter Latin alphabet, to which they added the letters W, J, and V. For the most part, English spelling is based on that of the 15th century. Pronunciation, however, has changed greatly since then. During the 17th and 18th centuries, fixed spellings were adopted, although there have been a few changes since that time. Numerous attempts have been made to reform English spelling, most of them unsuccessful.
The history of the English language begins with the migration of the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons from Germany and Denmark to Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. Their Anglo Saxon language is known as Old English. The formation of separate kingdoms in Britain to some extent coincided with the development of the Old English dialects of Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon, and Kentish. Northumbrian was in a position of cultural superiority until the destructive Viking raids of the 9th century caused cultural leadership to pass to the West Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 set in motion the transition to Middle English. For the first century after the Conquest, a vast number of loanwords entered the English language from the dialects of northern France. The Conquest also served to place all four Old English dialects on the same cultural level and to allow them to develop independently. So West Saxon lost its supremacy, and the centre of culture gradually shifted to London. During this Middle English period the Northumbrian dialect split into Scottish and Northern, and Mercian became East and West Midland. Another outcome of the Norman Conquest was the adoption of the Carolingian script, then in use on the European continent, and changes in spelling.
The transition from Middle to Modern English started at the beginning of the 15th century. This century witnessed three important developments: the rise of London English, the invention of printing, and the spread of new learning. The Renaissance in England produced many more scholars who were knowledgeable in foreign languages, especially Greek and Classical Latin. Their liberal attitude toward language made possible the introduction of a great number of words into English. Scholars generally date the beginning of the Modern English period at 1500. The language was subsequently standardized through the work of grammarians and the publication of dictionaries, and its vocabulary underwent another vast expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries to accommodate developments in the sciences and technology.
Origins and Basic Characteristics
English is a West Germanic language of the Indo European language family that is closely related to Frisian, German, and Netherlandic languages. English originated in England and is now widely spoken on six continents. It is the primary language of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various small island nations in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is also an official language of India, the Philippines, and many countries in sub Saharan Africa, including South Africa.
English belongs to the Indo European family of languages and is therefore related to most other languages spoken in Europe and western Asia from Iceland to India. The parent tongue, called Proto Indo European, was spoken about 5,000 years ago by nomads believed to have roamed the southeast European plains. Germanic, one of the language groups descended from this ancestral speech, is usually divided by scholars into three regional groups: East (Burgundian, Vandal, and Gothic, all extinct), North (Icelandic, Faeroese, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish), and West
(German, Netherlandic [Dutch and Flemish], Frisian, English). Though closely related to English, German remains far more conservative than English in its retention of a fairly elaborate system of inflections. Frisian, spoken by the inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland and the islands off the west coast of Schleswig, is the language most nearly related to Modern English. Icelandic, which has changed little over the last thousand years, is the living language most nearly resembling Old English in grammatical structure.
Modern English is analytic (I. e., Relatively uninflected), whereas Proto Indo European, the ancestral tongue of most of the modern European languages (E. g., German, French, Russian, Greek), was synthetic, or inflected. During the course of thousands of years, English words have been slowly simplified from the inflected variable forms found in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Russian, and German, toward invariable forms, as in Chinese and Vietnamese. The German and Chinese words for "man" are exemplary. German has five forms: Mann, Mannes, Manne, MäNner, MäNnern. Chinese has one form: Jen. English stands in between, with four forms: man, man's, men, men's. In English only nouns, pronouns, and verbs are inflected. Adjectives have no inflections aside from the determiners "this, these" and "that, those." (The endings er, est, denoting degrees of comparison, are better regarded as noninflectional suffixes.) English is the only European language to employ uninflected adjectives; E. g., "the tall man," "the tall woman," compared to Spanish El Hombre alto And La mujer alta. As for verbs, if the Modern English word ride is compared with the corresponding words in Old English and Modern German, it will be found that English now has only five forms (ride, rides, rode, riding, ridden), whereas Old English Ridan Had 13, and Modern German Reiten Has 16 forms. In addition to this simplicity of inflections, English has two other basic characteristics: flexibility of function and openness of vocabulary.
Flexibility of function has grown over the last five centuries as a consequence of the loss of inflections. Words formerly distinguished as nouns or verbs by differences in their forms are now often used as both nouns and verbs. One can speak, for example, of "planning a table" or "tabling a plan," "booking a place" or "placing a book," "lifting a thumb" or "thumbing a lift." In the other Indo European languages, apart from rare exceptions in Scandinavian, nouns and verbs are never identical because of the necessity of separate noun and verb endings. In English, forms for traditional pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs can also function as nouns; adjectives and adverbs as verbs; and nouns, pronouns, and adverbs as adjectives. One speaks in English of the Frankfurt Book Fair, but in German one must add the suffix er To the place name and put attributive and noun together as a compound, Frankfurter Buchmesse. In French one has no choice but to construct a phrase involving the use of two prepositions: Foire du Livre de Francfort. In English it is now possible to employ a plural noun as adjunct (modifier), as in "wages board" and "sports editor"; or even a conjunctional group, as in "prices and incomes policy" and "parks and gardens committee."
Openness of vocabulary implies both free admission of words from other languages and the ready creation of compounds and derivatives. English adopts (without change) or adapts (with slight change) any word really needed to name some new object or to denote some new process. Like French, Spanish, and Russian, English frequently forms scientific terms from Classical Greek word elements. English possesses a system of orthography that does not always accurately reflect the pronunciation of words; this is discussed below in the section Orthography.