English is the world's leading international language. It is the principal language spoken in Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries such as Uganda and Botswana. Almost 400 million people in the world speak English as their first language (estimates of the exact number vary considerably) - about the same number as Spanish, but less than Mandarin Chinese or Hindi.
In addition, over 1,000 million (1 billion) people worldwide speak English as a second language. Many more can get by in English
English is the main second language in India, South Africa and many parts of Africa and Asia. But - more and more - it is also the language of international commerce, of business, of diplomacy and of tourism.
How did English reach the special position in which it finds itself today? Mostly, the rise of English to its position as the world's main international language was a result of chance. Britain was the world's most active
The importance of American international corporations has made sure that English has remained the international language of business
The success story of English has been due partly to the nature of the language, but more to the fact that
Over a thousand years ago, when the roots of modern Europe were being formed, western Europe was divided into three sections: in the East there were people who spoke Slavonic languages, in the middle there were people speaking Germanic languages (including Scandinavians), and in the south and west there were people speaking "Romance" languages, derived from Latin. In the far west of Europe, there were also people speaking Celtic languages, such as Gaelic.
In those days, England was a Germanic country; its people spoke a variety of Germanic languages including forms of Danish and Anglo Saxon, as well as some Celtic languages.
In 1066, England was conquered by the Normans, from France, who brought with them their own
In the years that followed, the nobility of England spoke French and read Latin, while the ordinary people spoke varieties of old English; but since they existed side by side, the two languages immediately began to influence each other.
Eventually, since Middle English was spoken by far the largest part of the population, it became the dominant language in England; and by the 14th century, it was well on the way to becoming the national language, not just for everyday life, but for administration and literature too.
Finally, English also replaced Latin as the language of the church. The Bible had been translated into English in the 14th century; but it was not until the Protestant reformation of the 16th century, the age of Shakespeare, that English became the language of church services. From then on, its position as the national language of
English became the established national language just at the point in history when colonial expansion was beginning. It was the spoken and written language of the first men and women from Britain to settle
By the year 1700, England had become the world's leading
Since English is at the dividing line of the two principal families of
For example, if you speak a Germanic language (German, Dutch, or a Scandinavian language), you do not need to have learned much (or even any) English to understand this sentence:
The man forgot to water his garden last night
Anyone who speaks French or Spanish or
Indicate if you have a difficult problem.
As English is
Nevertheless, grammar is important; for without grammar, no language can survive. Grammar is the cement with which the bricks of language are held together. Without it, even messages in simple English can be quite impossible to understand.
Just look at the importance of word order in these simple examples, which are entirely different in meaning:
The man the woman saw was hungry.
The man saw the woman was hungry.
Or look at the radical difference in meaning between these two sentences:
This is a story forgotten by Charles Dickens.
This is a forgotten story by Charles Dickens.
In recent times, as English has become a global language, used in different places all over the world, it has become a much richer language than in the past. It has picked up new words from other cultures, other languages, such as bungalow (from India), détente (from French), kebab (from Turkey), potato (from American Indian) - plus a lot of modern slang from America.
Today, both grammar and vocabulary are still changing. There is no such thing as "official English"; neither Britain nor the USA
Today's English is different from the English of 100 years ago; it is pronounced differently too - and no doubt, it will be even more different in 100 years' time.