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English language


English language

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd. ed., by David Crystal (Cambridge University Press, 2003)


The primary language of several countries (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and a second language in a number of multilingual countries (including India, Singapore, and the Philippines). See Observations, below.

English is conventionally divided into three historical periods: Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.

Varieties of English:

African American Vernacular English, American, Australian, Babu, Banglish, British, Canadian, Caribbean, Chicano, Chinese, Euro-English, Hinglish, Indian, Irish, Japanese, New Zealand, Nigerian, Nonstandard English, Philippine, Scottish, Singapore, South African, Spanglish, Standard American, Standard British, Standard English, Taglish, Welsh, Zimbabwean

See also:

English is derived from Anglisc, the speech of the Angles (one of the three Germanic tribes that invaded England during the fifth century).


  • "We are speaking a bastard and beaten tongue with a very unusual grammatical history."
    (John McWhorter, quoted by J. Schuesslert in The New York Times, June 14, 2009)

  • "I am as thrilled by the English language as I am by a lovely woman or dreams, green as dreams and deep as death."
    (Richard Burton, The Richard Burton Diaries, ed. by Chris Williams. Yale University Press, 2013)

  • "The English language is like a fleet of juggernaut trucks that goes on regardless. No form of linguistic engineering and no amount of linguistic legislation will prevent the myriads of change that lie ahead."
    (Robert Burchfield, The English Language. Oxford University Press, 1985)

  • Vocabulary of the English Language
    "English has borrowed words from over 350 other languages, and over three-quarters of the English lexicon is actually Classical or Romance in origin."
    (David Crystal, English as a Global Language. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003)

  • "Perhaps the two most salient characteristics of Present-Day English are its highly analytic grammar and its immense lexicon. Both of these features originated during the M[iddle] E[nglish] period. Although English has lost all but a handful of its inflections during ME and has undergone little inflectional change since, ME marks only the onset of the burgeoning of the English vocabulary to its current unparalleled size among the languages of the world. Ever since ME, the language has been more than hospitable to loanwords from other languages, and all subsequent periods have seen comparable influxes of loans and increases in vocabulary."
    (C. M. Millward and Mary Hayes, A Biography of the English Language, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

  • Word Order in English: SVO
    "One of the major syntactic changes in the English language since Anglo-Saxon times has been the disappearance of the S[ubject]-O[bject]-V[erb] and V[erb]-S[ubject]-O[bject] types of word-order, and the establishment of the S[ubject]-V[erb]-O[bject] type as normal. The S-O-V type disappeared in the early Middle Ages, and the V-S-O type was rare after the middle of the seventeenth century. V-S word-order does indeed still exist in English as a less common variant, as in 'Down the road came a whole crowd of children,' but the full V-S-O type hardly occurs today."
    (Charles Barber, The English Language: A Historical Introduction, rev. ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000)

  • English as a Global Language
    "Today there are about 6,000 languages in the world, and half of the world's population speaks only 10 of them. English is the single most dominant of these 10. British colonialism initiated the spread of English across the globe; it has been spoken nearly everywhere and has become even more prevalent since World War II, with the global reach of American power."
    (Christine Kenneally, The First Word. Viking, 2007)

    "How many people in the world today speak English?
    First-language speakers: 375 million
    Second-language speakers: 375 million
    Foreign-language speakers: 750 million
    (David Graddol, The Future of English? British Council, 1997)

    "There are now estimated to be 1.5 billion English speakers globally: 375 million who speak English as their first language, 375 million as a second language and 750 million who speak English as a foreign language. The elites of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon have dumped French in favour of English. India has reversed its former campaign against the language of its colonial rulers, and millions of Indian parents are now enrolling their children in English-language schools--in recognition of the importance of English for social mobility. Since 2005, India has had the world’s largest English-speaking population, with far many more people using the language than before independence. Rwanda, in a move dictated as much by regional economics as post-genocide politics, has decreed a wholesale switch to English as its medium of instruction. And China is about to launch a colossal programme to tackle one of the few remaining obstacles to its breakneck economic expansion: a paucity of English-speakers.

    "English has official or special status in at least 75 countries with a combined population of two billion people. It is estimated that one out of four people worldwide speak English with some degree of competence."
    (Tony Reilly, "English Changes Lives." The Sunday Times [UK], November 11, 2012)

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