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English language

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Region(see below)
Native speakers360 million  (2010)[2]
L2: 375 million and 750 million EFL[3]
Language family
Writing systemRoman alphabet
Official status
Official language in54 countries
27 non-sovereign entities
United Nations
European Union
Commonwealth of Nations
Council of Europe
UKUSA Agreement
Language codes
ISO 639-1en
ISO 639-2eng
ISO 639-3eng
     Countries where English is an official or de facto official language, or national language, and is spoken fluently by the majority of the population      Countries where it is an official but not primary language
Countries where English is the main language are dark blue, and countries where English is an important language are in light blue.

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in Anglo-Saxon England in the early Middle Ages. It is now the most widely used language in the world.[4]

It is spoken in many countries around the world. It is the first language of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. There are about 375 million native speakers (people with first language as English),[5] which makes English the second most spoken language in the world. About 220 million more people speak it as a second language and there are as many as a billion people who are learning it.

English has changed, and has been changed by many different languages.[6] Because nearly 60% of the vocabulary comes from Latin, English is sometimes called the most Latin of the Germanic languages.[7]


English began in England. Germanic tribes (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes) came to Britain from around 449 AD. They made their home in the south and east of the island, pushing out the Celtic Britons who were there before them, or making them speak the English language instead of the old Celtic languages.

There are still Celtic languages spoken today, mainly in Wales, where Welsh is the first language of some country people. The number of speakers of Gaelic in Scotland is small, and almost all are in the Highlands and Islands. The language called "Scots" is simply a dialect of English. Gaelic in Ireland and the Isle of Man has very few speakers.

The Germanic dialects of these different tribes became Old English. The word "English" comes from the name of the Angles: Englas. Old English did not sound or look much like the English we speak today. If English speakers today were to hear or read a passage in Old English, they would understand just a few words.

The closest language to English that is still used today is Frisian, spoken by about 500,000 people living in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Despite its similarity to English, speakers of the two languages would not be able to understand each other. However, a few people suggest that the closest language to English is the Dutch language.

Many other people came to England later at different times, speaking different languages, and these languages added more words to make today's English.

For example, around 800 AD, many Danish and Norse pirates, also called Vikings, came to the country and English received many Norse loanwords. Their languages were Germanic languages, like Old English.

After William the Conqueror took over England in 1066 AD with his armies and became king, he brought his nobles, who spoke Norman, a language closely related to French, to be the new government. They stopped English from being taught in schools for a long time, and the language changed greatly, because it was mostly being spoken instead of written for about 300 years. English borrowed so many words from Norman at that time that it could be called a different language, Middle English. Geoffrey Chaucer is a well known writer of Middle English. After more sound changes, Middle English became Modern English. Although the works of Shakespeare might seem very old, they are actually called modern.

English has continued to take new words from other languages, for example mainly from French (around 30% to 40% of its words), but also Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese. Because many scientists from different countries needed to talk to each other, they chose names for scientific things in the languages they all knew: Greek and Latin. Those words came to English also, for example, photography ("photo-" means "light" "and "-graph" means "picture" or "writing", in Greek. A photograph is a picture made using light), or telephone. So, English is made of Old English (closely related to German and Dutch), Danish, Norse, and French, and has been changed by Latin, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish, and more words from even more languages.

The history of the British Empire has added to the spread of the English language. English is an important language in many places today, like in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, the Republic of India and Pakistan, South Africa, and the United States, English is the main language. Because the United Kingdom (the country where England is) and the United States have historically been powerful in money-making and government, many people find it helpful to learn English to communicate in science, business, and diplomacy. This is called learning English as an additional language, English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

Many famous stories and plays are in English. Shakespeare was a famous English writer of poems and plays. Today, many famous songs and movies (cinema films) use the English language.

Spelling differences

English uses strange spelling when written. Sounds for the letters and combinations look the same but can be very different. For example "ough" is different in through (threw), rough (ruff), dough (doe) or cough (coff). This makes it a very hard language to learn.[8] Many English speaking countries spell words differently. There is a difference between some spellings in America on the one hand and the United Kingdom and many other countries (such as those of the British Commonwealth) where English is the main language on the other hand. These different ways of spelling are sometimes called "American English" and "British English". For example "colour" is spelled "color" in the USA, and "programme" is spelled "program" in the USA. Even the word "spelled" is different in British English, where it is spelled "spelt". However, with greater globalization, or globalisation (or spreading around the world), and the spread of US culture through television and US computer programmes, some British people now sometimes use American English terms.


Influences on english vocabulary

Nearly 60% of the vocabulary in the English language comes from Latin and Neo-Latin languages (mainly French):

  • Langue d'oïl (French): 29.3%
  • Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.7%
  • Germanic languages – inherited from Old English, from Proto-Germanic, or a more recent borrowing from a Germanic language such as Old Norse; does not include Germanic words borrowed from a Romance language, i.e., coming from the Germanic element in French, Latin or other Romance languages: 24%
  • Greek: 5.32%
  • Italian, Spanish and Portuguese: 4.03%
  • Derived from proper names: 3.28%
  • All other languages: less than 1%

However, in the most common words, the proportion of Germanic-origin words is much higher.

Related pages


  1. English Adjective – Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary – Oxford University Press ©2010.
  2. Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2010" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2010
  3. "Future of English". The British Council. Retrieved 24 August 2011.  (page 10)
  4. Mydans, Seth (14 May 2007) "Across cultures, English is the word" New York Times. Retrieved 21 September 2011
  5. Curtis, Andy. Color, race, and English language teaching: shades of meaning. 2006, page 192.
  6. Baugh, Albert C. & Cable, Thomas 2012. A history of the English language. 6th ed, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-41-565596-X
  7. Comparison between English, German and Dutch (in Italian)
  8. Smith, Bridie 2009 (in English). It's offishal - English iz darned hard to learn. The Age. 

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