Difference between revisions of "English"

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'''English''' is the [[language]] that [[TEFL]] teachers [[teach]]. There are many varieties of English, including, but not limited to, [[American English]], Australian English, British English, Indian English, South African English, and so on. This wide-ranging reality has led to most specialists now preferring to use the term '''the English languages'''.
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'''English''' is an [[Indo-European language|Indo-European]] [[Germanic language|Germanic]] language that is lightly [[Inflection | inflected]][[stress-timed]] [[language]].
  
== Overview ==
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It is the subject that [[TEFL]] teachers [[teach]].  There are many varieties of English, including, but not limited to, [[American English]] (AmE), [[Australian English]] (AuE), [[British English]] (BrE), Indian English, South African English, [[Canadian English]], [[Chinese English]] and so on. This wide-ranging reality has led to most specialists now preferring to use the term '''the English languages''' or '''Englishes'''.
Notwithstanding its many varieties, English has a long and varied history which is, not unnaturally, bound up with the history of England, the British Isles and its peoples.
 
  
== Spelling ==
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Within the UK itself, regional varieties abound, such as [[Cockney]] and [[Estuary English]] in London or [[Scottish English]] (with variants such as Glaswegian) with major differences in the spoken language, and teachers must be aware of such differences when working on [[pronunciation]].
One of the consequences of this long and varied history is that English [[spelling]] no longer corresponds particularly well with English [[pronunciation]], giving rise to calls for [[spelling reform]].  
 
  
== Number of words ==
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== Number of speakers of English ==
Although statements are sometimes made to the effect that "English has more [[word]]s than any other language", the situation is by no means so clear cut. While this article, and Teflpedia in general, deals specifically with English in England, similar claims regarding the number of words, and the count of same, are made in many other languages. This article hopes to put a perspective on such claims.
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''See main article [[Number of speakers of English]]''
  
First of all, there is the simple question of how we count "words".
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For various reasons it is difficult to be exact about the total number of native speakers of English but estimates vary from three hundred and nine million to three hundred and forty one million. This would rank English fourth in number of native speakers after Mandarin Chinese, Hindi/Urdu and [[Spanish]].<ref>[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers wikipedia - languages by native speaker]</ref>
  
How would one count [[conjugations]]? [[past participles]] used as [[adjectives]]? Species names for flowers and insects which are common to all languages? Chemical names? (With these you can dwarf the number of "normal" words in any language.)  
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On the other hand, if one were to attempt to include the number of individuals who speak English as a second language then the number becomes something in the order of one thousand five hundred million people - a larger number than that of any other language. A 2012 article in ''[[English Today]]'' by Bolton and Graddol, quoting a ''China Daily'' article, states that around 400 million people in China, approximately a third of the population, are currently learning English.<ref>[http://cup.linguistlist.org/2012/09/the-great-china-english-puzzle/ Graddol, D. "The great China English puzzle"] [[Cambridge University Press]]. Retrieved 6th October 2012.</ref><ref>[http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=8691693&jid=ENG&volumeId=28&issueId=03&aid=8691692&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0266078412000223 Bolton, K. and Graddol, D. "English in China today" in ''English Today'' Volume 28, Issue 03, Sept. 2012, pp 3-9] ''[[English Today]]''. Retrieved 6th October 2012.</ref> A more precise figure, that of 390.16 million people who ''had learnt English'' i.e. studied it at school as a foreign language, is quoted by Wei and Su in the same issue.<ref>[http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=8691696&jid=ENG&volumeId=28&issueId=03&aid=8691695&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0266078412000235 Wei, R. and Su, J. "The statistics of English in China: An analysis of the best available data from government sources" in ''English Today '', Volume 28, Issue 03, Sept. 2012, pp 10-14] ''[[English Today]]''. Retrieved 6th October 2012. (Available free of charge until the 31st October 2012.)</ref>
  
Then there are agglutinative languages which make up "words" on the fly by combining elements - giving rise to the alleged vast number of "words" for snow in Eskimo languages. How would you count those?
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Additionally English is used in international trade and industry to a greater extent than other languages. English is the only language for international air transport communications.
  
Equally difficult is the question of whether a word is actually used - it may exist but be so obsolete that it isn't used any more. Do we count it or not? Do we count [[slang]]? Do we count regional words? Do we count a word if it is used in the UK but not in the US or in all international varieties of English (including Indian English, which has a large selection of words from native languages.)
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== History of English ==
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''See main article [[History of the English languages]]''
  
If a word has two spellings, does that count as one word or two? Or two past participles like "lighted" and "lit" or "dived" and "dove"? Does "dove" as a bird count as a separate word?
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Notwithstanding its many varieties, English has a long and varied history which is, not unnaturally, bound up with the history of [[Britain]], the British Isles and its peoples.
  
One could count the words in a dictionary and do it that way - but which dictionary? English dictionaries vary wildly in the words they include. One might use, say, the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED''), but a very large proportion of the words in monumental work are simply dead.
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Modern English is the product of various Germanic invasions, the Norman conquest, the British Empire and much else.
  
Another solution might to try to estimate the [[vocabulary]] of the average [[native speaker]], but even this presents difficulties. Partly because we all have an [[active]] and a [[passive vocabulary]] and partly because we can often "know" words we have never seen before, either because of their [[context]] or because they are made up of other parts of words we already know.
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==Vocabulary==
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''See main article [[Number of words in English]]''
  
== The origins and ongoing history of the English languages ==
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English has always freely absorbed words from other languages giving it the ability express a wide number of [[nuance]]s. Nevertheless establishing the exact number of [[word]]s is not as exact a science as one might suppose.  
The following text spans the 1,500-year-old history of English, its structure and uses. It unfortunately, but necessarily, leaves out several important historical events and characters, concentrating only on those which have a direct bearing on the historical development of the language and then, for reasons of space, only on those which cannot be omitted under any excuse.
 
 
 
Likewise, it is inevitably simplistic and only touches the surface of the few points it does bring up, completely ignoring certain aspects which might be considered essential to any linguist and/or historian. Furthermore, and equally regrettably, apart from a brief summary of its current state, it stops short of the onset of Modern English, in itself a subject so diverse and eventful that it requires far more space than is available here.
 
 
 
One of the main characteristics of the English language, or the English languages, to use the terminology now preferred by most specialists to reflect its many existing varieties, is that it is the result of several successive linguistic “invasions”, each of which has added significantly to its creativity and diversity of form and structure. This, together with its readiness, both historical and current, to incorporate [[loan word]]s from other languages – in the words of the editors of the ''OED'': “a seemingly endless capacity to accept borrowings” – has led to its great richness.
 
 
 
The following account concentrates therefore on the changes English has undergone over the centuries to what it is now (albeit temporarily) as we know it, rather than on any efforts made to preserve it. Thus, it does not consider the numerous modern influences brought about by its regional and cultural varieties, nor influences such as internet, international relations, etc.
 
 
 
These linguistic invasions are especially noticeable in one important feature of English – its many [[synonym]]s: for instance ''kingly'' (Anglo-Saxon), ''royal'' (French) and ''regal'' (Latin), allowing for subtle [[shades of meaning]] in style. Neat distinctions such as ''ask'' from English, representing the prosaic, and ''demand'' from French, representing “elegance”; and in the same manner we find nuances such as ''wish'' and ''desire''; ''start'' and ''commence''.
 
 
 
On the other hand, because of those same influences, several idiosyncrasies and apparent irregularities have arisen in English and have been preserved over time. As the editors of ''The New Oxford Dictionary of English'' put it: "A good dictionary reports the language as it is, not as the editors (or anyone else) would wish it to be, ..."
 
 
 
Over the ages, in all cultures and languages, there have always been people complaining about the degeneration of language against others who defend its natural evolution. Language is a very passionate and personal issue, as it influences to a very great extent what we think and say, both individually and collectively. “When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty told Alice, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less”. This quotation from Lewis Carroll’s second book about Alice, ''Through the Looking Glass'', sums up the furious debates around language in general.
 
 
 
That said, most people would hold that illiteracy is no basis for linguistic evolution. However, despite numerous attempts over the centuries to set up a ruling body to impose "[[spelling reform]]" of the English language, the absence of any overseeing body corresponding to Spain’s Real Academia Española (RAE) allows for great flexibility in the use of the language, for better or for worse.
 
 
 
The first such Academy was founded in Italy in 1582, and had by 1612 produced its first dictionary, whereas the French Academy was set up in 1635, producing its dictionary in 1694, although there were already two, more scholarly, works in existence. The RAE was set up in 1713 and completed its first dictionary in 1739. As we shall see later, English dictionaries were a much more “commercial” enterprise, although not necessarily commercially viable.
 
 
 
=== The Romans ===
 
Although Caesar had established trade relations with several tribes of Great Britain following his landing in 54 BC, and those commercial ties had continued with Augustus, it was not until Claudius, tired of and embarrassed by the continuous attacks of rebel tribes, that four legions were sent to conquer the island. Of the almost four-hundred-year presence of the Roman legions, from 43 BC to AD 410, only very few words remain, many of which are related to the places in which they settled, such as towns and cities now ending in ''–chester'' (from the Latin word for ''camp'', "castra"), or "straet" ''street'', "win" for ''wine''.
 
 
 
The original inhabitants of the Britain, the ancient Britons, were absorbed into a Celto-Roman society.  With the departure of the Roman legions this Celtic-speaking society was left to fend for itself.
 
 
 
===The first linguistic invasion - The Anglo-Saxons===
 
 
 
Almost directly following the departure of the Romans, and perhaps as early as AD 449 Germanic tribes including Anglo-Saxons, Angles and Jutes began their invasion of the country and the true seeds of English were sown. They divided the territory into some 12 kingdoms and spent much of their time fighting amongst themselves.
 
 
 
The Celtic tribes began to be pushed to the north and west of the country where the Celtic languages were preserved and nurtured orally in areas such as Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, eventually evolving into Welsh, Cornish and Scots Gaelic, while the dominant language in England became what is now called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Apart from a few significant place names such as ''London'' and ''Dover'', as well as several rivers – ''Thames'' and ''Avon'', among others, – no more than two dozen Celtic loan words from this period have entered English, many of which relate to landscape features.
 
 
 
There are hardly any remaining written examples of the Celtic language, and the only folklore or historical reference remaining from that period is the Arthurian legend, although some sources refer to him as a Romano-British chieftain of the 5th or 6th centuries. Most pre-Roman evidence is therefore through archaeological research.
 
 
 
The Christian missionaries, led by St Augustine in 597, introduced a large Latin vocabulary, mainly to do with the church and religion but also including (exotic?) animals and some domestic words, such as those related to food. Thus we have ''abbot, angel, cucumber, elephant, hymn, laurel, lentils, lobster, mass, noon, nun, oyster, pear, priest, school, temple, tiger,'' and ''verse''. In all, around 450 new words came into the language at that time.
 
 
 
=== The second linguistic invasion - The Norsemen===
 
The second big linguistic invasion was a result of the innumerable Viking raids which began in AD 787 and continued until the beginning of the eleventh century. Apart from the more than 1,500 place names of Scandinavian origin in England – of which some 600, such as ''Rugby'' and ''Derby'', end in -''by'', which is Danish for ''farm'' or ''village'', some of the most commonly used words in modern English – ''cake, call, fellow, get, give, guess, hit, kid, knife, leg, lift, same, smile, take, them, they, want, weak'' – come from this period, directly introduced from Old Norse,<ref>Crystal, David ''The Stories of English'' Allen Lane, 2004 ISBN 0-713-99752-4</ref> as do many of the words using the "sk" sound – ''skin, skirt, sky, skull, skill'', etc. The [[suffix]] -''son'' for family names were also introduced at this time. On the other hand, it was the monasteries that suffered the brunt of the raids and the 3,000-odd written documents that have survived the wrath of the Vikings only total around 3 million words. By way of reference, Dickens wrote some 4 million words.
 
 
 
The Norsemen occupied the north of the country and, like the Anglo-Saxons spoke a Germanic tongue.  While there were substantial similarities in vocabulary between the two languages the grammar was more dissimilar.  As the two languages merged the grammar of both was simplified and the large number of [[inflection]]s which both languages initially possessed began to be reduced.
 
 
 
=== The third linguistic invasion - The Normans===
 
The third linguistic invasion was the result of a single military incursion – that of Duke William of Normandy, with Rome’s blessing, to claim the crown he said he had been promised some fifteen years earlier – and the defeat of the newly-crowned Anglo-Saxon king Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Following the Conqueror’s victory, the country was divided into English-speaking peasants and French-speaking Norman rulers who imposed their language of rule, of power, and of authority, introducing some ten thousand words over the next three hundred years. From ''army, soldier, guard'' and ''battle'' to ''crown'' and ''court''; from ''duke'' and ''baron'' to ''peasant'' and ''servant''; from ''authority'' to ''obedience''; from ''sir'' to ''serf''; from ''crime'' to ''fine'' to ''judge'' to ''jury''. From ''spy'' to ''fool''.
 
 
 
Not everything these invaders introduced, however, was the language of dominance. They also introduced words related to the arts: ''art, music, chess, poet, rhyme, dance, joy''; to fashion and clothing: ''dress, boots, robe, fur, garment, veil, wardrobe''. Everywhere they extended the language of the ruling classes, introducing names such as ''Geoffrey'', ''John, Richard, Robert, Roger, Stephen'' and, significantly, ''William'', all of which we would now consider as typically English names.
 
 
 
They also invaded the home, changing the eating and cooking habits of the native inhabitants. Thus, ''plate, table'' and ''chair''. ''Fry, roast'' and ''toast''. ''Pork, beef, veal, sole, herbs'' and ''fruit''. Although William I had originally, at the outset of his reign, promulgated writs in English, Latin would be the language of the Church and all official documents while French the language used at court throughout this period. It would be more than three hundred years before English would again come to the fore. It is, however, on record that although William made an attempt to learn English towards the end of his life, he gave it up as being too difficult.<ref>Bragg, Melvyn ''The adventure of English'' Hodder & Stoughton, 2003. ISBN 0-340-82991-5</ref>
 
 
 
But Old English had survived in the lower classes and, following the outbreaks of the Black Death which between 1348 and 1375 had wiped out between a third and a half of the English population, including most priests and the inhabitants of monasteries, the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 forced the 13-year-old King Richard II, though victorious in military terms, to address the rebels in not very fluent English, the first time a monarch had used the language since the Conquest, 315 years earlier. As far as we know, none of the preceding monarchs had been able to speak English. And it would not be until 1399, when Henry, Duke of Lancaster deposed Richard to become Henry IV, that a monarch claimed the crown, not in Latin, the language of state business, nor in French, the language of the ruling classes, but in English, Middle English, the language of Chaucer. Albeit with around 30 per cent of its then 50,000-word lexicon being French in origin.
 
 
 
English had emerged from the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages to develop into what would become the recognisably modern languages of Shakespeare and Swift, Tennyson and Dickens.
 
 
 
== The structure of English ==
 
===Vocabulary===
 
As we saw above, by the end of the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) period the size of the lexicon was around 50,000 different words. By the end of the Middle English period (1100-1500), that figure had doubled and during the Early Modern English period (1500-1700) it doubled yet again to 200,000 lexemes. And just for the record, partly as a result of the Industrial Revolution which started in the late 18th century, and twentieth-century global expansion, it would double once more to the approximately 400,000 lexemes of Modern English (1700 to the present).
 
 
 
Different studies use differing criteria when counting the number of "words", lexemes or vocabulary items in a language. Estimates for English vary between 500,000 and 2 million words. A medium-sized dictionary may contain some 100,000 entries. ''The New Oxford Dictionary of English'', published in 1998, is the biggest single-volume dictionary and contains 350,000 words, of which 52,000 are scientific and technical words, although it avoids over-technical terminology. On the other hand, the 20-volume ''OED'', the definitive dictionary of the English language, contains over half a million lexemes.
 
 
 
A constant debate is whether concepts such as facts – the names of people or places and other proper names be considered as forming part of one’s personal [[lexicon]] when calculating its size. Undoubtedly, the name, or fact, Shakespeare, is as much a part of the English language as the word literature or drama. And the fact/word London is probably used more often than the word village or town. Thus, given the overlapping of criteria, calculating the size of one’s own vocabulary is complicated and must vary according to many different factors.
 
 
 
Likewise, terms such as UNESCO and NATO, both well-known [[acronyms]] even on an international level, must undeniably count as being part of an educated person’s vocabulary.
 
 
 
Furthermore, given that over eighty per cent of all words in English have more than one meaning – ''water'' as a verb and noun; ''lock'' as a verb and noun related to keys, or as a construction on a canal or river to regulate the ascent or descent of boats, or as a hold in wrestling or judo, or as in a lock of hair – should one count each meaning of the same word – the same combination of letters – as a different item? Surely if a person knows five meanings of the same word, he or she has a more extensive vocabulary than another person who knows only one meaning?
 
 
 
Take one of the most frequently used verbs in English – ''get''. Should we consider the [[phrasal verb]]s ''get at, get away, get back, get by, get in, get off, get on, get over, get through, get up'' and a dozen other uses of ''get'' plus one other word, such as ''get home'' or ''get fat'' or ''get fatter'' or even more additions, such as ''get away with'', ''get rid of'', ''get over something'', ''get your own back on somebody'', as one [[lexeme]] -– ''get'' -– or an expression, a [[set phrase]], an [[idiom]]? In a dictionary, these, and many others, might all be included under the entry ''get''. And what about the inflections: ''gets, got/gotten, getting''? Unlike other European languages, Modern English has very few inflections and contrary to what many people think, is surprisingly regular, despite its many exceptions.
 
 
 
Or words beginning with prefixes such as ''un''-, as in ''unhappy, untidy, unlikely'', many of which are not included in dictionaries because of their apparent obviousness. The same occurs with adverbs ending in -''ly'', or inflections of nouns (singular and plural), adjectives (comparison) and, as we saw above, the [[past tense]]s of most verbs unless they are so irregular as to cause possible confusion. Thus, ''bad'', ''worse'' and ''[the] worst'' would probably be included as three separate entries, whereas in the case of more regular adjectives such as ''cold,'' its regular comparative and superlative – ''colder'', ''[the] coldest'' – would probably be included under one single entry: ''cold''.  
 
 
 
And whilst on the subject of [[antonym]]s, what’s the difference between learning single words – ''big'' and ''small'' – and expressions like ''black and white'', ''thick and thin'', ''boys and girls'', ''ladies and gentlemen'', ''eggs and bacon'', ''fish and chips'', ''socks and shoes''?
 
  
 
== See also ==
 
== See also ==
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*[[American English v. British English]]
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*[[Learning English conversation questions]]
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*[[Standard English]]
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*[[World English]]
  
 
== References ==
 
== References ==
 
<references/>
 
<references/>
  
{{Stub}}
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==External links==
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*[http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/which-english David Crystal on English as a Global Language] [[David Crystal]] (interview on video)
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*[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZI1EjxxXKw&feature=channel Global English with David Crystal] [[David Crystal]] (interview on video)
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*[http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/ar-eng1.htm "English is difficult"] [[World Wide Words]]
  
  
[[Category:definitions]]
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[[Category:Definitions]]

Latest revision as of 01:51, 5 July 2019

English is an Indo-European Germanic language that is lightly inflected, stress-timed language.

It is the subject that TEFL teachers teach. There are many varieties of English, including, but not limited to, American English (AmE), Australian English (AuE), British English (BrE), Indian English, South African English, Canadian English, Chinese English and so on. This wide-ranging reality has led to most specialists now preferring to use the term the English languages or Englishes.

Within the UK itself, regional varieties abound, such as Cockney and Estuary English in London or Scottish English (with variants such as Glaswegian) with major differences in the spoken language, and teachers must be aware of such differences when working on pronunciation.

Number of speakers of English[edit]

See main article Number of speakers of English

For various reasons it is difficult to be exact about the total number of native speakers of English but estimates vary from three hundred and nine million to three hundred and forty one million. This would rank English fourth in number of native speakers after Mandarin Chinese, Hindi/Urdu and Spanish.[1]

On the other hand, if one were to attempt to include the number of individuals who speak English as a second language then the number becomes something in the order of one thousand five hundred million people - a larger number than that of any other language. A 2012 article in English Today by Bolton and Graddol, quoting a China Daily article, states that around 400 million people in China, approximately a third of the population, are currently learning English.[2][3] A more precise figure, that of 390.16 million people who had learnt English i.e. studied it at school as a foreign language, is quoted by Wei and Su in the same issue.[4]

Additionally English is used in international trade and industry to a greater extent than other languages. English is the only language for international air transport communications.

History of English[edit]

See main article History of the English languages

Notwithstanding its many varieties, English has a long and varied history which is, not unnaturally, bound up with the history of Britain, the British Isles and its peoples.

Modern English is the product of various Germanic invasions, the Norman conquest, the British Empire and much else.

Vocabulary[edit]

See main article Number of words in English

English has always freely absorbed words from other languages giving it the ability express a wide number of nuances. Nevertheless establishing the exact number of words is not as exact a science as one might suppose.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]