- the second most widely spoken language after Chinese;
- one of the 6 languages used by the UNO;
- the language of international air traffic, world publishing, science and technology, conferencing, computer storage;
- widely used among the international political, business, academic communities;
- spoken on a regular basis in more than 60 different countries.
ENGLISH IN NUMBERS
NUMBER OF SPEAKERS
1.000 mln – 1.500 mln
(by conservative & liberal estimate)
with some degree of competence
600 mln – 750 mln
learners (in 2000)
THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH
English is a Germanic language which developed in England as a consequence of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5thcentury. Accordingly, the form of this period is referred to as Anglo-Saxon.
However, the oldest extant form is found in the 7th century’s texts (Beowulf1is the chief example of the period). This is generally known as Old English, inflecting language which preserves many Germanic features.
The period from the 11th to the 14th centuries saw the emergence of English modified. In Middle English word order came to replace inflections. There were recurring waves of borrowing from Latin and French. The work of Chaucer2preserves literary excellence of the period.
In the later 15th century, as the process of standardization hastened through printing, English gained its recognizable modern form (Modern English). The peak of literary activity is commemorated in the Authorized Version of the Bible3 and Shakespeare’s heritage.
Literary achievements and a post-Renaissance era with its highly diversified language in the 18th century (Post Colonial English) motivated the concern to codify vocabulary and grammar (Johnson Dictionary)4.
NOTES: 1Beowulf is a heroic poem, the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic. Preserved in a single manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A XV) from c. 1000, it deals with events of the early 6th century and is believed to have been composed between 700 and 750. It did not appear in print until 1815. Although originally untitled, it was later named after the Scandinavian hero Beowulf, whose exploits and character provide its connecting theme. There is no evidence of a historical Beowulf, but some characters, sites, and events in the poem can be historically verified. 2Geoffrey Chaucer (1340? – 1400) is an English poet regarded as the greatest literary figure of medieval England. His work Canterbury Tales made him famous. 3Authorized Version of the Bible is also called King James Version, English translation of the Bible published in 1611 under the auspices of James I of England. Of 54 scholars approved by James, 47 laboured in six groups at three locations for seven years, utilizing previous English translations and texts in the original languages. The resulting translation had a marked influence on English style and was generally accepted as the standard English Bible for more than three centuries. 4Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary isA Dictionary of the English Language was published in two volumes in 1755, six years later than planned but remarkably quickly for so extensive an undertaking. There had been earlier English dictionaries, but none on the scale of Johnson's. His definitions were a great improvement over those of his predecessors, and his illustrations from writers since the Elizabethan Age form an anthology and established a canon. His preface boldly asserts that the “chief glory of every people arises from its authors”.