English, General Features
Official or co-official language of 45 countries
Most spoken language in the world (spoken by about a third of the world population). About 380 million native speakers, 350 million second language speakers, and 500-1,000 million other users throughout the world.
Effectively the unofficial international language (lingua franca) of the world.
English is a Germanic language. It belongs to the Indo-European family of languages; West Germanic branch; Low German sub-branch (very closely related to Dutch, Afrikaans, Flemish, Luxemburgian, Frisian) (also has close ties to German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian).
Largest vocabulary of any language: estimates of the number of words vary; the Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) numbers about 171, 476 current words, 47, 156 obsolete terms and an additional 9, 500 derived words (total of 228, 132). So, the total number of distinct words is about 250,000. That number grows to about 750,000 when all senses of all words are considered. Finally, if all technical and scientific vocabulary is added, the number could double and even reach nearly1.5 million words.
stressed language (some parts of a word are pronounced more loudly than others); tendency to stress the first syllable of a word, e.g. com-mon, ev-i-dent
analytic language: uses function words (prepositions, articles, auxiliaries, conjunctions) and depends on word order to signify grammatical relationships
inflectional simplicity (low degree of "markedness")
35 basic sounds (11 vowels and 24 consonants) (actual number of sounds used by speakers of the languge ranges between 35-45)
26 graphemes used in writing (the letters of the alphabet)
Change, Variation, Enrichment
adaptability, creativity, innovation, flexibility:
- A word can play many different roles: "A fast car" ("fast" is an adjective) "the car moves fast" ("fast" is an adverb); "a very long fast" ("fast" is a noun); "I fast every Thursday" ("fast" is a verb).
- New uses of existing words (e.g. go, like, all): "Then he goes, 'You think youre real smart, dont you?' "Im like, 'No, I dont!' and shes all, 'You do, too!'
- creativity: new expressions constantly coming into being by modifying, adapting, and combining existing elements of the language, e.g. combining a verb with an adverb: "pick up" "buzz off" "freak out"; attaching prefixes to existing verbs: "offset" "deep-freeze" "babysit"
extraordinary capacity for assimilation: extensive borrowings from many languages, some examples:
- Celtic: Britain, London, Thames
- Scandinavian: sky, skin, skill, they/them/their/, egg, give
- French: action, air, adventure, count, justice, debt
- African: voodoo, banana, yam, gorilla, jazz, banjo, gumbo
- Native American: chipmunk, hominy, moose, raccoon
- Dutch: brandy, landscape, measles, uproar, wagon
- Italian: piano, umbrella, volcano,
- Spanish: alligator, mosquito, tornado
- Persian: paradise, chess, check, lemon, spinach
- Chinese: ketchup, silk, tea
several types of changes
- tendency increase in the number of words by borrowing from other languages and creating new terms
- changes in grammatical forms due to influence of analogy (e.g. tendency to regularize verbs and abandon irregular verb forms: burned/burnt, speeded/sped); loss of inflections; increased reliance on words order and prepositions
- changes in meaning (e.g. the word "nice" meant "foolish" in Shakespeare's time)
- changes in spelling, e.g. Old English "eage," Middle English "eie," Modern English "eye"
- changes in pronunciation, e.g. Old English "eage," Middle English "eie," Modern English "eye"; in the days of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) the word "tea" rhymed with "away"
- lengthening of stressed vowels and reduction or loss of unstressed vowels:
Old English Middle English Present Day English nama name name mete mete meat nosu nose nose wicu weke week duru dore door
English, some disadvantages:
Historical Periods of the English Language
- Old English AD 450- AD 1100
- Middle English 1100-1500
- Early Modern English 1500-1800
- Present Day English 1800-present
English, some external historical factors influencing formation and change:
Links and References:
Last updated 1/12/2005
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