English - The International Language

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

English a wonderful, magnificent and marvelous language, originally the language of the people of England, today, is the main tongue of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more than fifty other countries (interestingly, English is NOT the official language of the USA, though it is of some US states).

English belongs to the West Germanic group of Indo-European languages. Much of its vocabulary is Germanic, heavily influenced by Latin and French, though it has also borrowed many loanwords from other languages all over the world.

English is borrowing words since her Infancy, as lexicographer (writer and editor of dictionaries) Kory Stamper explains, “English has been borrowing words from other languages since its infancy.” As many as 350 other languages are represented and their linguistic contributions make up about 80% of English!

Studies suggest that the English language is one of the happiest languages in the world and is spoken by more than 1/4th of the global population. But, did you know that the second most spoken language in the world (inclusive of native and foreign speakers) is majorly dominated by words derived from the French and Latin language? Strange isn’t it?

According to research, French and Latin make up 29% Of the English respectively. Some interesting examples are:

  • Anonymous (Greek)

  • Loot (Hindi)

  • Guru (Sanskrit)

  • Safari (Arabic)

  • Cigar (Spanish)

  • Cartoon (Italian)

  • Wanderlust (German)

  • Cookie (Dutch)

In the 5th century AD, Britain was invaded by three Germanic Tribes, the Anglo, the Saxons, and the Jutes; who crossed the North Sea, now known as Germany and Denmark, into England and thus the English language was generated. The main inhabitants of the island spoke a Celtic language, which was pushed North and west by the invaders, now called Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The Angles came from "Englaland"  and their language was called "Englisc" - from which the words " lih" are derived.

The language spoken during that period is referred to as Old English (450-1100AD). Today even the native speakers hardly understand that; but still, half of today’s English words have roots embedded in that old English, like be, strong water, etc.

When the England was conquered by Duke of Normandy William the conqueror in 1066, it got its French Influence. That Era English is called Middle English. It still is difficult for native speakers to follow “Middle English”. Poets like Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Chester were “Middle English” poets.

Early Modern English came to existence in around 1500 to 1800. The vowels started to become shorter and from the 16th century, the British started to make contacts all around the world, which started the Renaissance of Classical learning and the introduction of printed books. This made books cheaper and available to many people, which in turn increase the vocabulary and standardized the language and in 1604 the first English dictionary was published.

The great writer and national poet of England, William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) was born during early modern English Time. He is often called the “Bard of Avon”. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Late Modern English started after 1800. The Industrial Revolution brought the need for new words. Besides when the British colonized half of the world, English was introduced to the world. In that Time, different words from different Languages were entered into the English besides her, Latin, and French Influence.

In 1600, the British Colonized North America resulting in the Birth of American English. Somehow, the British English is preserved in time, even after they left the USA. The words like trash for rubbish, loan as a form of the verb instead of lend etc. were re-imported to Britain through Hollywood Movies. Later, American English is influenced by Spanish, French from Louisiana, and West African words through slave trades and to an extent to British English.

Today English has different and all-round varieties like Australian English, Canadian, English South African English, Indian English, New Zealand English, and Caribbean English.

English is regarded as an International Language as well as a business language. Even the countries, where English was not prevalent, like China, hav started learning to align with the rest of the world.

English is the official language of almost 67 countries, despite most of the countries adopting different local or national languages, like India, Pakistan, Papa New Guinea, Ghana, Fiji, etc.

English is an important base for all sorts of communications, which makes it a must-learn language. Virtually all business is done in English, even in non-native developed countries like Japan. To sell the products and make visibility, English is required. Higher the understanding of English, higher be the value with the international community.

All Air travel is done internationally in English. It reminded me of the tragic and avoidable plane crash happened in the USA. A plane coming from Argentina was asked to wait its turn to land. That plane was already low on fuel at its approach to the airport. The air traffic controller was not giving a clear signal for landing due to rush hour at the airport; and the pilot used and kept using the word “priority” instead of “emergency” when the plane eventually got out of fuel waiting its turn to land.

Due to the history and origin of English, it became a dialectal which borrows, lends, and adapt different words as well as attitude.  For one generation of English speakers, some words have different meanings as it passes out to another generation or they are transformed altogether like, visually impaired from blind, learning difficulties from disorders, Lesbian or LGBT from Dyke, etc.

The language is also modified when tries to address sexism. The use of a person instead of referring to the gender is one of the examples.

Now some days back an article on Twitter got my attention published in the Guardian titling “whether one should or should not correct the grammar”. I was intrigued and amazed by the replies on Twitter. Few believed that we already do so while on the Twitter, if tweets are racist or unbearable in any way. Some said never to do this in person, but when another person leaves, do laugh. One has a very interesting idea that why it is so hard for some people to understand the proper usage of “affect” versus “effect” and it made me smile, because in some languages the same word is used in both the cases, so if the mother tongue is of that kind they would have confusion in using that word.

In some countries where English is only the official language and very little or not enough work is done in their language, the difference between an educated and an uneducated becomes very prevalent, and because of these, lots of misunderstanding occurs, which eventually leads to unrest and conflicts in societies.

In Singapore, for example, the government is always trying to correct the English of its citizens, so they don’t have such problems; but countries like India, the Philippines, and Pakistan, a class system is emerging; which triumphs in the society only because English is their first language. Some experts believed to revert to the country’s original language, such as Malaysia, and for that, they had paid the price. Bangladesh too converted everything from English to Bangla, and as a result, their standard of education dropped and is not any more lined up with the international community.

So in my unpretentious opinion, to achieve harmony with the world and if our systems are not that swift, then we should adhere to English as an official language and try to invest in educating people in this language. Eventually, after just one generation, they don’t have to invest that much.

English is in itself a beautiful language and allows you to communicate with the world.

A Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

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