Annually the UN celebrates English Language Day. The worldwide event occurs on April 23, with the aim of promoting cultural diversity and multilingualism. It is also the UN’s objective to use all the official languages of the organization equally.
English Day coincides with the celebration of the World Book and Copyright Day. The specific day was chosen eight years ago to commemorate the traditional birthday and death of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer in English, a fact that is recognized worldwide. The first time English Language Day was celebrated was in 2010.
Not much is known about the early life of William Shakespeare. It was known that he was baptized on April 26, 1564 and it was deduced that he was born on April 23 of that same year. What the world knows about the national poet of England are his works, which are still read and used today. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52.
The United Nations celebrates the English Language Day with the objective of informing and entertaining people about the achievements, culture and history of the English language. Often the UN sets up various events and many activities, such as literature and poetry exchanges, book-reading activities, English quizzes and other activities to support the promotion of the language.
The English Language Day is a global awareness program. English is considered a lingua franca or a world language and a bridge language that is often used by speakers of other languages. Professionally, English is predominant in law, navigation and science.
The English language
Fifteen thousand years ago, only three tribes spoke the original English language. Today it is the third most spoken language in the world. It enjoys official status in about 75 countries, spoken in 188 countries around the world and about 378.2 million speak it as their first language. The total number of English speakers (as a first and second language) is about 1.1 billion.
The English language shares lexical similarities with Russian (24%), French (27%) and German (60%), according to 21st edition of Ethnologue.
The language has several dialects and accents. If you want to listen to the different English accents, try to watch these movies.
For Australian accent, the best examples are The Babadook and Crocodile Dundee. If you want to listen to the Indian accent, watch Monsoon Wedding or Slumdog Millionaire. If you want to hear what Scottish accent sounds like, look for The Angels’ Share, The Decoy Bride or Brave. You’ll have fine examples of Irish accent in the films, Intermission, The Field and Once.
The origins of the English language started around 450 AD when tribes from Germany invaded medieval England. They were speaking a language that was similar to the location they invaded. It evolved into Old English, getting its name from the Angles, one of the tribes from Germany that settled in England. The tribe’s name was derived from the Angeln or Anglia peninsula near the Baltic Sea.
The Frisian languages and Old English are related although the vocabulary of Old English was influenced by several Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and significantly by French, Latin and the other Romance languages.
The development of the English language took over 1,400 years. It started from the Old English or the Anglo-Frisian dialects that the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) tribes brought to England in the fifth century. In the latter part of the 11th century, Middle English started when the Normans conquered England, wherein the French language exerted its influence over Old English. The first version of Modern English started in the 15th century when the printing press was introduced to London and the King James Bible was printed. The period also marked the beginning of the Great Vowel Shift (major changes in the pronunciation that occurred from mid-13th century to about the 17th century.
Anglo-Saxon or Old English, which is the earliest form of the English language that we know today, is a mix of different dialects of North Sea Germanic origins. These were the dialects spoken by three tribes – Jutes, Saxons and Angles, who used to inhabit the areas of Southern Sweden, Jutland, Lower Saxony and Frisia.
The collapse of the Roman economy in the fifth century enabled the Germanic tribes to settle in areas of Britain. By the seventh century, the Anglo-Saxon language replaced Latin and Common Brittonic, which was a Celtic language.
Four dialects comprise the Old English –Saxon, Northumbrian, Mercian and Anglian. King Alfred made West Saxon the standard dialect for the written form of the language, which is exemplified in Beowulf. Cædmon’s Hymn is an example of the Northumbrian dialect.
In the development of the modern dialects, Northumbrian is the origin of Scottish and Modern English was primarily based on the Mercian dialect.
Old English is closer to Old Frisian, while its grammar was more similar to modern German, but today’s speakers of English would have a difficult time understanding Old English.
From the 8th to the 12 century, Old English started to transform into Middle English, which many people associated with the start of England’s conquest by William the Conqueror. However, the further development of the language began from the 13th to the mid-15th centuries.
The constant contact of Old English with Old Norse influenced the development of the original language particularly in the region of York. The influence of the Norse variety are still evident today, with the pronouns their, them and they that replace the hera, him and hie, which were pronouns used by Anglo-Saxon speakers.
In 1066 when the Normans overtook England, the Old English or Anglo-Saxon language that was influenced by Norse met Old Norman, which was related to the modern version of French. Eventually it gave birth to the Anglo-Norman language. Nobles and elites were the ones that usually spoke Norman while Anglo-Saxon became the language of people in lower social classes. Therefore, the Norman language contributed words related to the upper social strata, legislation and politics.
The Anglo-Norman language became fully developed by the 12th century and remained in use until the 16th century. Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer were written in Middle English.
The period 1500 to 1700 saw the evolution of Modern English, which also included the Great Vowel Shift from 1350 to 1700. This was characterized by standardization of the language and the simplification of the existing inflections.
When Henry V was king, English rose in prominence. It became the standard (Chancery Standard) in 1430 because it was used by Westminster’s Court of Chancery for official documents. When the printing press was introduced in 1476, Modern English was the language used in the first books that were printed in London. Aside from the printing the translated version of the Bible (King James Version), the period was when William Shakespeare and his works became popular.
Modern English spread throughout the British Empire and the countries that became its colonies from the 18th century. Several factors helped make English become a global language, such as formal education, art, diplomacy, technology, science and commerce.
The widespread use of English paved the way to improve communication on the international level. The former colonies of the British Empire became independent countries that continued to use English, albeit with local influences, leading to new ways to speak and write English. Australasia, some parts of Africa, India and North America, as well as various regions around the world, adopted the English language. Some of the new countries that gained independence from Britain continued to use English as their official language while recognizing and using their indigenous languages as well. Often it was a political decision as the new governments wanted to avoid showing preference for any indigenous language.
The 20th and 21st centuries saw the rise in the cultural and economic influence of the U.S. The Second World War ended and the nation rose as a superpower. The spread of the language also owe much to the international broadcasts of news and English shows globally.
Modern English developed codification of precise norms that became the standard. It spread through publications sponsored by the state and via public education. In Britain, a standard set of usage models and spelling conventions was introduced when “A Dictionary of the English Language” was published in 1755 by Samuel Johnson. Seventy-three years later, the “American Dictionary of the English Language” was published by Noah Webster. It was an attempt for American English to have its own set of norms that would be separate from British English.
The grammatical evolution of Modern English is nearly complete. Many of the verbs in American English are standardized and irregular verb forms are more regular. For example, ”dreamt” is replaced by ”dreamed.” It is now more common to use ”more polite” than the traditional ”politer.”
American English is also influencing British English, which shows in the changes in the latter. American English words have crept into British English so now more people use ”movies” instead of films, ”apartment” rather than flat and even ”ATM” instead of cash machine or cash point that the British used to say.
Interesting facts about the English language
No academy guides the English language, unlike the Real Academia Española for Spanish and L’Académie française for French. The Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung oversees the German language.
In 100 words commonly used in English, 96 of them are of Germanic origin. But since 1066, most of the words included in the English language have roots in Latin. It was caused by the wide influence of the Italian Renaissance that spread to France and later entered England.
William the Conqueror came to England in 1066 but found it difficult to learn the English language and thus preferred to speak in French. Due to this, the English aristocracy became French speakers for over a century. The religious institutions in England used French. The aristocrats brought with them large groups of French speakers, followed by tradesmen who had direct contract with English-speaking tradesmen. After the Normans invaded Britain, its dictionary added about 10,000 words in French.
Like any other language, the English language continues to evolve and many more words, influenced by other languages would be added to the English dictionary. It is said that what remains constant in a language is change.
You do not have to worry about the changes that happen in the English language. If you need accurate translation of your documents into or from English, contact Day Translations, Inc. at 1-800-969-6853 or contact us. All our translators are native speakers and they are located around the world to serve you better and faster any time of the day. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year.
To all English speakers and English language learners, we join you in celebrating
English Language Day!
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