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Template:Pp-move-indef Template:English language English is a West Germanic language that arose in England and south-eastern Scotland in the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Following the economic, political, military, scientific, cultural, and colonial influence of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from the 18th century, and of the United States since the mid 20th century,[1][2][3][4] it has been widely dispersed around the world, become the leading language of international discourse, and has acquired use as lingua franca in many regions.[5][6] It is widely learned as a second language and used as an official language of the European Union and many Commonwealth countries, as well as in many world organisations.

Historically, English originated from several dialects, now collectively termed Old English, which were brought to the eastern coast of the island of Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers beginning in the 5th century.[citation needed] English was further influenced by the Old Norse language of Viking invaders.

After the time of the Norman conquest, Old English developed into Middle English, borrowing heavily from the Norman-French vocabulary and spelling conventions. The etymology of the word "English" is a derivation from the 12th century Old English englisc from Engle, "[the] Angles".[7]

Modern English developed with the Great Vowel Shift that began in 15th-century England, and continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of languages, as well as coining new words. A significant number of English words, especially technical words, have been constructed based on roots from Latin and Greek.


Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca,[8][9] is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language of communications, science, business, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy.[10] Its spread beyond the British Isles began with the growth of the British Empire, and by the late nineteenth century its reach was truly global.[11] Following the British colonisation of North America, it became the dominant language in the United States and in Canada. The growing economic and cultural influence of the United States and its status as a global superpower since World War II have significantly accelerated the language's spread across the planet.[9]

A working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of fields, occupations and professions such as medicine and computing; as a consequence over a billion people speak English to at least a basic level (see English language learning and teaching). It is also one of six official languages of the United Nations.

Linguists such as David Crystal recognise that one impact of this massive growth of English, in common with other global languages, has been to reduce native linguistic diversity in many parts of the world, most particularly in Australasia and North America, and its huge influence continues to play an important role in language attrition.[12] Similarly, historical linguists, aware of the complex and fluid dynamics of language change, are always aware of the potential English contains through the vast size and spread of the communities that use it and its natural internal variety, such as in its creoles and pidgins, to produce a new family of distinct languages over time.[13]


English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers and Roman auxiliary troops from various parts of what is now northwest Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands in the 5th century[citation needed]. One of these Germanic tribes was the Angles,[14] who may have come from Angeln, and Bede wrote that their whole nation came to Britain,[15] leaving their former land empty. The names 'England' (from Engla land "Land of the Angles") and English (Old English Englisc) are derived from the name of this tribe. Gemanic infuences affected Britain in the post Roman period and some migration had begun (previously thought of as Anglo-Saxon invasions) around AD 449, the date of the supposed landing of Hengest and Horsa in Kent, from the regions of Denmark and Jutland.[16][17] Although the linguistic situation of Roman Britain is not clear, it is generally assumed that before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in the Island of Great Britain, the native population spoke the Celtic language Brythonic in some parts of England with the then extant acrolectal influence of Latin, the Roman influence having been extant for 400 years until 410 AD.[18] Although the most significant changes in dialect occurred after the Norman invasion of 1066, the language retained its name and the pre-Norman invasion dialect is now known as Old English.[19]

Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Great Britain.[20] One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. One of the most prevalent forces in the evolution of the English language was the Roman Catholic Church.[citation needed] Beginning with the Rule of St Benedict in 530 and continuing until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the Roman Catholic Church instructed monasteries and Catholic officials like Augustine of Canterbury to preserve intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria, and libraries.[citation needed]

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church exerted great influence on intellectual life and written language. Catholic monks mainly wrote or copied text in Latin, the prevalent Medieval lingua franca of Europe.[21] When monks occasionally wrote in the vernacular, it was common to substitute or derive English-like words from Latin to describe or refer to things in which there was no English word. Extensive vocabulary, a derivative of Latin vocabularium, in the English language largely comprises Latin word derivatives. It is believed that the intellectual elite in British society over the years perpetuated vocabulary that Catholic monks contributed to English; furthermore, they continued the custom of deriving new words from Latin long after the waning of Catholic Church.[citation needed]

Old English vernacular was also influenced by two waves of invasion. The first was by language speakers of the North Germanic branch of the Germanic family; they conquered and colonised parts of the British Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries (see Danelaw). The second was the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke Old Norman and developed an English variety of this called Anglo-Norman. (Over the centuries, this lost the specifically Norman element under the influence of Parisian French and, later, of English, eventually turning into a distinctive dialect of Anglo-French.) These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to some degree (though it was never a truly mixed language in the strict linguistic sense of the word; mixed languages arise from the cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid tongue for basic communication).

Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a lexical supplementation of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and a huge vocabulary.

With the emergence and spread of the British Empire, the English language was adopted in North America, India, Africa, Australia and many other regions. The emergence of the United States as a superpower has also helped the spread of English.

Classification and related languages[]

The English language belongs to the Anglo-Frisian sub-group of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic family, a member of the Indo-European languages. The closest living relatives of English are the Scots language, spoken primarily in Scotland and parts of Ireland, and Frisian, spoken on the southern fringes of the North Sea in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany. As Scots is viewed by some linguists to be a group of English dialects rather than a separate language, Frisian is often considered to be the closest living relative.

After Scots and Frisian, come those Germanic languages that are more distantly related: the non-Anglo-Frisian West Germanic languages (Low German, Dutch, Afrikaans, High German), and the North Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese). With the exception of Scots, and on an extremely basic level, Frisian, none of the other languages is mutually intelligible with English, owing in part to the divergences in lexis, syntax, semantics, and phonology, and to the isolation afforded to the English language by the British Isles, although some such as Dutch do show strong affinities with English, especially to earlier stages of the language. Dutch, for example, is most similar to Middle English, while German and Icelandic are more like Old English. This isolation has allowed English and Scots to develop independently of the Continental Germanic languages and their influences over time.[22]

Lexical differences with the other Germanic languages have arisen from several causes, such as natural semantic drift caused by isolation, and heavy usage in English of words taken from Latin (for example, "exit", vs. Dutch uitgang) (literally "out-gang" with "gang" as in "gangway") and French "change" vs. German Änderung, "movement" vs. German Bewegung (literally "othering" and "be-way-ing" ("proceeding along the way")). Preference of one synonym over another has also caused a differentiation in lexis, even where both words are Germanic (for instance, both English care and German Sorge descend from Proto-Germanic *karo and *surgo respectively, but *karo became the dominant word in English for "care" while in German, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages, the *surgo root prevailed. *Surgo still survives in English as sorrow).

Although the syntax of German is significantly different from that of English and other Germanic languages, with different rules for setting up sentences (for example, German Ich habe noch nie etwas auf dem Platz gesehen, vs. English "I have never seen anything in the square"), English syntax remains extremely similar to that of the North Germanic languages, which are believed to have influenced English syntax during the Middle English Period (e.g., Norwegian Jeg har likevel aldri sett noe på torget; Swedish Jag har ännu aldrig sett något på torget). It is for this reason that despite a lack of mutual intelligibility, English-speakers and Scandinavians are able to learn one anothers' languages with relative ease.[citation needed]

Dutch syntax is intermediate between English and German (e.g. Ik heb nog nooit iets gezien op het plein). In spite of this difference, there are many similarities between English and other Germanic languages (e.g. English bring/brought/brought, Dutch brengen/bracht/gebracht, Norwegian bringe/brakte/brakt; English eat/ate/eaten, Dutch eten/at/gegeten, Norwegian ete/åt/ett), with the most similarities occurring between English and the languages of the Low Countries (Dutch and Low German) and Scandinavia.

Semantic differences cause a number of false friends between English and its relatives—e.g., English time vs Norwegian time ("hour"), and differences in phonology can obscure words that really are related (enough vs. German genug, Danish nok). Sometimes both semantics and phonology are different (German Zeit ("time") is related to English "tide", but the English word, through a transitional phase of meaning "period"/"interval", has come primarily to mean gravitational effects on the ocean by the moon, though the original meaning is preserved in forms like tidings and betide, and phrases such as to tide over).[citation needed] These differences, though minor, preclude mutual intelligibility, yet English is still much closer to other Germanic languages than to languages of any other family.

Finally, English has been forming compound words and affixing existing words separately from the other Germanic languages for over 1500 years and has different habits in that regard. For instance, abstract nouns in English may be formed from native words by the suffixes "‑hood", "-ship", "-dom" and "-ness". All of these have cognate suffixes in most or all other Germanic languages, but their usage patterns have diverged, as German "Freiheit" vs. English "freedom" (the suffix "-heit" being cognate of English "-hood", while English "-dom" is cognate with German "-tum"). The Germanic languages Icelandic and Faroese also follow English in this respect, since, like English, they developed independent of German influences.

Many written French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (though pronunciations are often quite different) because English absorbed a large vocabulary from Norman and French, via Anglo-Norman after the Norman Conquest and directly from French in subsequent centuries. As a result, a large portion of English vocabulary is derived from French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional divergences in meaning of so-called false friends: for example, compare "library" with the French "librairie", which means bookstore; in French, the word for "library" is "bibliothèque".

The pronunciation of most French loanwords in English (with exceptions such as mirage or phrases like coup d’état) has become completely anglicised and follows a typically English pattern of stress.[citation needed] Some North Germanic words also entered English because of the Danish invasion shortly before then (see Danelaw); these include words such as "sky" (that now forms a false friendship with Danish sky meaning "cloud"), "window", "egg", and even "they" (and its forms) and "are" (the present plural form of "to be").[citation needed]

Geographical distribution[]

File:English dialects1997 modified.svg

Pie chart showing the relative numbers of native English speakers in the major English-speaking countries of the world

Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language.[23] English today is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.[24][25] However, when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (depending on whether or not distinctions in the latter are classified as "languages" or "dialects").[26][27]

Estimates that include second language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to over a billion depending on how literacy or mastery is defined and measured.[28][29] Linguistics professor David Crystal calculates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.[30]

The countries with the highest populations of native English speakers are, in descending order: United States (215 million),[31] United Kingdom (61 million),[32] Canada (18.2 million),[33] Australia (15.5 million),[34] Nigeria (4 million),[35] Ireland (3.8 million),[32] South Africa (3.7 million),[36] and New Zealand (3.6 million) 2006 Census.[37] No figure is given for the number of South African native speakers, but it would be somewhere between the number of people who spoke English only (3,008,058) and the total number of English speakers (3,673,623), if one ignores the 197,187 people who did not provide a usable answer[citation needed].

Countries such as the Philippines, Jamaica and Nigeria also have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. Of those nations where English is spoken as a second language, India has the most such speakers ('Indian English'). Crystal claims that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.[38][39]

Countries in order of total speakers[]

Rank Country Total Percent of population First language As an additional language Population Comment
1 United States 251,388,301 96% 215,423,557 35,964,744 262,375,152 Source: US Census 2000: Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000, Table 1. Figure for second language speakers are respondents who reported they do not speak English at home but know it "very well" or "well". Note: figures are for population age 5 and older
2 India 125,344,736 12% 226,449 86,125,221 second language speakers.
38,993,066 third language speakers
1,028,737,436 Figures include both those who speak English as a second language and those who speak it as a third language. 2001 figures.[40][41] The figures include English speakers, but not English users.[42]
3 Nigeria 79,000,000 53% 4,000,000 >75,000,000 148,000,000 Figures are for speakers of Nigerian Pidgin, an English-based pidgin or creole. Ihemere gives a range of roughly 3 to 5 million native speakers; the midpoint of the range is used in the table. Ihemere, Kelechukwu Uchechukwu. 2006. "A Basic Description and Analytic Treatment of Noun Clauses in Nigerian Pidgin." Nordic Journal of African Studies 15(3): 296–313.
4 United Kingdom 59,600,000 98% 58,100,000 1,500,000 60,000,000 Source: Crystal (2005), p. 109.
5 Philippines 48,800,000 58%[43] 3,427,000[43] 43,974,000 84,566,000 Total speakers: Census 2000, text above Figure 7. 63.71% of the 66.7 million people aged 5 years or more could speak English. Native speakers: Census 1995, as quoted by Andrew González in The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 19 (5&6), 487–525. (1998). Ethnologue lists 3.4 million native speakers with 52% of the population speaking it as a additional language.[43]
6 Canada 25,246,220 85% 17,694,830 7,551,390 29,639,030 Source: 2001 Census – Knowledge of Official Languages and Mother Tongue. The native speakers figure comprises 122,660 people with both French and English as a mother tongue, plus 17,572,170 people with English and not French as a mother tongue.
7 Australia 18,172,989 92% 15,581,329 2,591,660 19,855,288 Source: 2006 Census.[44] The figure shown in the first language English speakers column is actually the number of Australian residents who speak only English at home. The additional language column shows the number of other residents who claim to speak English "well" or "very well". Another 5% of residents did not state their home language or English proficiency.
Note: Total = First language + Other language; Percentage = Total / Population

Countries where English is a major language[]

English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize (Belizean English), Bermuda, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (Canadian English), the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guam, Guernsey (Channel Island English), Guyana, Ireland (Hiberno-English), The Isle of Man (Manx English), Jamaica (Jamaican English), Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand (New Zealand English), Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In some countries where English is not the most spoken language, it is an official language; these countries include Botswana, Cameroon, Dominica, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines (Philippine English), Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

It is also one of the 11 official languages that are given equal status in South Africa (South African English). English is also the official language in current dependent territories of Australia (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and Cocos Island) and of the United States (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands),[45] and the former British colony of Hong Kong. (See List of countries where English is an official language for more details.)

English is not an official language in either the United States or the United Kingdom.[46][47] Although the United States federal government has no official languages, English has been given official status by 30 of the 50 state governments.[48] Although falling short of official status, English is also an important language in several former colonies and protectorates of the United Kingdom, such as Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. English is not a de jure official language of Israel; however, the country has maintained official language useTemplate:Clarify a de facto role for English since the British mandate.[49]

English as a global language[]

Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "world language", the lingua franca of the modern era.[9] While English is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language around the world. Some linguists (such as David Graddol) believe that it is no longer the exclusive cultural property of "native English speakers", but is rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow.[9] It is, by international treaty, the official language for aerial and maritime communications.[50] English is an official language of the United Nations and many other international organisations, including the International Olympic Committee.

English is the language most often studied as a foreign language in the European Union (by 89% of schoolchildren), followed by French (32%), German (18%), Spanish (8%), and Russian; while the perception of the usefulness of foreign languages amongst Europeans is 68% English, 25% French, 22% German, and 16% Spanish.[51] Among non-English speaking EU countries, a large percentage of the population claimed to have been able to converse in English (note that the percentages are for the adult population, aged 15 and above): in Sweden (85%), Denmark (83%), the Netherlands (79%), Luxembourg (66%), Finland (60%), Slovenia (56%), Austria (53%), Belgium (52%), and Germany (51%).[52]

Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world. English is also the most commonly used language in the sciences.[9] In 1997, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.

Because the English language has become the new global lingua franca and has sometimes had a large impact on other languages, it has been said to have an influence on language shift and even language death to other languages as they are "not effectively being passed on to the next generation" (Crystal, 2000).[53] Hence, linguists gave rise to the term "English Language Imperialism".[54] Regardless of some of its effects on other languages, the English language in itself has been the victim of language shift, especially during the Norman conquest of England. Even today, the Englishes around the world are constantly influenced by their regional counterparts.[54] For this reason, the 'English language is forever evolving' [55].

Dialects and regional varieties[]

The expansion of the British Empire and—since World War II—the influence of the United States have spread English throughout the globe.[9] Because of that global spread, English has developed a host of English dialects and English-based creole languages and pidgins.

Two educated native dialects of English have wide acceptance as standards in much of the world—one based on educated southern British and the other based on educated Midwestern American. The former is sometimes called BBC (or the Queen's) English, and it may be noticeable by its preference for "Received Pronunciation"; it typifies the Cambridge model, which is the standard for the teaching of English to speakers of other languages in Europe, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and other areas influenced either by the British Commonwealth or by a desire not to be identified with the United States.

The latter dialect, General American, which is spread over most of the United States and much of Canada, is more typically the model for the American continents and areas (such as the Philippines) that have had either close association with the United States, or a desire to be so identified. Aside from those two major dialects, there are numerous other varieties of English, which include, in most cases, several subvarieties, such as Cockney, Scouse and Geordie within British English; Newfoundland English within Canadian English; and African American Vernacular English ("Ebonics") and Southern American English within American English. English is a pluricentric language, without a central language authority like France's Académie française; and therefore no one variety is considered "correct" or "incorrect" except in terms of the expectations of the particular audience to which the language is directed.

Scots has its origins in early Northern Middle English[56] and developed and changed during its history with influence from other sources, but following the Acts of Union 1707 a process of language attrition began, whereby successive generations adopted more and more features from Standard English, causing dialectalisation. Whether it is now a separate language or a dialect of English better described as Scottish English is in dispute, although the UK government now accepts Scots as a regional language and has recognised it as such under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[57] There are a number of regional dialects of Scots, and pronunciation, grammar and lexis of the traditional forms differ, sometimes substantially, from other varieties of English.

English speakers have many different accents, which often signal the speaker's native dialect or language. For the more distinctive characteristics of regional accents, see Regional accents of English, and for the more distinctive characteristics of regional dialects, see List of dialects of the English language. Within England, variation is now largely confined to pronunciation rather than grammar or vocabulary. At the time of the Survey of English Dialects, grammar and vocabulary differed across the country, but a process of lexical attrition has led most of this variation to die out.[58]

Just as English itself has borrowed words from many different languages over its history, English loanwords now appear in many languages around the world, indicative of the technological and cultural influence of its speakers. Several pidgins and creole languages have been formed on an English base, such as Jamaican Patois, Nigerian Pidgin, and Tok Pisin. There are many words in English coined to describe forms of particular non-English languages that contain a very high proportion of English words.

Constructed varieties of English[]

  • Basic English is simplified for easy international use. Manufacturers and other international businesses tend to write manuals and communicate in Basic English. Some English schools in Asia teach it as a practical subset of English for use by beginners.
  • E-Prime excludes forms of the verb to be.
  • English reform is an attempt to improve collectively upon the English language.
  • Manually Coded EnglishTemplate:Ndash a variety of systems have been developed to represent the English language with hand signals, designed primarily for use in deaf education. These should not be confused with true sign languages such as British Sign Language and American Sign Language used in Anglophone countries, which are independent and not based on English.
  • Seaspeak and the related Airspeak and Policespeak, all based on restricted vocabularies, were designed by Edward Johnson in the 1980s to aid international cooperation and communication in specific areas. There is also a tunnelspeak for use in the Channel Tunnel.
  • Special English is a simplified version of English used by the Voice of America. It uses a vocabulary of only 1500 words.




It is the vowels that differ most from region to region. Length is not phonemic in most varieties of North American English.

IPA Description word
Template:IPA Close front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Template:IPA Near-close near-front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd
Template:IPA Open-mid front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd[vn 1]
Template:IPA Near-open front unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd[vn 2]
Template:IPA Open back rounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redx[vn 3]
Template:IPA Open-mid back rounded vowel pTemplate:Bold dark reded[vn 4]
Template:IPA Open back unrounded vowel brTemplate:Bold dark red
Template:IPA Near-close near-back vowel gTemplate:Bold dark redd
Template:IPA Close back rounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark reded[vn 5]
Template:IPA Open-mid back unrounded vowel, near-open central vowel[vn 6] bTemplate:Bold dark redd.
Template:IPA Open-mid central unrounded vowel bTemplate:Bold dark redd[vn 7]
Template:IPA Schwa RosTemplate:Bold dark red's[vn 8]
Template:IPA Close central unrounded vowel rosTemplate:Bold dark reds[vn 8][vn 9]
Template:IPA Close-mid front unrounded vowel-
Close front unrounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark reded[vn 10]
Template:IPA Close-mid back rounded vowel-
Near-close near-back vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark redde[vn 11][vn 10]
Template:IPA Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-front unrounded vowel
crTemplate:Bold dark red[vn 12] This is near-universal in Canada, and most non-Southern American English dialects also have undergone the shift, and among the more educated classes, it is considered normal; in the 2008 presidential election, both candidates as well as their vice-presidents all used Template:IPA for the word "right".[citation needed]
Template:IPA Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-back vowel
cTemplate:Bold dark red[vn 13]
Template:IPA Open-mid back rounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark red
Template:IPA Near-close near-back vowel
bTemplate:Bold dark red[vn 14]
Template:IPA Open-mid front unrounded vowel
fTemplate:Bold dark red[vn 15]


  1. In RP, this is closer to Template:IPA
  2. In younger speakers of RP, this is closer to Template:IPA
  3. Many American English dialects lack this sound; in such dialects, words with this sound elsewhere are pronounced with Template:IPA or Template:IPA. See Lot-cloth split.
  4. Some dialects of North American English do not have this vowel. See Cot-caught merger.
  5. The letter <U> can represent either Template:IPA or the iotated vowel Template:IPA. In BRP, if this iotated vowel Template:IPA occurs after Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA or Template:IPA, it often triggers palatalisation of the preceding consonant, turning it to Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA and Template:IPA respectively, as in tune, during, sugar, and azure. In American English, palatalisation does not generally happen unless the Template:IPA is followed by r, with the result that Template:IPA turn to Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA and Template:IPA respectively, as in nature, verdure, sure, and treasure.
  6. The back-vowel symbol Template:IPA is conventional for this English central vowel. It is actually generally closer to a Template:IPA In the northern half of England, this vowel is not used and Template:IPA is used in its place.
  7. The North American variation of this sound is a rhotic vowel Template:IPA, the RP version a long central vowel Template:IPA.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Some speakers of North American English do not distinguish between these two unstressed vowels, pronounce the second vowel of roses as Template:IPA rather than Template:IPA, which falls in between the two. schwa Template:IPA.
  9. This sound is often transcribed with Template:IPA or with Template:IPA.
  10. 10.0 10.1 The diphthongs Template:IPA and Template:IPA are monophthongal Template:IPA and Template:IPA in many dialects, including General American, Scottish, Irish and Northern English.
  11. In RP and parts of North America, this is closer to Template:IPA. As a reduced vowel, it may become Template:IPA (Template:IPA before another vowel) or Template:IPA, depending on accent.
  12. In parts of North America Template:IPA is pronounced Template:IPA before voiceless consonants, so that writer and rider and distinguished by their vowels, Template:IPA, rather than their consonants.
  13. In Canada, this is pronounced Template:IPA before a voiceless consonant.
  14. In many accents, this sound is coming to be pronounced Template:IPA rather than Template:IPA. See English-language vowel changes before historic r.
  15. In some non-rhotic accents, the schwa offglide of Template:IPA may be dropped, monophthising and lengthening the sound to Template:IPA.


This is the English consonantal system using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Labial-
Nasal Template:IPA     Template:IPA     Template:IPA[cn 1]  
Plosive Template:IPA     Template:IPA     Template:IPA  
Affricate         Template:IPA[cn 2]      
Fricative   Template:IPA Template:IPA[cn 3] Template:IPA Template:IPA[cn 2] Template:IPA[cn 4] Template:IPA[cn 5] Template:IPA
Flap         Template:IPA[cn 6]      
Approximant       Template:IPA[cn 2]   Template:IPA   Template:IPA[cn 7]  
Lateral       Template:IPA        


  1. The velar nasal Template:IPA is a non-phonemic allophone of Template:IPA in some northerly British accents, appearing only before Template:IPA and Template:IPA. In all other dialects it is a separate phoneme, although it only occurs in syllable codas.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The sounds Template:IPA, Template:IPA, and Template:IPA are labialised in some dialects. Labialisation is never contrastive in initial position and therefore is sometimes not transcribed. Most speakers of General American realise <r> (always rhoticised) as the retroflex approximant Template:IPA, whereas the same is realised in Scottish English, etc. as the alveolar trill.
  3. In some dialects, such as Cockney, the interdentals Template:IPA and Template:IPA have usually merged with Template:IPA and Template:IPA, and in others, like African American Vernacular English, Template:IPA has merged with dental Template:IPA. In some Irish varieties, Template:IPA and Template:IPA become dental plosives, which then contrast with the usual alveolar plosives.
  4. The voiceless palatal fricative Template:IPA is in most accents just an allophone of Template:IPA before Template:IPA; for instance human /çjuːmən/. However, in some accents (see this), the Template:IPA has dropped, but the initial consonant is the same.
  5. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is used by Scottish or Welsh speakers of English for Scots/Gaelic words such as loch Template:IPA or by some speakers for loanwords from German and Hebrew like Bach Template:IPA or Chanukah /xanuka/. /x/ is also used in South African English. In some dialects such as Scouse (Liverpool) either Template:IPA or the affricate Template:IPA may be used as an allophone of /k/ in words such as docker Template:IPA.
  6. The alveolar tap Template:IPA is an allophone of Template:IPA and Template:IPA in unstressed syllables in North American English and Australian English.[59] This is the sound of tt or dd in the words latter and ladder, which are homophones for many speakers of North American English. In some accents such as Scottish English and Indian English it replaces Template:IPA. This is the same sound represented by single r in most varieties of Spanish.
  7. Voiceless w Template:IPA is found in Scottish and Irish English, as well as in some varieties of American, New Zealand, and English English. In most other dialects it is merged with Template:IPA, in some dialects of Scots it is merged with Template:IPA.

Voicing and aspiration[]

Voicing and aspiration of stop consonants in English depend on dialect and context, but a few general rules can be given:

  • Voiceless plosives and affricates (Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, and Template:IPA) are aspirated when they are word-initial or begin a stressed syllableTemplate:Ndash compare pin Template:IPA and spin Template:IPA, crap Template:IPA and scrap Template:IPA.
    • In some dialects, aspiration extends to unstressed syllables as well.
    • In other dialects, such as Indian English, all voiceless stops remain unaspirated.
  • Word-initial voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects.
  • Word-terminal voiceless plosives may be unreleased or accompanied by a glottal stop in some dialects; examples: tap Template:IPA, sack Template:IPA.
  • Word-terminal voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects (e.g. some varieties of American English)Template:Ndash examples: sad Template:IPA, bag Template:IPA. In other dialects, they are fully voiced in final position, but only partially voiced in initial position.

Supra-segmental features[]

Tone groups[]

English is an intonation language. This means that the pitch of the voice is used syntactically; for example, to convey surprise or irony, or to change a statement into a question.

In English, intonation patterns are on groups of words, which are called tone groups, tone units, intonation groups, or sense groups. Tone groups are said on a single breath and, as a consequence, are of limited length, more often being on average five words long or lasting roughly two seconds. For example:

Template:IPA Do you need anything?
Template:IPA I don't, no
Template:IPA I don't know (contracted to, for example, Template:IPA or Template:IPA I dunno in fast or colloquial speech that de-emphasises the pause between 'don't' and 'know' even further)

Characteristics of intonation—stress[]

English is a strongly stressed language, in that certain syllables, both within words and within phrases, get a relative prominence/loudness during pronunciation while the others do not. The former kind of syllables are said to be accentuated/stressed and the latter are unaccentuated/unstressed. Stress can also be used in English to distinguish between certain verbs and their noun counterparts. For example, in the case of the verb contract, the second syllable is stressed: Template:IPA; in case of the corresponding noun, the first syllable is stressed: Template:IPA. Vowels in unstressed syllables can also change in quality, hence the verb contract often becomes (and indeed is listed in Oxford English Dictionary as) Template:IPA.[60] In each word, there can be only one principal stress, but in long words, there can be secondary stress(es) too, e.g. in civilization Template:IPA, the 1st syllable carries the secondary stress, the 3rd syllable carries the primary stress, and the other syllables are unstressed.[61]

Hence in a sentence, each tone group can be subdivided into syllables, which can either be stressed (strong) or unstressed (weak). The stressed syllable is called the nuclear syllable. For example:

That | was | the | best | thing | you | could | have | done!

Here, all syllables are unstressed, except the syllables/words best and done, which are stressed. Best is stressed harder and, therefore, is the nuclear syllable.

The nuclear syllable carries the main point the speaker wishes to make. For example:

John had not stolen that money. (... Someone else had.)
John had not stolen that money. (... Someone said he had. or... Not at that time, but later he did.)
John had not stolen that money. (... He acquired the money by some other means.)
John had not stolen that money. (... He had stolen some other money.)
John had not stolen that money. (... He had stolen something else.)


I did not tell her that. (... Someone else told her)
I did not tell her that. (... You said I did. or... but now I will)
I did not tell her that. (... I did not say it; she could have inferred it, etc)
I did not tell her that. (... I told someone else)
I did not tell her that. (... I told her something else)

This can also be used to express emotion:

Oh, really? (...I did not know that)
Oh, really? (...I disbelieve you. or... That is blatantly obvious)

The nuclear syllable is spoken more loudly than the others and has a characteristic change of pitch. The changes of pitch most commonly encountered in English are the rising pitch and the falling pitch, although the fall-rising pitch and/or the rise-falling pitch are sometimes used. In this opposition between falling and rising pitch, which plays a larger role in English than in most other languages, falling pitch conveys certainty and rising pitch uncertainty. This can have a crucial impact on meaning, specifically in relation to polarity, the positive–negative opposition; thus, falling pitch means, "polarity known", while rising pitch means "polarity unknown". This underlies the rising pitch of yes/no questions. For example:

When do you want to be paid?
Now? (Rising pitch. In this case, it denotes a question: "Can I be paid now?" or "Do you desire to pay now?")
Now. (Falling pitch. In this case, it denotes a statement: "I choose to be paid now.")


English grammar has minimal inflection compared with most other Indo-European languages. For example, Modern English, unlike Modern German or Dutch and the Romance languages, lacks grammatical gender and adjectival agreement. Case marking has almost disappeared from the language and mainly survives in pronouns. The patterning of strong (e.g. speak/spoke/spoken) versus weak verbs inherited from its Germanic origins has declined in importance in modern English, and the remnants of inflection (such as plural marking) have become more regular.

At the same time, the language has become more analytic, and has developed features such as modal verbs and word order as resources for conveying meaning. Auxiliary verbs mark constructions such as questions, negative polarity, the passive voice and progressive aspect.


The English vocabulary has changed considerably over the centuries.[62]


Like many languages deriving from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), many of the most common words in English can trace back their origin (through the Germanic branch) to PIE. Such words include the basic pronouns I, from Old English ic, (cf. German Ich, Gothic ik, Latin ego, Greek ego, Sanskrit aham), me (cf. German mich, mir, Gothic mik, mīs, Latin me, Greek eme, Sanskrit mam), numbers (e.g. one, two, three, cf. Dutch een, twee, drie, Gothic ains, twai, threis (þreis), Latin unus, duo, tres, Greek oinos "ace (on dice)", duo, treis), common family relationships such as mother, father, brother, sister etc. (cf. Dutch moeder, Greek meter, Latin mater, Sanskrit matṛ; mother), names of many animals (cf. German Maus, Dutch muis, Sankrit mus, Greek mys, Latin mus; mouse), and many common verbs (cf. Old High German knājan, Old Norse knā, Greek gignōmi, Latin gnoscere, Hittite kanes; to know).

Germanic words (generally words of Old English or to a lesser extent Old Norse origin) tend to be shorter than Latinate words in Modern English, and are more common in ordinary speech, and include nearly all the basic pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, modal verbs etc. that form the basis of English syntax and grammar. The shortness of the words is generally due to syncopation in Middle English (e.g. OldEng hēafod > ModEng head, OldEng sāwol > ModEng soul) and to the loss of final syllables due to stress (e.g. OldEng gamen > ModEng game, OldEng ǣrende > ModEng errand), not because Germanic words are inherently shorter than Latinate words. (The lengthier, higher-register words of Old English were largely forgotten following the subjugation of English after the Norman Conquest, and most of the Old English lexis devoted to literature, the arts, and sciences ceased to be productive when it fell into disuse.) Longer Latinate words in Modern English are often regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is considered at times to be either pretentious or an attempt to obfuscate an issue. George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language", considered an important scrutinisation of the English language, is critical of this, as well as other perceived misuse of the language.

An English speaker is in many cases able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: come or arrive; sight or vision; freedom or liberty. In some cases, there is a choice between a Germanic derived word (oversee), a Latin derived word (supervise), and a French word derived from the same Latin word (survey); or even words derived from Norman French (e.g., warranty) and Parisian French (guarantee), and even choices involving multiple Germanic and Latinate sources are possible: sick (Old English), ill (Old Norse), infirm (French), afflicted (Latin). Such synonyms harbor a variety of different meanings and nuances, enabling the speaker to express fine variations or shades of thought. Familiarity with the etymology of groups of synonyms can give English speakers greater control over their linguistic register. See: List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English, Doublet (linguistics).

An exception to this and a peculiarity perhaps unique to a handful of languages, English included, is that the nouns for meats are commonly different from, and unrelated to, those for the animals from which they are produced, the animal commonly having a Germanic name and the meat having a French-derived one. Examples include: deer and venison; cow and beef; swine/pig and pork; and sheep and mutton. This is assumed to be a result of the aftermath of the Norman invasion, where an Anglo-Norman-speaking elite were the consumers of the meat, produced by lower classes, which happened to be largely Anglo-Saxon.[citation needed]

There are Latinate words that are used in everyday speech. These words no longer appear Latinate and oftentimes have no Germanic equivalents. For instance, the words mountain, valley, river, aunt, uncle, move, use, push and stay ("to remain") are Latinate. Likewise, the inverse can occur: acknowledge, meaningful, understanding, mindful, behaviour, forbearance, behoove, forestall, allay, rhyme, starvation, embodiment come from Anglo-Saxon, and allegiance, abandonment, debutant, feudalism, seizure, guarantee, disregard, wardrobe, disenfranchise, disarray, bandolier, bourgeoisie, debauchery, performance, furniture, gallantry are of Germanic origin, usually through the Germanic element in French, so it is oftentimes impossible to know the origin of a word based on its register.

English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and often imports new words and phrases. Examples of this phenomenon include contemporary words such as cookie, Internet and URL (technical terms), as well as genre, über, lingua franca and amigo (imported words/phrases from French, German, Italian, and Spanish, respectively). In addition, slang often provides new meanings for old words and phrases. In fact, this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage.

See also: sociolinguistics.

Number of words in English[]

The General Explanations at the beginning of the Oxford English Dictionary states: Template:Bquote

The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly vast, but assigning a specific number to its size is more a matter of definition than of calculation. Unlike other languages such as French (the Académie française), German (Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung), Spanish (Real Academia Española) and Italian (Accademia della Crusca), there is no academy to define officially accepted words and spellings. Neologisms are coined regularly in medicine, science, technology and other fields, and new slang is constantly developed. Some of these new words enter wide usage; others remain restricted to small circles. Foreign words used in immigrant communities often make their way into wider English usage. Archaic, dialectal, and regional words might or might not be widely considered as "English".

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (OED2) includes over 600,000 definitions, following a rather inclusive policy:


The editors of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (475,000 main headwords) in their preface, estimate the number to be much higher. It is estimated that about 25,000 words are added to the language each year.[63]

The Global Language Monitor announced that the English language had crossed the 1,000,000-word threshold on June 10, 2009.[64] The announcement was met with strong scepticism by linguists and lexicographers,[65] though a number of non-specialist reports[66][67] accepted the figure uncritically.

Word origins[]

One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words that are Germanic (mostly West Germanic, with a smaller influence from the North Germanic branch) and those that are "Latinate" (Latin-derived, either directly or from Norman French or other Romance languages).

The majority (83%) of the 1,000 most common English words, and all of the 100 most common, are Germanic.[68] Conversely, a vast majority of more advanced words from subjects such as the sciences, philosophy, maths, etc. come from Latin or Greek. A noticeable number of words from astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry are from Arabic.

Numerous sets of statistics have been proposed to demonstrate the proportionate origins of English vocabulary. None, as of yet, is considered definitive by most linguists.

A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd ed.) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973)[69] that estimated the origin of English words as follows:

File:Origins of English PieChart 2D.svg

Influences in English vocabulary

  • Langue d'oïl, including French and Old Norman: 28.3%
  • Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%
  • Other Germanic languages (including words directly inherited from Old English; does not include Germanic words coming from the Germanic element in French, Latin or other Romance languages): 25%
  • Greek: 5.32%
  • No etymology given: 4.03%
  • Derived from proper names: 3.28%
  • All other languages: less than 1%

A survey by Joseph M. Williams in Origins of the English Language of 10,000 words taken from several thousand business letters gave this set of statistics:[70]

  • French (langue d'oïl): 41%
  • "Native" English: 33%
  • Latin: 15%
  • Old Norse: 2%
  • Dutch: 1%
  • Other: 10%

Dutch and Low German origins[]

Many words describing the navy, types of ships, and other objects or activities on the water are of Dutch origin. Yacht (jacht), skipper (schipper) and cruiser (kruiser) are examples. Other words pertain to art and daily life: easel (ezel), etch (etsen), slim (slim), staple (Middle Dutch stapel "market"), slip (Middle Dutch slippen). Dutch has also contributed to English slang, e.g. spook, and the now obsolete snyder (tailor) and stiver (small coin).

Words from Low German include trade (Middle Low German trade), smuggle (smuggeln), and dollar (daler/thaler).

French origins[]

A large portion of English vocabulary is of French or Langues d'oïl origin, and was transmitted to English via the Anglo-Norman language spoken by the upper classes in England in the centuries following the Norman Conquest. Words of French origin include competition, mountain, art, table, publicity, police, role, routine, machine, force, and thousands of others, most of which have been anglicised to fit English rules of phonology, pronunciation and spelling, rather than those of French (with a few exceptions, for example, façade and affaire de cœur.)

Writing system[]

Since around the ninth century, English has been written in the Latin alphabet, which replaced Anglo-Saxon runes. The spelling system, or orthography, is multilayered, with elements of French, Latin and Greek spelling on top of the native Germanic system; it has grown to vary significantly from the phonology of the language. The spelling of words often diverges considerably from how they are spoken.

Though letters and sounds may not correspond in isolation, spelling rules that take into account syllable structure, phonetics, and accents are 75% or more reliable.[71] Some phonics spelling advocates claim that English is more than 80% phonetic.[72] However, English has fewer consistent relationships between sounds and letters than many other languages; for example, the letter sequence ough can be pronounced in 10 different ways. The consequence of this complex orthographic history is that reading can be challenging.[73] It takes longer for students to become completely fluent readers of English than of many other languages, including French, Greek, and Spanish.[74] "English-speaking children take up to two years more to learn reading than do children in 12 other European countries."(Professor Philip H K Seymour, University of Dundee, 2001)[75] "[dyslexia] is twice as prevalent among dyslexics in the United States (and France) as it is among Italian dyslexics. Again, this is seen to be because of Italian's 'transparent' orthography." (Eraldo Paulesu and 11 others. Science, 2001)[75] There are many individuals and organisations whose aim is to modernise or regularise English spelling.

Basic sound-letter correspondence[]

IPA Alphabetic representation Dialect-specific
p p
b b
t t, th (rarely) thyme, Thames th thing (African American, New York)
d d th that (African American, New York)
k c (+ a, o, u, consonants), k, ck, ch, qu (rarely) conquer, kh (in foreign words)
g g, gh, gu (+ a, e, i), gue (final position)
m m
n n
ŋ n (before g or k), ng
f f, ph, gh (final, infrequent) laugh, rough th thing (many forms of English language in England)
v v th with (Cockney, Estuary English)
θ th thick, think, through
ð th that, this, the
s s, c (+ e, i, y), sc (+ e, i, y), ç often c (façade/facade)
z z, s (finally or occasionally medially), ss (rarely) possess, dessert, word-initial x xylophone
[[voiceless postalveolar fricative|Template:IPA]] sh, sch, ti (before vowel) portion, ci/ce (before vowel) suspicion, ocean; si/ssi (before vowel) tension, mission; ch (esp. in words of French origin); rarely s/ss before u sugar, issue; chsi in fuchsia only
[[voiced postalveolar fricative|Template:IPA]] medial si (before vowel) division, medial s (before "ur") pleasure, zh (in foreign words), z before u azure, g (in words of French origin) (+e, i, y) genre, j (in words of French origin) bijou
x kh, ch, h (in foreign words) occasionally ch loch (Scottish English, Welsh English)
h h (syllable-initially, otherwise silent), j (in words of Spanish origin) jai alai
[[voiceless postalveolar affricate|Template:IPA]] ch, tch, t before u future, culture t (+ u, ue, eu) tune, Tuesday, Teutonic (several dialects – see Phonological history of English consonant clusters)
[[voiced postalveolar affricate|Template:IPA]] j, g (+ e, i, y), dg (+ e, i, consonant) badge, judg(e)ment d (+ u, ue, ew) dune, due, dew (several dialects – another example of yod coalescence)
[[alveolar approximant|Template:IPA]] r, wr (initial) wrangle
j y (initially or surrounded by vowels), j hallelujah
l l
[[Voiced labial-velar approximant|Template:IPA]] w
[[Voiceless labio-velar approximant|Template:IPA]] wh (pronounced hw) Scottish and Irish English, as well as some varieties of American, New Zealand, and English English

Written accents[]

Unlike most other Germanic languages, English has almost no diacritics except in foreign loanwords (like the acute accent in café), and in the uncommon use of a diaeresis mark (often in formal writing) to indicate that two vowels are pronounced separately, rather than as one sound (e.g. naïve, Zoë). Words such as décor, café, résumé/Template:Typo, entrée, fiancée and naïve are frequently spelled both with or without diacritics.

Some English words retain diacritics to distinguish them from others, such as animé, exposé, lamé, öre, øre, pâté, piqué, and rosé, though these are sometimes also dropped (for example, résumé/Template:Typo, is often spelt resume in the United States). To clarify pronunciation, a small number of loanwords may employ a diacritic that does not appear in the original word, such as maté, from Spanish yerba mate, or Malé, the capital of the Maldives, following the French usage.

Formal written English[]

A version of the language almost universally agreed upon by educated English speakers around the world is called formal written English. It takes virtually the same form regardless of where it is written, in contrast to spoken English, which differs significantly between dialects, accents, and varieties of slang and of colloquial and regional expressions. Local variations in the formal written version of the language are quite limited, being restricted largely to the spelling differences between British and American English, along with a few minor differences in grammar and lexis.

Basic and simplified versions[]

To make English easier to read, there are some simplified versions of the language. One basic version is named Basic English, a constructed language with a small number of words created by Charles Kay Ogden and described in his book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930). The language is based on a simplified version of English. Ogden said that it would take seven years to learn English, seven months for Esperanto, and seven weeks for Basic English. Thus, Basic English may be employed by companies that need to make complex books for international use, as well as by language schools that need to give people some knowledge of English in a short time.

Ogden did not put any words into Basic English that could be said with a few other words and he worked to make the words work for speakers of any other language. He put his set of words through a large number of tests and adjustments. He also made the grammar simpler, but tried to keep the grammar normal for English users.

The concept gained its greatest publicity just after the Second World War as a tool for world peace.[citation needed] Although it was not built into a program, similar simplifications were devised for various international uses.

Another version, Simplified English, exists, which is a controlled language originally developed for aerospace industry maintenance manuals. It offers a carefully limited and standardised[76] subset of English. Simplified English has a lexicon of approved words and those words can only be used in certain ways. For example, the word close can be used in the phrase "Close the door" but not "do not go close to the landing gear".

See also[]

Template:Portal Template:Wikipedia-Books

  • Changes to Old English vocabulary
  • English for Academic Purposes
  • English language in Europe
  • English language learning and teaching
  • Language Report
  • Lists of English words
  • Teaching English as a foreign language
  • The Story of English
  • The Adventure of English (film)


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