English is a West Germanic language related to Dutch, Frisian and
German with a significant amount of vocabulary from French, Latin,
Greek and many other languages.
Approximately 341 million people speak English as a native language
and a further 267 million speak it as a second language in over 104
countries including the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
South Africa, American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda,
Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, British Indian Ocean
Territory, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands,
Cook Islands and Denmark.
A brief history of English
English evolved from the Germanic languages brought to Britain by
the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and other Germanic tribes from about the 5th
Century AD. These languages are known collectively as Anglo-Saxon or
Old English, and began to appear in writing during the 5th
English acquired vocabulary from Old Norse after Norsemen starting
settling in parts of Britain, particularly in the north and east, from
the 9th century. To this day varieties of English spoken in northern
England contain more words of Norse origin than other varieties of English.
They are also said to retain some aspects of pronunciation from Old Norse.
The Norman invasion of 1066 brought with it a deluge of Norman and Latin
vocabulary, and for the next three centuries English became a mainly oral
language spoken by ordinary people, while the nobility spoke Norman, which
became Anglo-Norman, and the clergy spoke Latin. When English literature
began to reappear in the 13th century the language had lost the inflectional
system of Old English, and the spelling had changed under Norman influence.
For example, the Old English letters þ (thorn) and
ð (eth) were replaced by th. This form of English
is known as Middle English.
By about the 15th century Middle English had evolved into Early Modern
English, and continued to absorb numerous words from other languages,
especially from Latin and Greek. Printing was introduced to Britain by
William Caxton in around 1469, and as a result English became increasingly
standardised. The first English dictionary, Robert Cawdrey's Table
Alphabeticall, was published in 1604.
During the medieval and early modern periods English spread from England
to Wales, Scotland and other parts of the British Isles, and also to Ireland.
From the 17th century English was exported to other parts of the world via
trade and colonization, and it developed into new varities wherever it
went. English-based pidgins and creoles also developed in many places,
such as on islands in the Caribbean and Pacific, and in parts of Africa.
This chart shows the vowels and diphthongs used in standard varieties of English
spoken in the USA, Australia, England, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa,
Scotland and Wales. There is significant variation in the vowel sounds used within
most of these countries, and in other countries where English is spoken.
AmE = American English (General American), AuE = Australian English, BrE = British English (RP),
CaE = Canadian English, IrE = Irish English, NZE = New Zealand English, SAE = South African English,
ScE = Scottish English, WeE = Welsh English