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English is a West Germanic language that developed in England during the Anglo-Saxon era. As a result of the military, economic, scientific, political, and cultural influence of the British Empire during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and of the United States since the mid 20th century,it has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world. It is used extensively as a second language and as an official language in Commonwealth countries and many international organisations.
The Anglo-Saxons began invading around 449 AD from the regions of Denmark and Jutland.Before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in England the native population spoke Brythonic, a Celtic language. 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.
Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Great Britain.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. 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.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had a monopoly on intellectual property in British society, which they used to exert great influence on the English language. Catholic monks mainly wrote or copied text in Latin, the prevalent Medieval lingua franca of Europe.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.
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. 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 other regions. The emergence of the United States as a superpower has also helped the spread of English.
Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca, is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language of communications, science, business, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy. 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. 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 WarIIhavesignificantlyacceleratedthelanguage's spread across the planet.
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. 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.
Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "world language", the lingua franca of the modern era. While English is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second 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. It is, by international treaty, the official language for aerial and maritime communications. 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. Among non-English speaking EU countries, a large percentage of the population claimed to have been able to converse in English in the Netherlands (87%), Sweden (85%), Denmark (83%), Luxembourg (66%), Finland (60%), Slovenia (56%), Austria (53%), Belgium (52%), and Germany (51%). Norway and Iceland also have a large majority of competent English-speakers.
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. 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.
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. Some phonics spelling advocates claim that English is more than 80% phonetic. However, English has fewer consistent relationships between sounds and letters than many other languages; for example, the sound sequence ough can be pronounced in 10 different ways. The consequence of this complex orthographic history is that reading can be challenging. It takes longer for students to become completely fluent readers of English than of many other languages, including French, Greek, and Spanish.