English has become the lingua franca of the modern, globalized world. No matter where you come from, speaking English opens unparalleled opportunities in business, travel, and culture.
Here are some quirky facts that make the English language so special:
1.English Has its Roots in Germanic, Scandinavian, and Celtic LanguagesImage Source: History
English is a West Germanic language from the Indo-European language family.
There are 445 living related languages and dialects according to Ethnologue., including German, Frisian, and Yiddish.
2. The English language evolved over three periods
Anglicists call them Old English (or Anglo-Saxon), Middle English, and Modern English.
Old English is an amalgam of Germanic tongues. It was influenced by Germanic invaders and settlers who occupied Britain from the fifth to the seventh century.
Until the eleventh century, the Vikings, who spoke a Northern Germanic language called Old Norse, and especially the French with the Norman Conquest in 1066, had a substantial impact on the English language. New words entered the lexicon and the inflectional system that exemplified the grammar of Old English was starting to disappear.
Early Modern English absorbed many foreign words (called “loans” by linguists) from Latin, Ancient Greek, French, German, and Dutch. During this period, English saw important spelling and pronunciation changes which affected long vowels. The Linguist and Anglicist Otto Jespersen called this time “the
3. The English We Speak Today Took Shape in the 15th Century
From the 15th to the 18th Century, English saw important spelling and pronunciation changes which affected long vowels.
The Linguist and Anglicist Otto Jespersen called this time “the Great Vowel Shift”.
In English, vowels are articulated using different parts of the mouth.
After this reform, the long vowels shifted upwards; that is, a vowel that used to be pronounced in one place in the mouth would be pronounced higher up in the mouth. For example, e and o moved up, becoming i and u.
4. English isn’t Called ‘the Language of Shakespeare’ for NothingImage Source: Biography
The famous playwright is known for coining 1,700 new English words. However, most of his inventions never survived into the Modern idiom.
From ‘dwindle’ to ‘gloomy’, ‘majestic’ or even ‘laughable’, Shakespeare helped expand the English language like no other man. He did so by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, linking words that were never used together before, adding prefixes and suffixes, or coining neologisms.
Probably a serious linguist in the era may have been horrified with Shakespeare. But that’s how the most beautiful and groundbreaking things happen in this world: By breaking the rules.
5. The King James Bible is one of the Most Prominent Literary Works to Help Disseminate Modern EnglishImage Source: Wikiwand
King James commissioned an official English translation of the Christian Bible in 1604.
The King James Bible is now considered a literary masterpiece. This translation replaced the Bishops Bible in 1661 and supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English-speaking scholars in the eighteenth century.
6. This Endeavor Was No Easy Feat
The translation of the Bible was done by 47 scholars, although 54 had been approved originally. All translators were members of the Church of England, and only one, Sir Henry Savile, warden of Oxford College, was clergy.
Prior attempts to translate the Bible had been done much earlier but created conflict between factions who claimed they carried significant theological interpretations.
King James ordered that the translators provided no marginal interpretation of the text, but in some 8,500 places, a marginal note offers an alternative English wording.
7. The Longest Word You’ll Find in an English Dictionary is 45-letter LongImage Source: Mega Things
And in case you’re wondering, that word is ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’. It refers to silicosis, a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles.
8. But It is Not the Longest English word at all
That record goes to ‘methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl…isoleucine’, the full chemical name for the human protein titin or connectin.
Exactly 189,819 letters, this technical word takes three and a half hours to pronounce. That is, if you’re concentrated.
9. The English Language Contains Three Single-letter Words
The first and oldest, ‘I’, is always capped.
The second is the indefinite article ‘a’. It is only capped when it begins in a sentence.
The third is the letter ‘O’ is an archaic spelling of ‘oh’ (note the minuscule). Also always capped, ‘O’ used to express surprise, sadness, and a range of emotions.
10. One of the Oldest Curse Words in the English Language is ‘Fart’Image Source: Wikiwand
Records of the word date as far back as 1250. That’s 50 years before ‘buttocks’ and 75 years before ‘cunt’.
11. ‘Fuck’ (used as-is), is Probably the Most Popular Borrowed English Swear WordImage Source: Funnyism
The F word is used in countries outside the English-speaking world, including France, the Netherlands, Quebec, and Scandinavian countries, where it is used as a mild expletive curse word in casual talk.
12. The F Word is Not Actually an English Word
Incidentally, the word ‘fuck’ came into English in 1568 from Low German, Frisian or Dutch.
The word existed in English before then, but it was never used to mean fornicating. Rather, it meant ‘to strike’. Our ancestors’ equivalents to ‘fucking’ were ‘swiving’, ‘carnal knowing’, ‘melling’, ‘copulating’, or even ‘occupying’.
13. The Most Common Letter in the English Language is ‘E’
But ‘t’ is the most common letter placed at the beginning of a word.
Reversely, ‘z’, ‘q’ ‘x’, and ‘j’ are the four least common letters used in English.
14. A Sentence That Uses All the Letters of the Alphabet Is Called a ‘Pangram’Image Source: Center for books arts
Also called a holo alphabetic sentence, the word ‘pangram’ comes from the Greek παν γράμμα (pan gramma), which means “every letter”.
Aside from being a fun mental exercise, pangrams have been used to display typefaces and develop calligraphy, and keyboarding skills. Famous pangrams include: “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” (33 letters) and “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs” (32 letters).
15. No Perfect Pangram Has Ever Been Created
Pangramists have long attempted to create perfect pangrams of exactly 26 letters. However, none of them makes sense as a sentence. Rather, they are an assembly of obscure words, such as: “Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx”.
16. There Are About A Million Words In the English LanguageImage Source: Gawker
The exact number is 1,022,000 according to the Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language.
Another study by Global Language Monitor put that number at 1,025,109 words in 2014.
17. Most New English Words Are The Result of Advances in Technology
That’s because technology produces new tools and solutions and also affects how people spontaneously create new words. Social media, email and text messages also allow for these words to disseminate more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
18. Blended Words Are Growing In PopularityImage Source: Diana Beebe
A large percentage of new words are also “portmanteau words” or “blended words” — a word that combines the meaning of two unique words.
For example, youniverse is formed from you and universe, bromance combines brother and romance, staycation fuses stay and vacation.
19. One Thousand New Words Are Added to the English Dictionary Every Year
Neologisms are constantly added to the English language, but only a few make it to the dictionary.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, about one thousand words and sentences are included in the new versions of the dictionary each year, along with the revision or expansion of almost 2,000 entries. In the 20th century alone, more than 90,000 words have been added to the dictionary.
20. ‘Dord’ Was Mistakenly Added to the English Dictionary Due to a Printing ErrorImage Source: Etsy
‘Dord’ doesn’t mean anything, but for 7 years, it appeared in the Merriam-Webster English dictionary, undetected to proofreaders and editors.
It wasn’t until 1939 that it was spotted and effectively removed a year later. Apparently, all began when Webster’s chemistry editor sent a note to the printers reading, “D or d, cont./density.” The editor’s intention was to add “density” to the list of words that the letter “D” can abbreviate and instead produced “Dord”.
Today, “Dord” is considered a ghost word.
21. English Is the Universal Language of Aviation
Since 2008, no matter what countries they are from, pilots handling international flights are required to have a proficient level of spoken English.
Previously, they were only required to know standard ICAO Radio Telephony Phraseology, which features English-only words.
22. Today, English is the Third Most Primary Spoken Language in the WorldImage Source: Globalization
It is the third most common primary language in the world behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Approximately 375 million speakers in 50 countries around the world speak English as their primary language.
23. English Has Become the International Lingua Franca
Five hundred years ago, between five and seven million people spoke English, almost all of them living in the British Isles.
Now, anywhere up to 1.8 billion people around the world speak English, making it the most common shared language of communication among people speaking different native languages. This is much greater than what French or Latin historically achieved when their languages peaked.
24. Power and History Helped Elevate English as a Global LanguageImage Source: British Empire
The growth of English owes a lot to politics worldwide.
British colonial and industrial power contributed to the spread English starting from the 17th Century. The legacy of British imperialism has left many countries with the language thoroughly institutionalized in their public administrations and school systems.
Since the Second World War, it has been the American economic, cultural, and technological supremacy that has maintained English position as a global language.
25. The Simple English Structure of the English Language Makes It Easy to Learn
The English grammar is considered to be simpler than most languages. Conjugation is simpler than most languages: the average English verb only includes five verb forms, unlike over 30 for French! English also omits noun genders and often dispenses with the article entirely.
Lastly, the distinction between familiar and formal speeches were abandoned centuries ago. In Korean, there are fourteen possible combinations!
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