E is for English

I couldn’t write an A to Z of languages without including my own mother tongue. It’s an unusual language in so many ways, with its quirky spelling and rich vocabulary, and I love it.

After Mandarin and Spanish it is the next most common spoken language in the world, with about 360 million native speakers, and it is the most common second language in the world. There are English speakers on every continent.

One of the most unusual things about English is that its beginnings can be dated fairly accurately. It has evolved from Proto-Germanic via Old Frisian, which was spoken by settlers who came over in the 5th century. The language was further influenced by Old Norse, when invaders arrived in the 9th and 10th centuries, and by Norman French from 1066. And of course it has been influenced by the Celtic languages spoken before any of the overseas visitors arrived.

Over the years, English has lost the case endings that German is known for, along with the different verb endings that characterise most other European languages – just the ‘s’on the he/she forms of the verb are left as a reminder.

One of the things that English is most noted for, is its unphonetic spelling. The seemingly spellings are due to the fact that the language was committed to print before the pronunciation had finished evolving, so it’s now has a spelling that reflects how it used to be pronounced!

Related posts: D is for Dead Languages     F is for Frisian

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