Everything you need to know about the English language

21st March 2014

As the most commonly spoken language in the world, English is full of interesting facts.

English was a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England. Nowadays English is spoken as a first language by the majority populations of several sovereign states, including; United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. It is also an official language of almost 60 other sovereign states.

English is not only the most commonly spoken language, but it also is the third-most-common native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

It is widely taught as a second language and is an official language of the European Union. These are some of the reasons why many legal and non-legal documents are being translated into English, and translation agencies are in high demand.

History

The history of the English language goes back to the arrival of the Celts in 500BC. The Celts happen to be the earliest inhabitants of the British Isles to leave a mark on the English language. Many English place names have Celtic origins, such as London, Dover and Kent, and the rivers Thames & Wye.

The Romans were the next to invade and ruled the British Isles for over 400 years. Many of the words passed on from this era were those coined by Roman merchants and soldiers; including wine, candle, belt and wall.

The Celts and Romans had, however, little overall influence on the English language. The real formation started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes, who invaded Britain during the fifth century AD. These tribes, the Anglos, Saxons and Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany. At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language, but most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders – mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

About 400 Anglo-Saxon texts survive from this era, including many beautiful poems which tell tales of wild battles and heroic journeys. In the sixth century, England saw the arrival of Christian missionaries who converted the Anglo-Saxons from their Pagan beliefs to a Catholic Christian faith, and injected hundreds of new Latin words into the English language.

The year 789AD was the year of the first Danish invasion of Britain and arrival of the Vikings, who brought almost 2000 new words into the English vocabulary. Words derived from Norse include anger, awkward, cake, die, egg, freckle, muggy, reindeer, silver, skirt and smile.

In 1066 England was invaded by the Normans. The Normans transformed England, both culturally and linguistically. For over 300 years French was the language spoken by the most powerful people – royalty, aristocrats and high-powered officials. French was used in political documents, in administration, and in literature, with Latin still being the language of the church and of scholars,; with most of the general population speaking English in their everyday lives.

After the 100 Years War, many people regarded French as the language of the enemy. That’s when the status of English rose significantly, with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge being established. Literacy increased, but books were still copied by hand and were therefore extremely expensive.

The Renaissance was a time of great cultural and intellectual development. This was when England was introduced to the printing press, making books a lot cheaper and extremely popular.

In the 1700s human knowledge continued to stretch into new areas, with discoveries in the fields of medicine, astrology, botany & engineering (> this can’t be right). The last century was a time of two world wars, technological transformation, and globalisation. As the English language continues to grow it keeps expanding to incorporate new jargons, slangs, technologies – including toys, foods and gadgets.

There is, of course, also a fun element to the English language:

  • The most commonly used letter in the alphabet is E
  • The least used letter in the alphabet is Q
  • Dreamt is the only word that ends in mt
  • The first letters of the months July through to November spell JASON
  • There are only 4 words in the English language which end in ‘dous’ (they are: hazardous, horrendous, stupendous and tremendous)
  • The oldest word in the English language is ‘town’
  • ‘Bookkeeper’ and ‘bookkeeping’ are the only 2 words in the English language with three consecutive double letters
  • The word ‘Strengths’ is the longest word in the English language with just one vowel
  • The dot on top of the letter ‘i’ is called a tittle
  • The past tense for the English word ‘dare’ is ‘durst’
  • The word ‘testify’ derived from a time when men were required to swear on their testicles
  • The first English dictionary was written in 1755
  • The old English word ‘juke’ meaning dancing lends its name to the juke box
  • 1 out of every 8 letters written is an e
  • The longest one syllable word in the English language is ‘screeched’
  • All pilots on international flights identify themselves in English regardless of their country of origin
  • The expression to ‘knuckle down’ originated from playing marbles (players used to put their knuckles to the ground for their best shots)
  • The word ‘almost’ is the longest in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order
  • The most commonly used word in English conversation is ‘I’

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