English is spoken by more than 300.000.000 native speakers living in the UK, the USA and practically all over the world.
English has the biggest number of native speakers after Chinese, Arabic and Hindi. It is the geographically most widespread language and the most important internationally used lingua franca. It is also the most widely learned second language in the world.
English has spread form the British Island all over the world and has presently official status in over 60 countries.
English belongs to the Western branch of the Germanic languages. It is closely related to Frisian, Dutch and German. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
Modern English derives from Western Germanic languages spoken by tribes from Northern Germany that invaded England in the 5th century CE and subdued the autochthonous Celtic population. These tribes are commonly referred to as Frisians, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
The historical stages of the English language are Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon, (425-1125), Middle English (1150-1485), Early Modern English (1485-1650) and Modern English (1650-).
In contrast to Modern English Old English has rich morphology. For instance, nouns have four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental. Old English vocabulary is mainly influenced by Latin and Danish. Old English pronunciation did not differ significantly from its spelling. Considerable dialectal variation can be observed in Old English texts. The four major varieties were Kentish, Mercian, Northumbrian and West Saxon.
The most important literary works from the Old English period are the epic poem 'Beowulf', the national epic of England, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The earliest Old English text dates back to the 7th century CE.
The Middle English period lasts from the aftermath of the Norman invasion to the era of Geoffry Chaucer, the best known poet of that period. The Middle English language is characterized by reduction of the Old English morphological diversity.
The Great Vowel Shift affecting the pronunciation of the Middle English long vowels is considered the historical event that marks the transition from Middle English to New Modern English. The earliest attestations of this phonological process are recorded form 14th century, it accomplished in the 16th century. Most of the events that make up the Great Vowel Shift occurred in the 15th century.
The most important literary works of the Early Modern English period are the first edition of the King James Bible (1611) and the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
Modern English has two major standards: a) Britisch English, spoken in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, b) American English, spoken in the USA and Canada.
The major dialects of English in the UK are Cockney, Scouse, Geordie, West Country, East Anglia, Birmingham (Brummy, Brummie), South Wales, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cornwall, Cumberland, Central Cumberland, Devonshire, East Devonshire, Dorset, Durham, Bolton Lancashire, North Lancashire, Radcliffe Lancashire, Northumberland, Norfolk, Newcastle Northumberland, Tyneside Northumberland, Lowland Scottish, Somerset, Sussex, Westmorland, North Wiltshire, Craven Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Sheffield Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire.
The vowel inventory of modern English consists of short vowels, long vowels and diphtongs. Long vowels and diphtongs can appear in stressed open syllables, short vowels can't. There are no rounded front vowels like in Dutch and German.
English consonantism consists mainly of two series of voiced and voiceless obstruents (stops, fricatives). Not only the presence or absence of voice is crucial for distiction, but also aspiration and vowel length are important factor. In American English the voicing oppostion is neutralized between vowels.
Syllable onsets in English can be made up of one to three consonants, syllable codas can consist of zero to four consonants.
The position of stress is fixed on a certain syllable of the word. Stress can be distinctive in word formation.
English spelling is highly irregular due to the fact that phonological changes having occured from the 15th century on are not reflected in the morphology.
English has lost most of its inflectional categories in the course of its history. Nominal and verbal morphology have been reduced drastically.
Nouns have lost case inflection, except for the genitive -s, which can be attached to whole phrases. Gender is only relevant for the choice of anaphoric pronouns. Plural is expressed by suffixes, internal vowel change ('umlaut'), or by zero.
Personal pronouns distinguish subject and object forms and singular and plural forms. An exception to that patters is the invariant second person pronoun.
Adjective are invariable in attributive and predicative use. Comparison is carried out out both by suffixes and analytic.
Verbs are inflected for tense and marginally for person and number by the suffix -s denoting third person singular in the present tense. The verb has two synthetic tenses: the present tense and the past tense. In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more.
The English verb has three non-finite verb forms: a) a base form identical to the present form, b) a present participle with the suffix -ing, c) a past participle.
The English verb has four analytic tenses: a) the future tense ("will/shall" + base form), b) the perfect tense ("have" + past participle), c) pluperfect (past of "have" + past participle) and d) the future perfect ("will have" + past participle).
There are progressive forms consisting of an auxiliary and the present participle in the following tenses: present, future, past, and perfect.
Invariable definite and indefinite articles precede the head noun phrase.
Noun phrase complements and relative clauses follow the head noun, whereas attributive adjectives generally precede it. Genitives marked by -s generally precede the head noun, whereas possessors marked by the preposition of follow the head noun.
The order of constituents in simple transitive clauses is strictly SVO. Adverbials typically occur at the left or at the right periphery of the clause. There is no difference between the order of constituents in main clauses and in subordinate clauses.
Throughout its history the English language was open to loan words from other languages. Loans from Latin and North Germanic languages entered the English vocabulary befory the Norman conquest in 1066. During Renaissance mainly Latin words have been integrated. More recently words from French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, German, Yiddish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese and Arabic have been acquired by the English lexicon.
A special feature of the english lexicon is that a large number of words can be assigned to more than one word class, for instance in many cases the same phonological form can act as noun and as verb.