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Fachkonferenz Englisch

Some facts about one of the most beautiful and useful languages

A short history of the English language

English is a member of the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. At some time between 3500 and 2500 BC, the Indo-Europeans, who probably lived on the Russian steppes or in the Danube valley, began to travel east and west. Today about one third of the human race speak a language that came originally from the Indo-European language. Here is an example showing the similarity: brother (English), Bruder (German), broeder (Dutch), brathair (Irish Gaelic), phrater (Greek), brat (Russian), frater (Latin) and bhratar (Sanskrit).

Between about 1500 and 1000 BC, the Celtic family of languages was spoken in large areas of Western Europe, but now it is only found in Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and Ireland. The Celts lived in what is now Great Britain long before the so-called English. Little is left from their language, for example brock (Dachs). In 55 BC, Britain was invaded by Julius Caesar. When the Roman invasion finally ended in 410 AD, the Latin influence (words like school, street), especially by the Christian church, remained.

In the 5th century, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded England forming the basis of the English language.

In 793 AD, the Norsemen or Vikings invaded England and settled mainly in the north and east coast down to London, the area known as the Danelaw. Many Viking words entered the language, e.g. husband, law, take, skin, hit, want, wrong, some of which exist alongside the Anglo-Saxon words, e.g. strike, wish and false.

After the Norman Conquest in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the French speaking Normans introduced Anglo-Norman, which was very close to Old French. For example, veal (Kalbfleisch), pork, and mutton (Hammelfleisch) are of Norman origin. In the following 300 years a large number of Norman words found their way into Old English, leaving a parallel vocabulary that persists into modern times, for example freedom/liberty, child/infant, hide/conceal, help/aid, deep/profound.

In 1363, the first English king of Norman descent Edward III opened the parliament in English. English can be traced back to around the time of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

English today

Today English is regarded as world language. English is today the third most widely distributed language as a first spoken language in the world, after Mandarin (more than 1 billion speakers) and Hindi.

An estimated 350 million people speak English as their first language. Estimates about second language speakers of English vary greatly between 150 and 1.5 billion. Mandarin Chinese and Hindi have more native speakers than English does, however, the geographic distribution of Mandarin and Hindi, as both first and second languages, is more limited than that of English.

The English language spread to many parts of the world through the expansion of the British Empire, but did not acquire lingua franca status in the world until the 20th century. Following World War II, the economic and cultural influence of the United States increased. The current status of the English language at the start of the new millennium compares with that of Latin in most of Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.

English is the dominant international language in communications, science, business, avia-tion, entertainment, diplomacy and the Internet.

English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (Canadian English), the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falk-land Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Isle of Man, Jamaica (Jamaican English), Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand (New Zealand English), Ireland (Hiberno-English), Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom (various forms of British English), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the United States (various forms of American English).

English is also an important minority language of South Africa (South African English), and in several other former colonies or current dependent territories of the United Kingdom and the United States, for example Hong Kong, Singapore, Mauritius, and the Philippines.

In many other countries, where English is not a first language, it is an official language. These countries include Belize, Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, India, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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%), and Spanish (8%). It is also the most studied language in the People's Republic of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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