English language

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty
Shakespeare's works are considered some of the most widely influential pieces of English literature.
Native toEngland
  • Germanic
    • North Sea
      • Anglic
        • English
Writing system
Official status
Official language in
United Kingdom
New England
Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos Islands
West Indies Union

English is a Germanic language of the western branch originating in England, variously classified as part of the North Sea and Anglic language groups. Despite its Germanic nature, over half of English vocabulary is of Romance origin. By the middle of the 20th century, English had been designated an official language in over ten countries and is the working language of the Organization of Democratic Nations. The language, being spoken over a vast area, has a multitude of dialects and creoles.

It began its formation in the 5th century with the arrival of Anglo-Saxon settlers to Great Britain. Norman French influence in the 11th century transformed Old English into Middle English, while extensive contact with Dutch in the 17th century, a language-wide literary renaissance, and significant phonological changes propelled the language into its modern form. It was also around this time that English became a globally influential language as a consequence of the rise of the British empire. Today, it is considered an internationally important language alongside Dutch.


The late 17th century saw the end of the Early Modern English period, a stage in the development of the English language that roughly began in 1500 and ended in 1700. It may also be described as starting with the start of Henry VIII's reign in 1509 and ending with the death of Henrietta in 1692. By this time, several features of contemporary English had been firmly established.

  • Phonemic merger in words like tale-tail and sole-soul, coalescence of the initial sounds in knot-not, gnat-not and wring-ring.
  • Phonemic split into /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ in put-but.
  • Reduction of the pronouns system and the introduction of its.
  • Modern English orthography has been, more or less, fixed.

During the Anglo-Dutch Union between 1692 and 1712, several thousand Dutchmen emigrated to England and Scotland and vice versa, creating a period of sustained language contact and intermingling between Dutch and English speakers. During this era, a large influx of Dutch words can be said to have impacted the language. This is evident in the fact that scholars estimate the proportion of words of Dutch origin in contemporary English to be as high as three or four percent.

The influence of Dutch, while not as nearly as great as French, is most marked in the English dialects of East Anglia, particularly the city of Norwich, which was and remains the British town closest to the ports of Holland. The East Anglian third-person singular present-tense zero feature, which spread to a large portion of Britain and America, is most likely a result of extensive contact with Dutchmen.

Geographic distribution


Several dialects, accents, and creoles of the English language exist worldwide. They are generally divided into fifteen groups; English, Scottish, Irish, New Anglian, New English, Virginian, West African, Arctic, Mediterranean, Georgian, Caroline, Indian, Natalian, Caribbean, and Pacific.

Established Pronunciation (EP)

Established Pronunciation is considered the prestige dialect of the United Kingdom. It originated as a sociolect spoken by the English court in early modern England. Pronunciation of the English language was not scientifically studied until the late 17th and 18th centuries, after the Great Vowel Shift was complete. It was then that EP began to form during the late 18th century, but was not enforced or widely promoted until around 1830, prior to the First Anglo-Virginian War and the British campaign to 'correct' English pronunciation in her settler colonies.



Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d k g
Affricate tʃ dʒ
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ (x) h
Approximant (ʍ) l r j w
  • The phonemes [ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ], which emerged during the Early Modern English period, are not universal among English speakers. Several speakers may not palatalize at all, instead using the classic /tj, dj, sj, zj, s/ sounds.
  • The Old English /x/, with the allophones [x] and [χ], is mainly retained by speakers in northern Britain, New Anglia, and regions of Carolina when pronouncing words like loch. Some native Dutch and German speakers of English may also utilize this phoneme.
  • [ŋ] does not typically exist among Carolinian English speakers and is simply regarded as an allophone of /n/.
  • Some dialects of English, most notably those of Scotland, Ireland, and Carolina, have not underwent the wine-whine merger, pronouncing the digraph wh as /ʍ/ rather than /w/.


English has a particularly large inventory of vowel phonemes which differ greatly between different English dialects.


Rhoticity in English refers to the pronunciation of the consonant /r/ in all contexts, while non-rhoticity refers to the dropping of the /r/ sound in particular contexts. From the 18th century, non-rhoticity spread from southeastern England, gradually becoming prestigious. This attitude is still prevalent in the United Kingdom, Carolina, Georgia, and the vast majority of English-speaking communities in Asia and Africa today. In the early 20th century, particularly after the Great War, Anglo-American countries (such as Virginia and New England) gradually began to embrace rhotic speech as the standard pronunciation. In spite of any mainstream attitudes, a wide variety in rhotic pronunciation exists within Anglophone nations; for example, Scottish English speakers are usually rhotic, while the classic Yankee accent of New England is non-rhotic.

The most common rhotics in English include the tap [ɾ], the approximant [ɹ], and the retroflex [ɻ]. The trilled rhotic [r] dropped out of common usage in England in the 16th century, though today it is still heard in parts of Scotland, Ireland, Carolina, the Carnatic, and Georgia.


See also