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Old Thursday, May 31, 2007
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English, a language originating in northwestern Europe, is the most widely used member of the Germanic language family. Anglo-Saxon settlers whose dialects were collectively known as “Englisc” arrived in Britain in the 5th century and in due course their language became identified as the main one of the kingdom of England. This early English was a homogeneous tongue, and the characteristic hybrid vocabulary of the present-day language is the result, successively, of Scandinavian, Norman-French, and Greco-Latin influence. For convenience, English is usually divided into four historical phases: Old English (around 500 to 1150), Middle English (around 1150 to around 1450), Early Modern English (around 1450 to 1700), and Modern English (around 1700 onward). However, the distance and difference between Old and Modern English is as great as that between Latin and its descendant French. After 1707, English became the primary language of first the United Kingdom and Ireland, then the British Empire at large, from which the United States broke away in the 1770s. The world’s primary English-speaking countries today are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Singapore, and the many other nations and territories using English include Bangladesh, Ghana, Guyana, India, Hong Kong, Kenya, Jamaica, Malta, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines. All territories using the language tend to have distinctive pronunciations, grammatical features, and items of vocabulary, and, increasingly, subvarieties of the standard international language. English is a primary working language of the United Nations and the European Union and the sole working language of the Commonwealth, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Caribbean Community and Common Market, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is also learned as a second language for purposes of education, employment, entertainment, electronic communication, and travel by a rapidly increasing number of people worldwide, approaching between one and two billion people. Since the 1960s the already immense literature of the language, primarily in the United States and United Kingdom, was markedly extended throughout the English-speaking world, with English becoming overwhelmingly the primary language of global communication and the media. See also the introductory essay on WORLD ENGLISH.

Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.


British English is the English language as used in the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland. With a population of over 57 million, the United Kingdom is the second largest primary English-speaking country after the United States, and it continues to have prestige as the place of origin of the English language. The term British English is not, however, precise, being variously used to refer to: all varieties of English in the U.K. as a whole; all varieties in Britain as a whole; all varieties in England alone; the forms of only the standard language in the U.K. as a whole; those forms in Britain as a whole; those forms in England alone; and, notably, that variety of the standard language based on upper- and middle-class usage (especially at the turn of the 20th century in southeastern England). See also American English, Australian English.

Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
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