English is a Germanic language with approx. 373 million native speakers and 1.08 billion L2 speakers, making it the most widely-spoken language in the world (and third-most common native language). Countries where English is the L1 of the majority include the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. English is also widely spoken, and often a lingua franca, in many countries in Africa, south and southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, which have histories of being colonised by Britain (or, less often, by the US or Australia). Just a few examples of these would include India, South Africa and Singapore.
English’s original “home” was the country of England, which still has the greatest degree of dialectical diversity to this day. It began as a West Germanic dialect spoken by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who migrated to England from the North Sea coast between the 5th and 7th centuries. Later, the language was influenced by North Germanic speakers, who gave us a number of basic words including the pronoun they. Following the Norman conquest of the 11th century, English came under heavy influence by French (to the point that some think Middle English was a creole, but this is not a widely-accepted view), and during the Renaissance, English adopted a large number of Latin words (some of which had in turn come from Greek). Since then, English has continued to borrow words widely from many other languages around the world. We mostly have not regularised the spellings of words from all these different sources into any kind of consistent system, which is part of the reason that English spelling is notoriously difficult (the other reason being that the spellings of words inherited from Middle English were “frozen” at a time before the Great Vowel Shift, so do not reflect modern pronunciations).
Old English (the form spoken by the Anglo-Saxons) was a heavily inflected language, with three grammatical genders, extensive verbal inflection, and grammatical case. Over time English has lost most of this inflection, to the point that today English is considered a pretty analytic language.
English’s closest linguistic relatives would be English-based creoles and Scots, followed by Frisian (a minority language in the western Netherlands). Of languages that are major, official languages of other countries, English is probably closest to Dutch and Afrikaans, followed then by the Scandinavian languages. Due to the aforementioned heavy French influence, English is also relatively similar to Romance languages (especially French, of course) even though the genetic relationship is more distant.
Dialects and Accents
Note: The below is absolutely not an exhaustive list.
- British English
- Standard Southern British
- Scottish English
- Welsh English
- Caribbean Englishes
- North American English
- American English
- Canadian English
- Singaporean English
- South Asian Englishes
- Southern Hemisphere Englishes