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Since the last half of the last century, English has been the most universally recognizable language[1]. It is the official language in multinational companies and the default language of use in the internet. Most countries in the world either use as their mode of instruction in learning institutions, or teach it in their syllabus. It is also the main language of printing, publishing and scientific research. Various variations of the English language and its use exists. There is the British- English, American-English and Australian-English. Though the mainstream was British-English, their different interactions with their environments and amongst themselves, and the desire for a separate identity led to the formation and approval of these variations. Even though, former British dominions have slang in their English, the British-English still remains their accepted and approved official language. This paper shall consider how the English language as a whole started, its development and its spread around the world. (Cenoz & Ulrike)

The English Language

The major edge that the English language has over most other languages in the world is its adaptability and flexibility. It has the uncanny ability to not only evolve, but also adds more vocabulary to itself. In fact, linguistics claim that almost every major language in the world has a word borrowed from it by the English language. (Kelly & William)  For example, Safari is a Kiswahili word, omelet is a French word, tycoon a Japenese word, pajamas a Hindi word and confusion was borrowed from the Chinee word confuscious. In fact, the English vocabulary is very flexible that new words are constantly added into it. Today with the rise of social media, the words ‘Facebooking and tweeting’ are common everyday words, however, a decade ago they were non-existent.

Unlike language such as Latin, which were widely spoken then went extinct, the English language is very adaptable. This is by the everyday change in the use and meaning of English words. For example, in a generation born during the sixties, the word ‘gay’ meant a smartly dressed person. To the millennial generation it is offensive for homosexual. The same is observed in a word such as viruses. It may have meant disease causing micro-organisms, however, with the improved technology it means malicious malware. (Fishman et al 337-345)

Origin of the English Language

Linguistics point out that the English language in use today is quite different from the original English language. In fact, the English in use today has a noticeable difference to the Queen’s English used a few centuries ago. However, the fundamental linguistic basis is the same and an uncanny resemblance has been pointed out in the Proto-Indo-European language. According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, the Proto-Indo-European language has similarity in grammatical constructions, verbs and roots with other European languages. They include Germanic, Italic, Armenian, Celtic, Dutch and other European languages. In fact, these languages along with the Proto-Indo-European language are grouped together in the same linguistic family. (Cenoz & Ulrike)

In comparison with the contemporary English language, the Proto-Indo-European language is quite complex. However, it has the same rich verbs and vocabulary aimed at expressing mood, feelings and tonal variations. Germanic influence in the English language was also major. Nonetheless, the breaking up between the Proto-Indo-European language and Proto-Germanic language, brought a consonant sound shift such as p-f, b-p, and gh-h among others. This is described as the Grimms law. In effect, English is a derivative of the early Germanic language. A keen example is the word father, which in German is pronounce as vater. (Cenoz & Ulrike)

The Old English language

Much of Europe to Egypt was under Roman dominion. The Roman Empire brought with it its administrative laws and the Greek culture. The Greek culture heavily influenced the alphabet a it is today. In fact, much of what is today referred to as England was a cosmopolis of different tribes. They were the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Celts. Effectively the old English began as a form of slang between these tribes who found themselves co-existing together in the old England. In fact, much of the early English came from combining native language elements such as prefixes, suffixes and compounding words in order to fit it into the English Language. This is where the flexibility of English as a language starts. According to linguistics, the expansion of the Roman empire into the British territory alongside Christianity expanded the English vocabulary exponentially. The old English had very many Latin words, and the influence of it is felt in the Queen’s English  which adopted in its use of words such as thou, art, thy. Words such as mass, vicar, priest, prayer, solemn all are Latin but fully incorporated into English. (Fishman et al 337-345)

Development of the English Language

Rise of Nationalism

            The contemporary English as is known today, equally underwent a variety of evolution to be what it is. When William the Conqueror invade Britain, a language revolution occurred. Prior to this, Latin was the biggest influence in English. This was mainly through vestiges of the Roman empire and formal education. The key aspect of this was that it was only limited to the nobility of the British. They received formal education, which was mainly Greek based but adopted by the Romans, that had a strong Christian influence in it. In effect,they were exposed to Latin as a language, and the imports it brought to the English language. This created two forms of English. One was the Queen’s English that was used by the nobility. The other, was the old English that commoners used. This form of English had very little Latin influence in it.

When William the Conquerer invaded Britain, the Roman empire was declining. William the Conquerer along with his over-lords spoke a form of French dialect known as Anglo-Norman. Similar to the English language, this French dialect was from the Germanic family and had Latin influence in it. According to historians, Latin and formal education were a preserve of the nobility only, in early Europe. This means that the noblemen from European kingdoms had a form of language a bit similar to each other due to the Latin influence. The mannerisms acquired from formal education also were remarkably similar. This differentiated them from the ordinary citizens they ruled. After the invasion by William the Conquerer, French became the language of the rulers whereas the commoners spoke English. (Cenoz & Ulrike)

This did not last long. Political and social forces were bringing about a wave of nationalism in Britain. The black death, claimed a large portion of the English population. England was quickly becoming estranged with France. This was compounded by the loss of the province of Normady by King John to France. The Englishmen felt it was time for them to manage their own affairs. The wiping out of a large population also meant that the commoners now had more economic leverage to the nobles. This led to the signing of the historical document Magna Carta. Power effectively shifted from the autocratic crown to the people. Parliament was created and English became the language of use.

The Renaissance Period

The Renaissance period is termed as the age of awakening. During this period, there was a deep search for knowledge of the people. The church and truths that had been hitherto held as absolute were questioned. The English language was also heavily influenced by this age, more so, by the works of Shakespeare. In the search for knowledge, formal education was visited by many including the commoners. This brought the Latin influence into English as is characterized by majority of works written in the Shakespearean era. In fact, Shakespeare by his own creativity coined a lot of words and phrases that are in use today. For example ‘vanish into this air’ ‘flesh and blood’ and words such as ‘dwindle’ and ‘majestic’. (Fishman et al 337-345)

The Renaissance period also saw the creation of early inventions such as the engine and windmill. However, the invention that played a big role in the development of the English language was the printing press. Even though the masses searched for formal education, it came with strict guidelines. Some of these included conversion into Christianity, especially the catholic church. At this time, the Roman Catholic church was undergoing a drastic fall out with most people and its influence dwindling. Subjecting oneself to it in a bid to access education that was heavily Latinized was too much of a bargain. Books were also expensive to come by and rare. This is because they had to be handwritten page by page. In fact, despite the majority of Europeans being Christians, only a few had ever seen a bible let alone read it! (Kelly & William)

The printing press allowed mass production of literature. This allowed economies of scale, making literature affordable to the commoners. From a business standpoint, it made economic sense to print in the English language used by the majority, rather than in Latin or the Latinized version taught in Catholic schools. This saw most of the literature produced in the contemporary English that is in use today. To linguistic observers, this marked the start of the extinction of the Latin language. (Kelly & William)

Spread of the English Language

            The industrial revolution brought with it great economic fortunes to England. However, for it to have happened scientific research and inventions must have preceded it. Much of Europe was also having the industrial and scientific revolution, in essence making Latin ad English the two competing languages in research. In fact, the every biological living thing has two Latin names in the scientific system of naming called the Binomial nomenclature. Latin was also the language of the educated and the commonality of all European nations. However, English ended up becoming the primary language in scientific research. Why is this? Unlike Latin, English had the phonological ability to create new words based on how science progresses. Words such as oxygen and molecule could not find a Latin equivalent, hence it became the language of choice in research. (Cenoz & Ulrike)

Britain was also the pioneer of the industrial revolution and manufacturing. From the shear fact that industrial knowledge was mainly accessible in Britain, other nations that needed it first had to learn English. In essence, every industrial knowledge passed from Britain went alongside with the spread of English. A good example is the big role that Information Communication Technology (ICT) revolution has played and continues to play in the spread of English. For example, the telegram was invented in Britain, its manual was in English, in order for one to manipulate it, learning English became paramount. In fact, the original model came with the English alphabet this limited its use by other languages with a different alphabet. The telephone was invented by English speaking, Abraham Bell in America. In order to explain its use, increasing people had to learn English. To fully comprehend the influence of English in the telephone invention, to this day one utters the word “hallo” when receiving a call despite their native tongue.The internet and social media also spread the English language. Pioneer internet companies such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter use English as their default language. Even though efforts are being made to include all other major languages, they remain complimentary which the user has an option to switch to and English, the default. (Fishman et al 337-345)

The rise of the British empire played a big role in its spread. At the height of British world domination, it is said that the sun never set on the British empire[2]. This is stemmed from the fact that it had colonial dominions in every part of the globe. Britain had colonies in America, the Carribean, Africa and Australia. Along with the colonization came the English language. The influence of the language was very heavy that even after the granting of independence, the English language was retained as the official language and mode of education in schools. In fact, the ironic bit is that the documents and treaties that declare the independence of these dominions alongside their constitutions were written in English! (Kelly & William)  To this day, English is widely used in these countries. At times, its use has surpassed the use of native languages themselves or compete very closely.

The Anglo-American power axis established greater force in global politics. Even though World War 2 saw the rise of the United States of America[3] as the global superpower, Britain still retained its influence. Despite USA being an ethnic cosmopolis composed of different ethnic groups, the English language is the national language. In fact, it is the native language to a lot of Americans irrespective of their ethnic background. The powerful influence the USA has in the world in terms not only politic and diplomacy, but also social trends, cannot be underestimated. With the invention of television, motion pictures became the choice of entertainment for most people around the globe. Hollywood, which is based in the USA, became the global leader in motion picture production and distribution. This meant that for anyone to actively consume the entertainment provided by television, they had to learn English. Even though, other countries have tried to produce motion pictures in their language, or translate Hollywood movies, they market penetration has failed.  (Howatt & Widdowson 127-134)

Hollywood gossip magazines, celebrities and advertisements have influence the spread of English. For example, given the marketing and advertising ability of Hollywood and American technology, their products are the most consumed globally. For example music, though it has the power to cross language boundaries, English musicians more so those who are American are command larger airplay. This has led to musicians from other tongues either doing a collaboration with an English speaking musician or doing an English song themselves. The same case is observed in actors of different tongues who learn English in order to advance careers.


            The spread of English has made people accuse it of linguistic imperialism and language death of some tongues. This has made nations, especially in economic powers in Asia and Europe, such as Japan,China, Russia, France among others, to insist on the use of their national language and English as a complimentary or secondary language. In Africa, linguistic imperialism has been felt the most. Given that the millennial generation use English more oftenly, as opposed to other tongues, concerns have been raised concerning the decline and death of native tongues. This is aggravated the influence of neo-colonialism which makes use of native tongue appear backward and shady.  (Howatt & Widdowson 127-134)

Linguistics are, however, quick to point out the rise of slang. English may not kill other languages, this is because those languages are merged with English to create new words that represent various cultures especially in urban settings. The future of English may be uncertain, what is for sure, its flexibility will ensure its continued spread. This is in spite of its spread resulting in a little change, its phonological structure and composition will remain much as it is today.  (Howatt & Widdowson 127-134)



Cenoz, Jasone, and Ulrike Jessner. English In Europe. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2000.

Fishman, Joshua A, Robert L Cooper, and Andrew W Conrad. The Spread Of English. Rowley,   Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1977.

Hall, Joan Kelly, and William Eggington. The Sociopolitics Of English Language Teaching.          Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 2000.

Howatt, Anthony P. R, and H. G Widdowson. A History Of English Language Teaching. Oxford:             Oxford University Press, 2004.

Kitson, P. R. ‘On The Chronological And Geographical Spread Of Old English Combinative U ‐  Mutation’. Studia Neophilologica 64.1 (1992): 3-23.

Ostler, Nicholas. Empires Of The Word. Print.

Ruhlen, Merritt. On The Origin Of Languages. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Truchot, C. ‘The Spread Of English In Europe’. Journal of European Studies 24.2 (1994): 141-      151.


[1] Chinese remains the most spoken language. This is mainly attributed to the size of the Chinese population. Currently it stands at more than a sixth of the global population.

[2] Ostler, Nicholas. Empires Of The Word. Print.


[3] The United States of America shall be abbreviated as USA.

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