Monday, September 24, 2012

Language Profile: English

English, the native language of The Lingua File, is the third most spoken native language in the world. However, it's almost surely the most widely spoken language in terms of total speakers. English spread out across the globe from its island homeland thanks to the British Empire, which used it as a lingua franca (a bridge language that allows people with different native languages to communicate) in its many colonies. We'd list all the countries where English is the official language but that would take ages, so here's a handy map instead.

All these countries use English as an official or de facto official language.
Note all those green dots in the oceans... island nations seem to love English!
It did come from an island after all.
Due to its widespread use, many people consider English to be the lingua franca of the modern era. It is an official language of the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee (with French), as well as the official language of maritime and aeronautical communication. For example, all air traffic controllers are expected to have a certain level of competence in English. It makes sense that we'd need to use one language up in the sky... think of the chaos of flying a plane otherwise!

French pilots have to begrudgingly ask in English to land at
Heathrow. This never ceases to amuse British Air Traffic Control.

English is a West Germanic language, along with German, Dutch, Afrikaans, the Frisian languages of the Netherlands and Yiddish. Most interestingly, English is a pluricentric language, meaning it has several standard written and spoken forms. Unlike Spanish and French, English has no regulatory bodies to decide which forms of English are "correct", so we take it upon ourselves to argue over who is right. There are so many dialects that linguists have had to divide them into geographical groups: British Isles dialects, American dialects, and Australasian dialects!

In the end, there is no way to decide if one dialect is superior to another, and why try? We should enjoy the linguistic diversity of English, and all the fun it provides us with as we mock our fellow English speakers in pathetic attempts at their native accents! The Irish probably haven't said "top of the morning" in over 200 years, yet it just won't die.