Over the last 400 years, Britain has won and lost an Empire. At one time, the British Empire was so large that you could walk from Cape Town to Cairo and not leave British territory. Now only the language remains a superpower.
World leadership passed to the United States in the course of the two world wars. With the spread of films, radio, television and globalisation, English has attained an even more dominant position as a world language. Technical development and international communication has confirmed the position of English in the world.
Today, there are about 400 million people who have English as their first language or mother tongue. More than this have English as their second language. These are mainly people living in former British colonies, people who also often have a native tongue. Being so widespread, English picks up words from other languages. English has, as opposed to French, always been willing to adopt words. Listen to these examples from 'Journeys in English' by Bill Bryson.
A Lingua Franca
English is used as a means of international communication, a lingua franca, by others who have learned English as a foreign language. The United Nations and the International Olympic Committee are two examples of organizations which use English as one of their official languages.
Perhaps in the future, the English language will change, as suggested by the linguist Sir David Crystal. The English-speaking countries will have their own national versions of English and there will be an international version for communication with the rest of the world.
Examples of foreign loan words which have become part of the English language:
- German: kindergarten
- African: apartheid, safari
- Indian: verandah, pyjamas
- Arabic languages: mattress, zero
dark blue; countries where it is an official but not majority language are light blue.
English is also one of the official languages of the European Union.
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