The Growth and Expansion of English


 

English is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. By year 1000, the English language consisted of approximately 40 000 words. Nowadays, the number has grown to more than 500 000. If we calculate the average of words created per century, this comes to 46 000. A great number of words found in the English vocabulary was borrowed from Latin, French, Low German, and the Scandinavian languages. We also know that some periods were more fertile than others: invasions, contact with other cultures, inventions, technological progress, music, fashion are some of the factors which have helped to enrich the language.

     British colonialism in the 19th century and American capitalism and technological progress in the 20th century were undoubtely the main causes for the spread of English throughout the world.

     From around 1750 to 1950 the British Empire covered about a quarter of the globe. It was one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known. The colonies gradually freed themselves but about fifty countries chose to keep a connection with Britain by belonging to the The British Commonwealth. English is spoken all over the Commonwealth either as a native or an official language, and the British monarch is the symbolic head of the association.

     The USA has played a leading role in most domains for the last hundred years. At the end of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th, it welcomed millions of European immigrants who had fled their countries ravaged by war, poverty or famine. This labour force strenghtened American industries and development. The Hollywood film industry also attracted many foreign artists in quest of fame and fortune and the number of American films produced every year soon flooded the market. Before the Treaty of Versailles(1919), which ended the First World War between Germany and the Allies, diplomacy was conducted in French. However, President Wilson succeeded in having the treaty in English as well. Since then, English started being used in diplomacy and gradually in economic relations and the media. During the II World War, America intervened both militarily and economically to save Europe from chaos. From then onwards, the United States have consolidated their cultural, economical and technological power: inventions, rock and roll, the first man on the moon, the revolution of the Internet, the country’s growing prosperity and commercial aggressiveness have contributed to the further expansion and importance of English in the world today.

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