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  • Belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group within the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family.

  • English is closely related to Frisian, German, and Netherlandic languages.

  • The abbreviation RP (Received Pronunciation) denotes the speech of educated people living in London and the southeast of England and of other people elsewhere who speak in this way. It is based on the type of speech cultivated at such schools as Eton and Harrow and at such universities as Oxford and Cambridge.

  • Within the US three dialects can be defined: Northern, Midland, and Southern.

  • English is the second most popular "first" language (native speakers), with around 402 million people in 2002. It is the most widely used "second" and "learning" language in the world, and as such, many linguists believe, it is no longer the exclusive cultural emblem of "native English speakers", but rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it grows in use. Others theorise that there are limits to how far English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes.

  • Linguistically, English is divided into three broad stages: Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon), the language spoken by the Germanic tribes in England prior to the Norman Conquest; Middle English, generally, the language of the commoners in England after the Norman Conquest and before the development of the printing press; and Modern English, the language from the 16th century onwards. Modern English native speakers can usually understand Middle English with some difficulty, but Old English is much closer to Icelandic than to Modern English.

  • English has lingua franca status, due to the military, economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the United Kingdom and later the United States. Where possible, virtually all students worldwide are required to learn some English, and knowledge of English is virtually a prerequisite for working in many fields and occupations. Higher academic institutions, for example, require a working command of English.

  • Almost without exception, Germanic words (which include all the basics such as pronouns and conjunctions) are shorter, and more informal. Latinate words are often regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is often a sign of either pretentiousness (as in the stereotypical policeman's talk of "apprehending the suspect") or obfuscation (as in a military document which says "neutralize" when it means "kill").

  • An English-speaker is often able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: "come" or "arrive"; "sight" or "vision"; "freedom" or "liberty". The richness of the language is that such synonyms have slightly different meanings, enabling the language to be used in a very flexible way to express fine variations or shades of thought.

  • In everyday speech the majority of words will normally be Germanic. If one wishes to make a forceful point in an argument in a very blunt way, Germanic words will invariably be chosen. A majority of Latinate words (or at least a majority of content words) will normally be used in more serious speech and writing, such as a courtroom or an encyclopedia article.
  • English is noted for the vast size of its active vocabulary and its fluidity. English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and imports new words which often come into common usage. In addition, slang provides new meanings for old words. In fact this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage.
  • James D. Nicoll made the oft-quoted observation: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
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