Unit 2 English around the world
The road to modern English
At the end of the 16th century, about five to seven million people spoke English. Nearly all of them lived in England. Later in the next century, people from England made voyages to conquer other parts of the world and because of that, English began to be spoken in many other countries. Today, more people speak English as their first, second or foreign language than ever before.
Native English speakers can understand each other even if they don’t speak the same kind of English. Look at this example:
British Betty: Would you like to see my flat?
American Amy: Yes. I’d like to come up to your apartment.
So why has English changed over time? Actually, all languages change and develop when cultures meet and communicate with each other. At first, the English spoken in England between about AD 450 and 1150 was very different from the English spoken today. It was based more on German than the English we speak at present. Then gradually between about AD 800 and 1150, English became less like German because those who ruled England spoke first Danish and later French. These new settlers enriched the English language and especially its vocabulary. So by the 1600’s Shakespeare was able to make use of a wider vocabulary than ever before. In 1620 some British settlers moved to America. Later in the 18th century some British people were taken to Australia too. English began to be spoken in both countries.
Finally by the 19th century the language was settled. At that time two big changes in English spelling happened: first Samuel Johnson wrote his dictionary and later Noah Webster wrote The America Dictionary of the English Language. The latter gave a separate identity to American English spelling.
English now is also spoken as a foreign or second language in South Asia. For example, India has a very large number of fluent English speakers because Britain ruled India from 1765 to 1947. During that time English became the language for government and education. English is also spoken in Singapore and Malaysia and countries in Africa such as South Africa. Today the number of people learning English in China is increasing rapidly. In fact, China may have the largest number of English learners. Will Chinese English develop its own identity? Only time will tell.
STANDARD ENGLISH AND DIALECTS
What is standard English? Is it spoken in Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand? Believe it or not, there is no such thing as standard English. This is because in the early days of radio, those who reported the news were expected to speak excellent English. However, on TV and the radio you will hear differences in the way people speak.
When people use words and expressions different from “standard language”, it is called a dialect. American English has many dialects, especially the midwestern, southern, African American and Spanish dialects. Even in some parts of the USA, two people from neighboring towns speak a little differently. American English has so many dialects because people have come from all over the world.
Geography also plays a part in making dialects. Some people who live in the mountains of the eastern USA speak with an older kind of English dialect. When Americans moved from one place to another, they took their dialects with them. So people from the mountains in the southeastern USA speak with almost the same dialect as people in the northwestern USA. The USA is a large country in which many different dialects are spoken. Although many Americans move a lot, they still recognize and understand each other’s dialects.