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Sunday, October 11, 2015

10 Mind-blowing Facts about English that May Shock You

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Everyone knows English is an eccentric language with unpredictable rules and curious, illogical exceptions to its rules. But below are 10 trivial facts about the language you probably didn’t know before.

1. Although “English” is derived from “England” and is, in fact, the demonym for someone from England, it is not the official language of England or of the UK. There are at least three reasons why English isn’t England’s official language.

One, historically, that is, since about 1066, the English monarchy didn’t speak English; they spoke French, specifically Norman French, that is, a dialect of French spoken by the people of Normandy in northwestern France who conquered England in the 11th century. After the conquest, the conquerors made their language the language of the courts, of government, and of social mobility.

So for several years, the social and cultural elite in England spoke French. Only the uneducated and underprivileged spoke English. English was called the “vernacular” or the “vulgar tongue.” It was the language of the unwashed masses, and was thought to be unfit for literary and other high-minded expressions. That was why the first English translation of the Bible was called “the Vulgate.” Vulgate is derived from “vulgar,” which is Latin for “the common people,” and is now commonly used as an adjectival synonym for coarse, uncouth, crude, unwashed, etc.

The second reason English isn’t England’s official language is that English is spoken as a first language by more than 95 percent of the population, which makes its officialization superfluous.
Third, England has no autonomous government; it is a division of the United Kingdom. Although it has traditionally ruled over other divisions of the Union such as Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it would be counter-productive if England insists that other non-English divisions of the Union adopt English as their official language, especially in light of the resurgence of Welsh, Scottish, and Irish linguistic nationalisms in the past few decades.

2. Although the United States of America is home to the world’s largest population of native English speakers (up to two-thirds of the world’s native English speakers live in the US), English isn’t an official language of the country.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there have been no attempts in the past to codify English as the official language; it’s just that several advocates have argued that imposing English as the official language will violate the First Amendment of the American constitution, which states, among other things, that government cannot make any law that will hinder the expression of any citizen’s freedom of speech.

But the most important reason why English isn’t America’s official language is that, like in the UK, it is pointless since almost everyone speaks the language. Plus, it is the passport to upward social mobility and integration in the society, so you ignore it at your own risk.

It’s important to note that even though English isn’t America’s official language at the national level, at least 29 of the country’s 50 states have declared it as their official language.

3. Other native-English-speaking countries where English isn’t an official language are Australia and New Zealand.

4. The only countries in which English is an official language are the countries that were once colonized by Britain. Although Rwanda and Eritrea weren’t colonized by Britain, they have also adopted English as an official language. If you add these two countries to the list of former British colonies, including Nigeria, that have adopted English as an official language, you will have 56 countries in which English is an official language.

5. The motto of the English and British royalty isn’t written in English. It’s written in French, and it’s "Dieu et mon Droit," which means "God and my Right." It’s credited with being the origin of the divine right of kings.

Similarly, the motto of the Order of the Garter, the UK’s third most prestigious honor, is written in Old or Middle French, and it is Honi soit qui mal y pense, which translates in English as "shame on him who thinks evil of it." Although the motto is unrecognizable to most modern French speakers because the language has evolved tremendously since the motto was invented, it has remained unchanged.

 Read fact number 1 to know why these French-language mottos emerged in England.

6. English did not originate in England; it originated in Germany from a people called Angles who were so called because they lived in a part of West German seaside that formed an angle. The inhabitants of this angular West German seaside decided to invade an island known as Britain where people spoke a cluster of languages called Gaelic or Celt. Other names by which the languages are known are Erse or Goidelic. 

The West German invaders from the angular coastline who mixed with, and sometimes drove away, the autochthonous Celts decided to call their language “Aenglisch” and to rename the island of Britain “Aengland” (later England) in honor of “Angles,” their place of origin in West Germany. Although some words in the original Celtic languages made their way to “Aenglisch,” which later became “English,” their influence has been marginal at best. That is why Scottish, Welsh, and other Celtic languages in the UK are not intelligible to English speakers.

7. With approximately 1,025,109.8 distinct words—and growing more rapidly than anyone can capture— English has the most vocabulary of any language in the recorded history of humankind.
This claim has been dismissed as nonsensical by some linguists because of the difficulty, some say impossibility, of comparing the vocabularies of different languages. Do suffixes and prefixes count as words, for instance? What about inflections of words for tense and number? Do the inflections count as distinct words? Dialects? Which dialects are privileged? Only standard ones? All? Do loanwords count? Or should the counting be limited to basic, native vocabulary?

As you can see, it’s a really messy claim to say English has the most vocabulary of any language in the world, but people who make this claim often rely on the fact that English has several layers of vocabularies.

First, as a Germanic language, it has several vocabularies in common with German and Dutch. Then it has a few from Celtic languages. After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of French words entered the English language. A few years later, Latin became the language of scholarship in Europe, and contributed even more words to the English language. Greek and Arabic contributed still more words in science, medicine, astronomy, and even everyday speech. With the founding of the United States of America and large-scale British colonization across the world, thousands more words made their way to the language. With this astonishing medley of lexical influences, it is hard not to have a large pool of words.

8.  I got this from a website called Quora, an online discussion community. It saysSTARTLING” “is the only 9-letter word in the English language where you can remove one letter at a time and still create a word.

Startling: Very surprising
Starting: Beginning
Staring: to look fixedly
String: material consisting of threads of cotton, or other material twisted to form a thin length.
Sting: a small sharp-pointed organ at the end of the abdomen of bees, wasps, ants, and scorpions
Sing: make musical sound
Sin: an immoral act
In: Enclosed
I: Singular pronoun” 

9. English is the only language in the world that every international airline pilot must speak irrespective of their national and linguistic origins. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in 2008, made it compulsory for every pilot on an international flight to speak English.This is because several aircraft can be on the same radio frequency and it is vital that pilots know what is going on around them,” according to the UK Telegraph of March 5, 2008. The ICAO also says pilots who are native English speakers should curb “the use of idioms, colloquialisms and other jargon” during communication so that non-native speakers can understand them without difficulty.


10. There are more English speakers in Nigeria than there are in the UK, the birthplace of the language. 

Related Articles:
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