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1.4 Language

As its name suggests, the English language, today spoken by billions of peo­ple around the world, originated as the language of England, where it remains the principal tongue today but the law does not recognise any language as being offi­cial. English is the only language used in England for general official business.

An Indo-European language in the Germanic family, English is closely related to Dutch, suggesting geographic proximity between the ancient Dutch and ancient An­glo-Saxons before the latter invaded Britain. As the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms merged into England, "Old English" emerged; some of its literature and poetry has survived.

Used by aristocracy and commoners alike before the Norman conquest in 1066, English was displaced in cultured contexts under the new regime by the Norman French language of the new Anglo-French aristocracy. Its use was confined prima­rily to the lower social classes while official business was conducted in a mixture of Latin and French. Over the following centuries, however, English gradually came back into fashion among all classes and for all official business except certain tradi­tional ceremonies. (Some survive to this day.) But Middle English, as it had by now become, showed many signs of French influence, both in vocabulary and spelling.


During the renaissance, many words were coined from Latin and Greek origins; and more recent years, Modern English has extended this custom, being always re­markable for its far-flung willingness to incorporate foreign-influenced words.

The only native spoken language in England other than English is the Corn­ish language, a Celtic language spoken in Cornwall, which became extinct in the 19th century but has been revived and is spoken in various degrees of fluency by A bilingual sign in Cornwall above around 3,500 people. It has no official status.

- (unlike Welsh) and is not required for official use, but is nonetheless supported national and local government under the European Charter for Regional or Mi-

- ?rity Languages.

England is unusual in that there are many regional dialects and often a dialect

— ay have different accents. It is possible to travel 30 km in England and hear a no­ticeably different accent. Some dialects and accents are so strong that, for example, 'Geordies" from the north-east of England are often not understood by Londoners. The most famous dialect is Cockney, used in London with various similar accents in Greater London and the Home Counties. Cockney also has its famous rhyming ~'ang and many grammatical forms not used in the rest of the UK.

Different languages from around the world, especially from the former British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations, have been brought to England by im­migrants. Many of these are widely spoken within ethnic minority communities, including Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Chinese and Vietnamese. These are often used by official bodies to communicate with the relevant sections of the community, particularly in big cities, but this occurs on an "as needed" basis rather than as the result of specific legislation.

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