You probably know lots of things about English, especially if you’ve been learning it for a while. First, English is spoken all over the world. Second, it’s full of colourful expressions like ‘paint the town red’ and ‘flogging a dead horse’. Third, English grammar is much easier to follow that the grammar of some other languages. Fourth, English has more vocabulary than any other language, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 words is the current estimate. But what are some of the fact you might not have heard?
English is part of the Germanic language family (which includes German, Dutch and Swedish), but has lots of other influences. In 1066, the Normans, who spoke French, invaded England and brought with them their language, which mixed with English. Some examples include plural ‘s’, and lots of vocabulary (boutique, chef, pork, souvenir). We also have many words from other languages like Arabic (alcohol, caravan), Chinese (brainwashing), as well as from ancient languages like Latin (ad-nauseum, carpe diem) and Ancient Greek (psychology, music). Are there any words from your language?
Before Shakespeare, many people didn’t think English was a worthwhile language. In fact, they thought it was plebian and ugly, full of little words which didn’t have a nice sound to them. Because of that, many words were changed to make them sound more like Latin, the language which God spoke. Making English words sound more Latin is why we have many silent letters. For example, island, which in Latin is “isla”, or “debt”, in Latin- debitum). Also, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, the so-called ‘Great Vowel Shift’ took place. This is a curious moment in history when the pronunciation of certain sounds changed, making words sound longer.
William Shakespeare, probably Britain’s most famous writer, wrote many plays which you may have studied even in translation, such as Coriolanus or Romeo and Juliet. If you don’t know this story, you enjoy watching the 1996 film starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio.
But Shakespeare didn’t just write, he also invented words. In fact, some people believe he invented more than 1000 words. Many of these words we still use today, which include: bandit, dwindle, lacklustre, and anchovy. In addition, Shakespeare also changed verbs to nouns, adjectives to verbs, and joined lots of words together. One of his most common ways of doing this was to add ‘able’ to nouns. One example of this is “fashionable”, changing the noun to an adjective.
English people are not very direct, and you can see this when they speak. For example, when an English person says, ‘I see what you’re saying…’ they might actually mean ‘I disagree’. On the other hand, if they use the expression, ‘that’s interesting’, it might actually mean ‘I think this is rubbish!’ Check here for a list of amusing alternative meanings about what the English really think.
This kind of double-speak can be so confusing. When you’re learning, it is always a good idea to ask your teacher or an English friend what someone is actually thinking. Especially when they say, ‘No problem.’
The first dictionary was written in 1604 by Robert Crawford. Robert wanted to organise English and help people understand the language better. This early dictionary included roughly 3,000 words, each one with a short definition. 400 years later, and the amazing number of 700 words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary just between the months of October and December 2021. These included many pandemic related words such as lateral flow test (noun – a type of Coronavirus test), hybrid (adjective – a way of working both online and in person) and comfort eating. This is a noun – making yourself feel better by putting food into your mouth.
What facts do you know about English? Maybe you know something interesting which isn’t mentioned here. Let us know in the comments section below.
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Good luck and happy learning!
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