English today is the language most commonly used as the method of communicating with speakers of other languages. It is the official language of commonwealth countries, as well as a second language in a multitude of other countries. Approximately 2,000,000,000 people speak English.
The birth of the English language occurred in England with the arrival of Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century. The development of the English language is grouped into three historical categories: Old English, c450-c1150; Middle English (c1150-c1475) and Modern English (after c1475).
English is a branch of West Germanic languages, brought to England by settlers from northwest Germany and northern Netherlands. A Germanic tribe from Angles is credited for creation of the names "England" and "English". Prior to the introduction of English, inhabitants of England spoke a Celtic language.
Old English was a collection of dissimilar dialects. Of these dialects, Late West Saxon emerged as the primary tongue over time. The Roman Catholic Church had a profound role in the development of English. As the sole possessor of intellectual property for centuries, the Church brought English words into existence through Latin derivatives, thereby creating an expansive vocabulary.
England was conquered in 1066 by William, Duke of Normandy. A dialect of French became the spoken norm for the upper classes, while the lower classes retained English. During the 14th century, English once again regained dominance. During this period, the London dialect, due to influential writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, surged, Anglo-Norman words were borrowed to become part of the English language and the final "e" on words became silent. Grammatical gender was replaced by natural gender. The 15th century saw the London dialect spread and division between the Scots and northern England dialects.
With the introduction of the printing press, the London dialect became the common tongue and brought standardization to English spelling and grammar. The Great Vowel Shift occurred with a vowel pronunciation becoming shorter. Outside contact with the world and the emergence of Classical Learning introduced words and phrases.
The first English Dictionary was published in 1604 and Noah's Webster's American English dictionary was published in 1828. The inception of public libraries in the 1800's made books accessible and public education increased literacy.
Extensive new words were added to the English vocabulary over the centuries due to the influx of immigrants to England, increased ease of travel, the Industrial Revolution and the magnitude of The British Empire at its height.
Modern English has two major dialects: Queen's English (also known as BBC English) and Midwestern American (or General American). Queen's English is taught in Europe and countries with ties to the British Commonwealth, while Midwestern American is associated with North America and some countries in South America. English speakers have regional accents, which often indicate the speaker's country, and sometimes the region within that country, of origin.
English is spoken through intonation, meaning the pitch of the voice expresses emotion or whether the words uttered are a statement or question. Syllables within a word are stressed or accentuated in speech, while others within the same word remain unaccentuated. With the exception of loanwords from other languages, English does not contain diacritic marks (i.e. accents over letters to indicate phonetic values).
As English does not have a regulatory body that oversees official words and spellings, estimates of the number of English words in existence vary widely from 475,000 to as high as 1,000,000.
The closest extant language to English is most often thought to be Frisian, a language spoken in the northern Netherlands province of Friesland. The remoteness of England to other counties meant English developed autonomously.