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English Language Day

English Language Day is celebrated on 23 April. Let’s look at the origins of English, how it came to be spoken all over the world and how it is changing.


English Language Day

🇬🇧 What is English Language Day?

English Language Day was first celebrated in 2010, it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and each has a special day, designed to raise awareness of the history, culture and achievements of these languages.


🇬🇧 Why is English Language Day celebrated on 23 April?

This day was chosen because it is thought to be Shakespeare's birthday, and the anniversary of his death. As well as being the English language's most famous playwright, Shakespeare also had a huge impact on modern-day English. At the time he was writing, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the English language was going through a lot of changes and Shakespeare's creativity with language meant he contributed hundreds of new words and phrases that are still used today. For example, the words 'gossip', 'fashionable' and 'lonely' were all first used by Shakespeare. He also invented phrases like 'break the ice', 'all our yesterdays', 'faint-hearted' and 'love is blind'. Can you guess what they mean?


🇬🇧 The origins of English

The story of the English language began in the fifth century when Germanic tribes invaded Celtic-speaking Britain and brought their languages with them. Later, Scandinavian Vikings invaded and settled with their languages too. In 1066 William I, from modern-day France, became king, and Norman-French became the language of the courts and official activity. People couldn’t understand each other at first, because the lower classes continued to use English while the upper classes spoke French, but gradually French began to influence English. An estimated 45 per cent of all English words have a French origin. By Shakespeare's time, Modern English had developed, printing had been invented and people had to start to agree on 'correct' spelling and vocabulary.


🇬🇧 The spread of English

The spread of English all over the world has an ugly history but a rich and vibrant present. During the European colonial period, several European countries, including England, competed to expand their empires. They stole land, labour and resources from people across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. By the time former British colonies began to gain independence in the mid-20th century, English had become established in their institutions. Many brilliant writers from diverse places across Africa, the Caribbean and Asia had started writing in English, telling their stories of oppression. People from all over the world were using English to talk and write about justice, equality, freedom and identity from their own perspectives. The different varieties of English created through this history of migration and colonisation are known as World Englishes.


🇬🇧 International English

More than 1.75 billion people speak English worldwide – that's around 1 in 4 people around the world. English is being used more and more as a way for two speakers with different first languages to communicate with each other, as a 'lingua franca'. For many people, the need to communicate is much more important than the need to sound like a native speaker. As a result, language use is starting to change. For example, speakers might not use 'a' or 'the' in front of nouns, or they might make uncountable nouns plural and say 'informations', 'furnitures' or 'co-operations'.

Are these variations mistakes? Or part of the natural evolution of different Englishes? 'International English' refers to the English that is used and developed by everyone in the world and doesn't just belong to native speakers. There is a lot of debate about whether International English should be standardised and, if so, how. What do you think? If you're reading this, English is your language too!

Check out the United Nations link below for more information on the English Language Day

 

Test your English Language Day knowledge with this fill-in-the-gaps quiz. Use the words in the list below:

printing/ independence/ impact/ varieties/ awareness/ oppression/ tribes/ lingua franca

 

1. Each official UN language has a special day that aims to raise ______________

    of its history, culture and achievements.

 

2. Shakespeare had a huge ______________on modern day English.

 

3. The English language began to develop in the fifth century when Germanic ______________

invaded Britain.

 

4. By Shakespeare's time, Modern English had developed, _____________had been invented, and people had started to agree on 'correct' spelling and vocabulary.

 

5. British colonies began to gain_____________ in the mid-20th century.

 

6. Many brilliant writers from all over the world used English to tell their stories of ________________.


7. World Englishes are the different ________________of English created through this history of migration and colonisation.

 

8. When two speakers of other first languages use English to communicate with each other, they are using English as a ___________________________.

 

 

How are you going to celebrate English Language Day in 2024?

We’d love to hear from you, so send us your comments and ideas! P.S. German Language Day is 1 July. Start planning!


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