The English language is a global powerhouse. It is the third most common native language in the world, behind only Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. It is the mostly widely spoken second language in the world and an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, and many other international organizations and businesses. English is spoken as the primary language in many countries around the world, with the core of traditional English-speaking states often referred to as the "Anglosphere", but how did the English language become a global powerhouse in the first place?
How the English Language Became a Global Lingua Franca
The history of the English language, like any language, is a long history filled with changes. The earliest form of English is called Old English and developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects spoken by tribes know as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. By the 5th Century Anglo-Saxons had settled Britain and by the 7th Century it was the dominant language of Britain. From the 8th through 12th Centuries Old English transformed into Middle English through Norse colonization and Norman invasion. A major elements of Norse influenced was pronouns beginning with "th-", and Norman influences introduced a wide range of loanwords. Middle English transitioned to Early Modern English from about mid-12th Century until the 17th Century through inflection simplification, simplifying linguistics and the Great Vowel Shift. The Great Vowel Shift is when all Middle English vowels changed their pronunciation. By the late 17th Century and onward, Modern English started to form with codification of explicit norms for standard usage and the use of new forms of words.
The Role of British Colonial Expansion
The English language spread with the growth and expansion of the British Empire. Starting in the late 16th Century Britain established its first colonies in the Americas. Following a colonial expansion and a series of victories over France and the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th Centuries, England became the dominant colonial power in North America and India. Despite losing its Thirteen North American colonies in 1783, the British Empire continued to expand elsewhere, turning to colonizing Asia, Africa and the Pacific. For most of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, Britain was the world's leading imperial power. By 1922 the empire controlled one-fifth of the world's population and almost one-fourth of the Earth's land. Even in the areas it did not control the empire exerted much economic influence, since it dominated world trade. Following World War Two the British Empire declined greatly, losing most of its overseas possessions during the post war decolonization period. Despite losing its empire the British spread the English language around the globe with its world spanning colonies and economic influence that one can still feel today.
The English Language in Contemporary Times
The English language today is cultural and economical important to the world at large. Since the English language has the most speakers across the world, it is seen as the leading international language. It is considered a global lingua franca, know as a common or trade language that makes communication between two foreign people possible since the English language is so widespread globally. The English language also has a major cultural impact globally because of Americanization. Americanization really started with the rise of Hollywood in the 1920's but really took off globally post World War Two and then again in the internet age. This has led to American culture having a impact globally, which in turn also spreads the influence of the English language.
The Future of the English Language
What does the future hold for the English language? The English language is in no danger of becoming extinct anytime soon, nor is it in danger of losing its spot as one of the world's most spoken and global languages. New words may come and go, but the English language seems like it will be globally strong into the very the distant future.