Overview of the English Language

English is the primary language of the United States, Australia, the U.K., and the Anglophone territories of Canada, making it second only to Mandarin Chinese in number of speakers. The English language belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The great number of words found in the English vocabulary is in large part due to extensive borrowings from other languages, including Latin, French, Low German, and the Scandinavian languages.

A dialect can be defined as a "variation of a language used by a group of speakers set apart from others geographically or socially." Using this definition, it is easy to identify English as a language with many dialects. Not only are there variations due to geographic differences (American English, British English, Australian English), but there are more subtle shadings that identify someone as being from a specific region (the southern drawl, the midwestern twang). Not to mention the differences between urban and suburban speech, educated diction and slang… the rainbow of variations is part of what makes English an endlessly interesting pursuit!

Formal and Informal Address in the English Language

The grammatical concept of formal and informal address is foreign to native English speakers. Deference to someone may be shown by addressing them as "sir" or "ma'am", or using a title like "Dr." with their last name, but that is the extent of English formal address. The same verb forms are used in either a formal or informal setting.

English Grammar

English punctuation can be a little confusing for someone coming to it from another language. "One dollar and seventy-five cents" is written as "$1.75"; "one thousand" is written as "1,000." Another feature of English that may seem strange is that it does not assign grammatical gender: masculine, feminine, common or neuter. There is, however, an inflected change between singular and plural forms, although the difference is not always noticeable. Some nouns have identical singular and plural forms, as is the case with "deer" and "fish." In those instances, one must use the context to determine the number.

English has one of the most difficult spelling systems in the world. The written forms of the language are not phonetic for two main reasons. First, the spelling of the English language has not changed despite a marked evolution in pronunciation. Second, the spelling of foreign loanwords is often left intact. As an example of the disparity between spelling and pronunciation in English, look at the following list of words which end in "-ough" but are pronounced very differently: "bough" (bou), "cough" (kof), "through" (thru), "though" (tho) and "enough" (enuf).

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