Peculiarities of English In the late 16th Century, the number of


In the late 16th Century, the number of mother-tongue English speakers in the world was thought to be around 5-7 million, all of them in the British Isles. However, English is now a language spoken by around 250 million people, the majority living outside the British Isles. Most of these people are Americans. Other English speaking areas of the world are: Canada, The Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Asia, Colonial Africa, South East Asia and South Pacific. It is not surprising therefore that English everywhere has peculiarities of dialect, accent, slang, foreign borrowings and lexical differences (British/American in particular).

Let us look first of all at the peculiarities of dialect. Dialect refers to features of grammar and vocabulary, which convey information about a person's geographical origin, while accent features pronunciation only. You can tell a lot about someone's origins from his dialect or from his accent, and these vary greatly in the UK and the US alone. The Texas drawl, the lilt of the Irish and the rolling 'r' of the Scots for example, can easily be detected.

Slang is said to be used to show that you are one of the gang. There are many different types of slang worldwide, although cockney rhyming slang is probably the best known. It probably originated as part of a criminal argot in London. Examples of the cockney rhyming slang are: apples and pears (stairs); Cain and Able (table); Hampstead Heath (teeth); north and south (mouth); trouble and strife (wife).

When looking at written English, one of the first judgements you can make is whether it is British or American English. There are many spelling differences between British and American English (aeroplane/airplane, anaemia/anemia, manoeuvre/maneuver, colour/color '). In addition to the spelling differences, there are also many lexical differences: aerial/antenna; wallet/billfold; curtains/drapes; pavement/sidewalk to name but a few.

Speakers of some languages take pains to exclude foreign words from their lexicon, however British English seems to have welcomed them. The influence of Latin is strong. The Viking invasions added about 2000 words to English (for example: dirt, egg, kid, leg '). After the Norman Conquest the influx of words from Europe (especially French) was huge. Since the 1950s, a fresh wave of borrowing has taken place from all over the world.

Looking more closely at the UK, there are some fairly specific regional linguistic features. Take, for example, the Scots lexicon which also derives from the influence of other languages, in particular Gaelic, Norwegian and French. Gaelic imports include ceilidh, glen and loch. These words are now part of British English. However some lexical terms remain restricted to Scots and in fact the Scots Thesaurus lists over 20,000 items. Examples are:- dominie (teacher), high-heid yin (boss) and pinkie (little finger). Wales, Ireland and England have similar regional linguistic features.

English is a language with insignificant origins, but which has grown to be a world language. It has a rich lexicon which differs from country to country, and even within countries. Different dialects, accents and slang abound. The rules of grammar are endless, while spelling and pronunciation represent a significant challenge for non native speakers. Will a World Standard English ever exist, or will English speakers wish to hang on to their own origins' Whilst it is inevitable that there is and will continue to be a merge of certain elements of the English language to form a World Standard English, I think the loss of regional variations would be a great shame, and it is perhaps unlikely ever to happen.

1. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by David Crystal.