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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Modern English
Pronunciation /ˈɪŋɡlɪʃ/[1]
Spoken in Listed in the article
Total speakers First language: 309[2] – 380 million[3]
Second language: 199[4] – 600 million[5]
Overall: ≈ 1.8 billion[6]
Ranking Native Speakers: 3[7][8]
Total: 1 or 2 [9]
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Latin (English variant)
Official status
Official language in 53 countries
 United Nations
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 en
ISO 639-2 eng
ISO 639-3 eng
Countries where English is a primary language are dark blue; countries where it is an official but not a primary language are light blue. English is also one of the official languages of the European Union.

Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.

Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, are referred to as using Early Modern English or Elizabethan English. English was adopted in regions around the world, such as North America, India, Africa, and Australia, through colonization by the British Empire.

Modern English has a large number of dialects spoken in diverse countries throughout the world. Most of these, however, are mutually intelligible. This includes American English, Australian English, British English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, Hiberno-English, Indo-Pakistani English, New Zealand English, Philippine English, Singaporean English, and South African English.

According to the Ethnologue, there are over 50 million speakers of English as a first or second language as of 1999, a number surpassed only by the Chinese language. However, Chinese has a smaller geographical range and is spoken primarily in mainland China and Taiwan and also by a sizable immigrant community in North America. Additionally, Chinese is itself divided into a number of regional dialects that may not be mutually intelligible in spoken form. In contrast, English is spoken in a vast number of territories including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, and Southern Africa. Its large number of speakers, plus its worldwide presence, have made English a common language for use in such diverse applications as controlling airplanes, developing software, conducting international diplomacy, and business relations.



Early Modern English lacked uniformity in spelling, but Samuel Johnson's dictionary, published in 1755 in England, was influential in establishing a standard form of spelling. Noah Webster did the same in America, publishing his dictionary in 1828; see American and British English spelling differences.

Public education increased literacy, and more people had access to books (and therefore to a standard language) with the spread of public libraries in the 19th century. Many words entered English from other languages as a result of contact with other cultures through trade and settlement and from the migration of large numbers of people to the United States from other countries. World War I and World War II threw together people from different backgrounds, and the greater social mobility afterwards helped to lessen the differences between social accents, at least in the UK. The development of radio broadcasting in the early 20th century familiarised the population with accents and vocabulary from outside their own localities, often for the first time, and this phenomenon continued with film and television.

Outline of changes

The following is an outline of the major changes in Modern English compared to its previous form (Middle English). Note, however, that these are generalizations, and some of these may not be true for specific dialects:





Changes in alphabet and spelling were heavily influenced by the advent of printing and continental printing practices.

  • The letter thorn (þ), which was already being replaced by th in Middle English, finally fell into disuse. The last vestige of the letter was writing the as þe, which was still seen occasionally in the King James Bible of 1611.
  • The letters i and j, previously written as a single letter, began to be distinguished; likewise for u and v. This was a common development of the Latin alphabet during this period.

Consequently, Modern English came to use a purely Latin alphabet of 26 letters.

See also


  1. ^ "English, a. and n." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 6 September 2007 <
  2. ^ Ethnologue (1984 estimate)
  3. ^ The Triumph of English, The Economist, Dec. 20th, 2001
  4. ^ Ethnologue (1999 estimate)
  5. ^ "20,000 Teaching Jobs". Oxford Seminars. Retrieved 2007-02-18.  
  6. ^ "Lecture 7: World-Wide English". EHistLing. Retrieved 2007-03-26.  
  7. ^ Ethnologue, 1999
  8. ^ CIA World Factbook, Field Listing - Languages (World).
  9. ^ Languages of the World (Charts), Comrie (1998), Weber (1997), and the Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) 1999 Ethnologue Survey. Available at The World's Most Widely Spoken Languages

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun

Modern English

  1. English spoken since the great vowel shift, completed in roughly 1550.

Related terms

See also


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