Modern Usage of English

English is the second or third most popular world language, as measured by the number of native speakers, which was around 402 million in 2002. It is also the most popular second and learning language in the world, as the cultural, economic, military, political and scientific importance of the United States of America and the United Kingdom for the last two centuries has given English pre-eminent status as a language of international communication. With such a wide geographical distribution and because of its use in academia and other specialized contexts, numerous distinct varieties and special jargons have emerged.

English as a World Language [Top]

English is the first language of a large majority of the population in the United States of America, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (including England, Scotland and Wales), Ireland (Eire), Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago. There are also significant numbers of native speakers in South Africa, India, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

English is also one of the primary languages of Belize (with Spanish), Cameroon (with French and African languages), Dominica, St. Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (with French Creole), the Federated States of Micronesia, and Liberia (with African languages).

It is an official language, but not native to large segments of the population, in Fiji, Ghana, Gambia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is the most commonly used unofficial language of Israel and an increasing number of other countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.

English is also the language most often studied as a foreign language in Europe (32.6%) and Japan, followed by French, German and Spanish.

Varieties and Dialects [Top]

Because of the history and sheer number of people who use English, there are many different varieties of English. A variety can be thought of as a distinctive kind of English, or more technically, a specific linguistic system shared by a particular pool of users. There are no sharp dividing lines between varieties, since people typically master more than one variety. Nevertheless, varieties can be described in terms of the group who most uses a particular variety and the linguistic properties of that variety. Varieties can be identified in this way by geographical groups, social groups, or particular stylistic or usage types.

A dialect is a variety of a language spoken in a certain geographical area. Because of the wide distribution of English speakers, a number of distinct dialects have emerged over the course of history. These include American English, Australian English, British English, Canadian English, South African English, Caribbean English, Indian English, Jamaican English, Liberian English, New Zealand English, Pakistani English, and Singapore English among others.

Jargon [Top]

Jargon is the specialised vocabulary of a profession or of some other activity to which a group of people dedicate significant parts of their lives (for instance, hobbies ). Technical terminology exists in a continuum of "formality." Precise technical terms and their definitions are formally recognised, documented, and taught by educators in the field, and are similar to slang . The boundaries between formal and slang jargon, as in general English, are quite fluid, with terms sliding in and out of recognition.

Technical terminology evolves due to the need for experts in a field to communicate with precision and brevity, and is thus unavoidable and desirable, but this often has the (usually) undesired effect of excluding those who are unfamiliar with the particular specialized language of the group. This can cause difficulties as, for example, when a patient is unable to follow the discussions of medical practitioners, and thus cannot understand their own condition and treatment. However the terms of technical terminology are used to express a great deal of information in a compact form. This makes it possible for professionals to speak to each other without having to exhaustively describe each concept; they can simply use the terms whose defintions are already known in the profession.

Slang [Top]

Slang is the non-standard use of words in a language and sometimes the creation of new words or importation of words from another language. Slang terms are often particular to a certain subculture - such as skate boarders, surfers, musicians of particular types, or drug users. Slang is sometimes confused with jargon which is the collection of vocabulary specific to a profession: medical terminology for example. "Slang" generally implies playful, informal speech. Slang is often used to discuss taboo or semi-taboo subjects, such as drunkenness, sexual organs and activities (human sexuality), elimination and bodily wastes, recreational drugs, and illicit or criminal activities.

Neologisms [Top]

Through slang and jargon, along with borrowing from other languages, new words are constantly entering the language. Examples of recent neologisms (from neo 'new' + log 'word') include punked, WMDs, and blog, among many others.