How English Evolved Into a Modern Language

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In many countries, education is considered as a duty, not just a mere right. It is often accepted as a fundamental resource for individuals and societies. Historically, over the past two centuries, there has been a substantial expansion in literary education over the globe. The global literacy rates have been increasing. In 2016, it was recorded that approximately 86% of the world population were able to read and write. In 1820, literate people accounted for only 12.0% of the population. Rising rates of enrollment in primary education and a continual increase in the growth of secondary and tertiary education are perceived to have been driving up the global literacy rates.

Currently, English is the preferred global language and the international language of commerce, science and other major areas, despite being ranked top 3 in the world’s most spoken language. There are more than 350 million people that speak English as a first language, with 350 million people conversing in English as a second language. English started to get popular many years after the English alphabet got its full 26 letters.

Literacy has a very long history. The very first written communication can be traced way back to around 3500 B.C. Inscriptions on the Kish tablet were observed by experts to be the earliest form of known writing. The tablet is inscribed with proto-cuneiform signs that are typically elementary symbols intended to convey meaning by means of their resemblance to physical objects. By 3000 B.C., the Sumerians had developed cuneiform script, known by many people as wedge-shaped script because the inscribed marks seem to have been pressed into clay tablets with a wedge. Gradually, these pictorial symbols were developed into smaller characters that were meant to represent the syllabus of the spoken language. Because of its versatility, cuneiform writing was also used to write various languages, including Elamite and Hittite. An actual alphabet, having symbols to represent phonetic sounds, came later from a different culture. Having been Influenced by cuneiform, the Phoenicians developed, around 1400 B.C., a set of symbols expressing consonants only. The Phoenician alphabet was widely used throughout Greece and the Mediterranean region as it only comprised of 22 letters based on sound as opposed to the countless symbols used in cuneiform. The Greeks, building on the Phoenician alphabet, added vowels around 750 B.C. It was sometime later appropriated by the Latins who had merged it with some Etruscan characters, such as the letters F and S. The Latins became the Romans, and the Roman alphabet looked very similar to our modern English today. It contains every letter except J, U/V or W.

When the Roman Empire landed in Britain, the Latin language was brought by them. At that time, Anglo-Saxons was controlling Britain, the spoken and written language of which were based on the runic alphabet. Throughout the intervention of the Roman Empire, Old English was developed. It was the combination of the Latin alphabet and runic alphabet. Around 1066 A.D. when the Normans invaded Britain, Old English was still being used by some of the lowborn. The clergy, scholars and nobility were conversing and writing in either Latin or Norman French, during which Old English was slowly being developed into Middle English, changing its pronunciation, spelling and grammar. After the end of the ruling of Norman, English started to become more prominent. In the middle of the 15th Century with the establishment of the first printing press in Great Britain, English became more standardized. Sometime later, the first English dictionary was introduced, known as the Table Alphabeticall. By the 19th Century, the letters J, U, V and W had been added, completing the English alphabet that we still use today.

Considered by many as a global language, English is widely used all over the world today. An English renowned linguist has once suggested that a language turns into a global language due to the influence of the people who use it. He mentioned that the popularity of English was due to the influence of the British Empire. In the early 1920, the British Empire had covered over a quarter of the world’s total land surface, including North America, Australia, Africa, Asia and many other areas. During that era, English was widely used. In addition, he also implied that British colonialism was also the reason behind the popularity of English.

In addition to being the preferred global language, higher education is often taught in English all over the world. For instance, Singapore, a multicultural country, has become the top three of an international annual ranking in relation to English proficiency. Despite being a linguistically diverse country where various languages are widely spoken, including Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English, English is taught in every school as a first language, and many tuition classes, such as creative writing classes for primary schools, are conducted in English.

Given its never-ending popularity, English will be used as the global language for many years to come. The English dictionary will likely to expand with the inclusion of many new words. The global literacy rates will continue to raise alongside an increase in the number of English language speakers. Such evolution of literacy will become part of the history of languages.

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