From the proverbial raining cats and dogs to Shakespeare’s many signatures, today we look at some lesser known facts about the English language.
12 surprising facts about the English language:
1. Although the official language of 56 countries around the world, English is not the official language of the United Kingdom; that is, it has no legal official status, although it is, of course, the de facto official language. The same is true of the United States, New Zealand and Australia. The languages with legally official status in the UK are Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Ulster Scots, Scots and Scottish Gaelic. Continue reading →
It has often been said that the UK and the USA are ‘two nations separated by a common language’. It’s certainly true that sharing English often disguises the cultural differences between the two societies, but what about actual differences between British and American English? Although there are very few differences, aside from differences in pronunciation, that would leave a Brit and an American in a state of mutual unintelligibility, there are significant differences between British and American English that are worth being aware of. Here we look at some of them.
There’s a very good chance, if you’re reading this, that English is not your first language. Non-native speakers currently outnumber native speakers by an estimated four to one. At the same time, 1.75 billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – speak English either fluently or to a useful level of competency.* There have been many lingua francas throughout history, and English is far from alone in the 21st century in having an international reach – Arabic is spoken across the Middle East and North Africa, French is an official language in over 30 countries around the world and Portuguese in 11, and Spanish is a powerful lenguaje global in its own right, more so by the day – but none has ever had the dominance that English does. Once the obscure West Germanic language of a damp little island kingdom, it is now an official language in almost 60 countries, the international language of aviation and seafaring, the pre-eminent language of scientific research, the most common language online and the major working language of diplomacy and international relations. What does its phenomenal success mean for the 75% of the world’s population that do not currently speak it, what does it mean for those who only speak it, what does it mean for other languages and what does it mean for English itself? Continue reading →
On 27th March 1977, in very foggy conditions at Los Rodeos airport in Tenerife, and after numerous unexpected incidents and delays, KLM Flight 4805, laden with fuel – and before it was safe to do so – began to hurtle down the runway. Miscommunication in English between the crew and the tower had resulted in the captain starting the take-off before the clearance to do so had actually been given. Ahead of Flight 4805 on the very same runway, taxiing directly towards them, was another Boeing 747, Pan Am Flight 1736, lost in the thickening fog and unsure whether the Spanish air traffic controllers had told them to take the ‘first’ or the ‘third’ exit. The poor visibility meant that the impending disaster was completely hidden from view at the tower, and that accurate and unambiguous oral communication was therefore paramount; the ear had to do what the eye could not. Seconds later the two aircraft finally saw one another. The KLM tried to lift off, the Pan Am to turn, but by then it was too late. The resulting collision and ensuing fireball killed all 248 people aboard the KLM plane as well as 335 of the 396 aboard the Pan American, making it the deadliest ever disaster in aviation history. The few Pan Am survivors, lucky alone by the fluke of their seating, crawled out to safety through holes in the disintegrating fuselage and along the one remaining wing. Continue reading →