October 13, 2011 - English Language Day

  • Sport's Edition!

Did you know that English is the most widely spoken language in the world?

Sign in English, in Namibia
That's because it is the third largest “first” language (in other words, the language learned by people as babies as their first, native language), after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish – AND it is “the language of science” (in most fields, almost every scientific paper is published in English) – AND it is the leading language of international political and trade negotiations. It is widely learned as a second language, so when people from Israel, Germany, and Italy meet in a little B&B in Austria, as I once experienced, they can speak to each other through the only language they all knew – English. Lucky for me, right?

Sign in Hindi and English, in India
English is also a huge language. There are more than 250,000 words in an Oxford Dictionary—and that doesn't even count a lot of technical, scientific, and slang words! English has a lot of words that are synonyms—words that mean roughly the same thing; partly this is because there are root words from Old English, Dutch, and other Germanic languages; root words from French and Latin and other “Romance” languages; root words from Greek; and words adopted from elsewhere, such as native Caribbean and African cultures. English seems to eagerly adopt and adapt words and phrases from other languages in a way that is very different from other languages, such as French.

By the way, French has about 43,000 words – FAR fewer! (Again, word count is hard to do – because there are archaic words, scientific terms, slang words. A more liberal way of counting French words might come up with around 500,000 words – but then, the same way of counting English words would put it at more than one million words!)

Here are some examples of English words from different roots:

      from Germanic language:                   from Latin or French:
              come                                                   arrive
              sight                                                    vision
              freedom                                               liberty
              cow                                                      beef (boeuf)
              pig                                                        pork (porque)

Sign in French and English,
in Israel
English includes acronyms such as snafu (Situation Normal—All Fouled Up); words from Africa such as jazz and yam; words from the Caribbean such as canoe and papaya; words from various groups of Native Americans such as igloo, tobacco, tomato, and moose; words from Aboriginal Australians such as kangaroo and koala; and words from Asian languages such as shampoo, jungle, and bamboo.

The English Project has declared October 13 to be English Language Day – a day on which to honor English – because on this day in 1362, the Chancellor of England for the first time opened Parliament with a speech in English. At times in England's past, the language of power was Latin or French, so this is seen as a turning point.

Sign on bus, in Czech and English, in Czech Republic

Now, what's this about sports?

This year's English Language Day theme is sports. We are encouraged to notice all the sports phrases that are used outside of sports. Here are some examples. Do you know what they mean?

  • They went down to the wire to make a deal. (phrase from horse racing)
  • Who in the world is calling the shots? (phrase from billiards)
  • I hope you let her off the hook! (fishing)
  • Kara was exhausted as she ran the last lap, but then she got a second wind. (sailing)
  • Please don't throw in the towel on this project! (boxing)
  • They started to argue but then called a time out so they'd calm down. (many sports)

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