Structure and characteristics of English language The English language is a West-Germanic language which originated in England and has since spread throughout the British Isles and into various regions where Britain held overseas colonies. English is the 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 non-native acquired 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. Structure of English We can study the structure of language in a variety of ways. For example, we can study classes of words (parts of speech), meanings of words, with or without considering changes of meaning (semantics), how words are organised in relation to each other and in larger constructions (syntax), how words are formed from smaller meaningful units (morphology), the sounds of words (perception and pronunciation or articulation), and how they form patterns of knowledge in the speaker's mind (phonetics and phonology) and how standardized written forms represent words (orthography). Since this website is primarily devoted to the exploration of English throught its words, the focus in this website is on morphology (word stucture) and other aspects of words, such as etymology, lexical semantic change, word usage, lexical types of words, and words marking specific linguistic varieties. Phonetics All words are, at the their most basic, collections of different sounds. Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the sounds of speech and their production, combination, description, and representation by written symbols. Sounds are generally categorized by place of articulation, method of articulation, and voicing. While these individual sounds are the most basic elements of language, they do not have meaning in of themselves (apart from some sounds which can be considered sound symbolic). Morphology Morphology is the study of the structure and form of words in language or a language, including inflection, derivation, and the formation of compounds. At the basic level, words are made of "morphemes." These are the smallest units of meaning: roots and affixes (prefixes and suffixes). Native speakers recognize the morphemes as grammatically significant or meaningful. For example, "schoolyard" is made of "school" + "yard", "makes" is made of "make" + a grammatical suffix "-s", and "unhappiness" is made of "happy" with a prefix "un-" and a suffix "-ness". Inflection occurs when a word has different forms but essentially the same meaning, and there is only a grammatical difference between them: for example, "make" and "makes". The "-s" is an inflectional morpheme. In contrast, derivation makes a word with a clearly different meaning: such as "unhappy" or "happiness", both from "happy". The "un-" and "-ness" are derivational morphemes. Normally a dictionary would list derived words, but there is no need to list "makes" in a dictionary as well as "make." Latin and Greek Morphology Many of the words in English are derived from Latin and Greek morphemes. In many cases words taken from Latin or Greek retain the inflectional characteristics and gender from their original languages. Thus, the masculine singular form of "alumni" is "alumnus," while the feminine singular form is "alumna." This example also shows that despite the retention of these Latinate forms, particularly in "learned" language, they are often discarded in casual speech, and "alumni" has come to be a singular noun as well as a plural one. Word Formation and Neologisms Throughout the history of English new words have been incorporated into the language through borrowing (from languages as varied as Latin, Greek, Scandinavian, Arabic, and many others) as well as through the application of morphological and derivational rules to existing words and morphemes. Words currently entering the language are called neologisms (from "neo" new and "log" word). 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 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 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 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 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 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. Meaning of Words In general, Semantics (from the Greek semantikos, or "significant meaning," derived from "sema," sign) always refers to some kind of meaning (of something that is written) and is thus usually opposed to syntax , which refers to the formal way in which something is written. It is a subfield of linguistics that is traditionally defined as the study of meaning. One area of study is the meaning of compounds, another is the study of relations between different linguistic expressions (homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, hypernymy, hyponymy). Semantic Progression Semantic progression describes the evolution of word usage - usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. For example, 'awful' originally meant something more akin to 'awesome' or 'full of awe,' but now has a meaning that is almost the exact opposite. Metaphor All metaphors can be analyzed and reduced to the equation "X equals Y." Examples in everyday languge abound. The expression, "You are the sunshine of my life" equates someone's beloved with sunshine; something that is impossible in literal terms unless that person becomes a ball of nuclear fusion. The expression "candle in the wind" likens life's fragility to an extinguished candle. Metaphor is one of the most common figures of speech and many words have their origin in metaphor. When a metaphor is so common that people usually take it for granted, it is called a dead metaphor. Understanding, for example, is a dead metaphor, having its origins in the idea that "standing under" something was akin to having a good grasp of it (another, slightly less dead metaphor) or knowing it thoroughly. Metaphors are seen as very powerful tools because they allow for the expression of abstract principles by reference to concretes. They can also be dangerous to understanding, in that people may fail to recognize the figurative nature of a metaphor, and come to take it literally. On the other hand, since so many, many words are dead metaphors, attempting to avoid them entirely would end in silence. For instance, consideration is a metaphor meaning "take the stars into account", mantel means "cloak or hood to catch smoke", gorge means throat, and so forth for thousands more. Metonymy Metonymy is the substitution of one word for another with which it is associated. Metonymy works by contiguity rather than similarity. Typically, when someone uses metonymy, they don't wish to transfer qualities (as you do with metaphor ). The common figure "The White House said..." is a good example of metonymy, with the term "White House" actually referring to the authorities who are symbolized by the White House, which is an inanimate object that says nothing. The Crown for a kingdom is another example of this kind of metonymy. Metonymy can also refer to the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it: describing someone's house in order to describe them, for example. Advertising frequently uses this kind of metonymy, simply putting a product in close proximity to something we want (beauty, happiness). Neologisms 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.
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