English, with over 200 million native speakers (or people who learned English when they were children or people who use primarily English), doesn't have the most native speakers of a language (Chinese takes that honor with over 800 million), but it is used in more countries than any other language. Even though the English language started out in England, now most of its speakers live elsewhere, primarily in the United States, with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also having significant numbers. English is probably the world's most common second language (not the first language learned or primary language used), and is official in many countries in Africa and in the Pacific.

English, in a form that would be understood today, has been around for about five hundred years. Before then, the language would have sounded very different, because around five hundred years ago, most of the vowels changed significantly, and there were several other noticeable changes.

From about nine hundred to five hundred years ago, there was Middle English. It was during this stage that English aquired most of its French words, since French was the official language of England at the time.

Before Middle English, was Old English, or Anglo-Saxon. Shortly before the time of Middle English, Anglo-Saxon aquired many Norse words, because during this time the Vikings occupied a large part of England.

Anglo-Saxon was very German-sounding. This is because it (and therefore modern English, too) is a Western Germanic language, and evolved from the same language as German, Dutch, Yiddish, and a few other minor languages. West Germanic, as its name implies, is the western branch of Germanic, which also includes Scandanavian (Swedish, etc.), and East Germanic (Gothic and a few other dead languages of sackers of Rome).

Germanic, in turn, is part of Indo-European, along with Balto-Slavic (such Lithuanian and Russian), Celtic (such as Irish), Italic (which includes the Romance languages like French and Spanish), Greek and Albanian, and Armenian, which each constitute their own branch of Indo-European, and Indo-Iranian (which includes most of the languages of Iran, Pakistan, and northern India, and also the language of the Gypsies). Indo-European, along with several dead languages of Anotolia (modern-day Turkey), including Hittite, is part of a family called Indo-Hittite. Indo-Hittite and Indo-European are essentially the same, but the Anatolian languages seem not to be very different from the rest of Indo-European, so the the name Indo-Hittite is used to reflect that.

Indo-Hittite, in turn, may be part of a still larger family, called Eurasiatic (or sometimes called Nostratic). Eurasiatic also includes the families Uralic-Yukaghir (which includes Hungarian, Lapp, and Finnish), Altaic (which includes Turkish and Mongolian), Japanese and Korean (which are part of one family), Eskimo-Aleut, and a few other languages of Siberia.

I have a more detailed lineage of Eurasiatic, as well as for Indo-European/Hittite.

Disclaimer--All information on this page came from the top of my head. It should be accurate, however, there may be mistakes.
Back to Guide to World Languages.

Back to Languages and Linguistics.

Write me!
May 5, 2000