We all speak the same language in the United States … well, sort of! If you are from New Hampshire, all you have to do is utter one sentence in Texas, and they know you are not a native Texan. The language used by people in many places around the world is referred to as “English,” but as we all know, the United States has numerous distinct accents that are geographically and ethnically based.
English evolved over several thousand years, being one of the branches on the original Indo-European language tree. It developed into several distinct Germanic dialects that eventually became separate languages, each with its own distinct dialects. Once the Norman conquest of the British Isles was completed, today’s forms of English started to emerge in the region of Scotland.
When Britain became “great,” beginning to acquire overseas territories in Africa and South Asia, the language traveled with the conquerors, who imposed it as the official language of communication in their new territories, from New Zealand and Australia to large portions of Africa and most of North America.
Various forms of English
As the British Empire expanded, the English spoken in different parts of the world took on various accents. The language spoken by Australians was different from that of the Kiwis of New Zealand and radically different from that of the Yankees, who, over time, adopted a whole new form of pronunciation of the King’s English, with dozens of different local accents and dialects being spoken in what would become the United States and Canada.
South Africa and other former British colonies in Africa developed distinctive accents and dialects, as did the English speakers of India and Pakistan, with language habits that were developed during the period of the British Raj.
The inhabitants of the British Isles, themselves also have differing accents, including the Scottish, the Welsh, the Irish and even people in various parts of London.
Why people have different accents
The different accents of a language have a lot to do with the different cultural backgrounds of people who come to speak a common language. In the United States, immigrants coming from various parts of the world brought their own pieces of languages from the Germanic and Mediterranean nations, contributing to the great melting pot with their linguistic aberrations. African-Americans also developed their own distinct accents. Cultural groups tend to gather together in neighborhoods of large cities, as well as in entire regions, and through the generations, accents emerge in different places.
English as the new lingua franca
German and then French were the accepted lingua franca of the world for many years, but that ended with World War I, when the United States was brought into the war in Europe, and combined with Britain, a large number of anglophiles became involved in the conflict. Improved technology, such as aircraft, mobile artillery and radiotelephony that was made more portable and efficient, was coming out of the United States and England, bringing new English terminology with it.
After the Allies were victorious, the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, with an effective date of Jan. 20, 1920, was written in English and French only. The rise of the use of English was further manifested once the United States came to the rescue of Europe once again in December 1941. After the end of World War II, there was no question anymore that English had displaced French as the lingua franca. English became the main diplomatic language, as well as the language of commerce and science.
Without doubt, travelers today can visit a large segment of the planet and make themselves understood in English.
English as a living language
English consists of about 250,000 different words, and new slang words are created almost daily, leading to the frequent updating of the Oxford English Dictionary, the ultimate authority on the language.