Education, International Standards in

Education, International Standards in, the international comparison between school systems. Such comparisons are useful in describing a narrow range of performances, although, in their present state of development, they do little to explain, in ways that could help policymakers nationally, the reasons for the differences that such tests reveal.

The main cross-national comparative studies of learning achievement have been carried out under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Other major studies have been international versions of the United States’ National Assessment of Educational Progress programme. These International assessments of Educational Progress studies are known as IAEPs.

The 14 international studies of this kind that have been carried out between 1960 and 1995 have been predominantly concerned with levels of literacy, mathematics, and science. A unique feature of these studies, or at least most of them, is their use of common assessment instruments (questionnaires) to record learning achievement in specific areas. These are applied to national samples of students of the same ages or school grades in the countries concerned. However, several technical problems arise in establishing valid comparisons between school systems of different countries.

The first problem concerns the sample of school students to be tested. Testing is expensive and samples tend to be small. Much, therefore, depends on the composition of the samples. For example, students from private schools were not included in French studies. Such an exclusion would have had a marked effect in the United Kingdom (which did not, in this case, take part).

The second problem arises from the nature of the questions used in the tests. Different countries have different syllabuses that place different emphasis on different aspects of the school curriculum. Although through international cooperation between those responsible for developing the questionnaires that incorporate the tests, every effort is made to establish common ground, it is inevitable that the questions will suit some national systems better than others. In the 1991 IAEP assessment study of mathematics, for example, 30 percent of the questionnaire was devoted to “number and operations”. In response to questions about the emphasis placed on this area, Israel described it as representing 10 percent of its goal in mathematics, while Switzerland accorded it 50 per cent. In the area of “algebra and function”, however, the percentages were reversed.

Problems of this kind make comparisons between the quality of different education systems difficult to measure. The results of such comparisons do not give an explanation for the differences that emerge. However, information collected at the time of the testing confirms that, unsurprisingly, above-average performance is related to the amount of time spent on silent reading, to the emphasis on storytelling in the early years of school, and, above all, to the level of access to books. On the other hand, there did not seem to be any close connection between the length of the school year or class size and the results achieved.

Comparisons between standards achieved at different ages in different areas of the curriculum in different countries are in principle difficult to make and in practice have so far provided little reliable evidence. Fresh efforts are being made to improve the quality of that evidence in relation to science and mathematics, subjects which, unlike languages, have a degree of consistency of approach internationally, thereby enabling comparisons to be made with some confidence.

Contributed By:
Peter Anthony Newsam




Singing, the use of the human voice to produce music. In singing, the lungs act as an air reservoir and bellows, forcing air between the vocal cords of the larynx and causing them to vibrate, much like the double reed of an oboe. The resulting sound is amplified as it resonates in the cavities of the chest, neck, and head, and it is articulated (given vowels and consonants) by the singer’s lips, teeth, tongue, and palate in the same way as speech. Vocal training allows a singer to develop breath control, to regulate the degree of relaxation or tension in the body, and to resonate and articulate sound. Whether trained or not, singers in every culture exercise choice in their use of the voice. American, Swiss, and African Pygmy yodellers intuitively alternate rapidly between high and low registers, for example, and most men can produce falsetto tones without knowing that these tones depend on the only partial vibration of the vocal cords.


Among the world’s many singing styles, cultural choices are observable in the variations in tone colour, physical tension, and acoustical intensity. Cultural differences also exist in preferences for high- or low-pitched ranges, solo or choral singing, extensive or sparse melodic ornamentation, and the use or avoidance of ululation, yelps, growls, and other colourful voice modifications.

The rich variety of vocal styles found in the West today includes the trained, resonant, well-projected tonne of operatic singers; the relaxed, intimate sound of popular crooners; the tensely sung, high, ornamented melodic style of folk singers; the relaxed, subtly ornamented, rubato singing of jazz and blues musicians, sometimes augmented with rough, guttural effects; and the tense, electronically distorted sound of much rock singing. Where ancient Mediterranean and Asian civilizations once flourished, singing tends to be high-pitched, tense and ornamented, and solo singing predominates; within this broad geographical area, however, sounds vary from the wide-range, highly ornamented style of Indian classical singing to the nasal, extremely high, well-projected tone found in Chinese opera. In sub-Saharan Africa, where an abundance of choral music is found, low voices for women and high, penetrating voices for men are favoured. Many agricultural regions in central Europe also have strong choral traditions, characterized by a straightforward, open vocal tone.


In medieval European church music, high, clear-toned male voices were apparently favoured, resulting in a vocal quality that could help the listener hear the words that were being sung. The highest parts were sung by trebles (boy sopranos) and adult male falsettos, although by the 15th-century composers had begun to explore the bass range. The bel canto (Italian “beautiful song”) style that dominated Western singing from about 1650 to 1850 is thought to have developed in mid-16th century Italy as a result of new musical styles. The madrigals and other secular vocal genres that flowered in Italy required adult female voices to perform expressive, ornamented, often virtuosic melody lines. Inseparable from opera (which developed about 1600, and was based on the musical texture known as monody), the emerging style was also used in church music. Forbidden, however, to use female singers, the Church began to employ eunuchs, or castrati (singular, castrato)—men who could produce full-voiced adult sounds in the soprano and alto ranges. The castrato voice soon entered opera, dominating that form in the 18th century and falling out of use in the 19th.

Singing technique in the bel canto era was grounded in using the breath to regulate the intensity of sound and in the thorough knowledge of the different registers of the voice. In the 19th century larger concert halls and, eventually, new aesthetic goals, led to modifications in bel canto technique. Seeking to produce sounds that would fill large halls and balance the volume of expanded orchestras, teachers such as the Polish tenor Jean de Reszke and the Spaniard Manuel García (1805-1906) developed new techniques to increase vocal resonance. In the late 19th century composers such as the German Richard Wagner demanded heavier vocal colours: New vocal categories such as “dramatic soprano” and Heldentenor (German, “heroic tenor”) emerged.


Singers in early 20th-century music-hall revues and operettas drew on operatic singing techniques. The invention of the microphone enabled a soft, intimate vocal tone to be amplified and projected into a large hall, thus making possible the art of crooners such as the American Bing Crosby and torch singers such as Morgana King. By the 1920s and 1930s Afro-American vocal colours had become prominent through blues and jazz singing, but as late as the 1940s and 1950s white popular singers continued to reflect European classical roots. By the 1960s, however, American and British popular singing styles were permeated with Afro-American and Appalachian folk music traits. In concert music, composers experimented with styles such as Sprechstimme (intoned speech with melodic contours), as well as with whispers, shouts, rough sounds, and other vocal colours formerly excluded from Western art singing.



Speech and Speech Disorders


Speech and Speech Disorders. Speech is a learned system of communication requiring the coordinated use of voice, articulation, and language skills. Although many animals are physiologically able to use the voice for communicating a wide range of simple messages to others of their species, only humans are able to produce true speech (as opposed to the skills in speech mimicry of such birds as parrots and mynae). In a broad sense, speech is synonymous with language.


Voice, or phonation, is the sound produced in the voice box, or larynx, by the expiration of air through vibrating vocal cords. Voice is defined in terms of pitch, quality, and intensity, or loudness. Optimum pitch, which means the most appropriate pitch for speaking, varies with each individual. Both optimum pitch and range of pitch are fundamentally determined by the length and mass of the vocal cords; within these limits, pitch may be varied by changing the combination of air pressure and tension of the vocal cords. This combination determines the frequency at which the vocal cords vibrate; the greater the frequency of vibration, the higher the pitch.

Another aspect of voice is resonance. After voice is produced, it is resonated in the chest, throat, and cavities of the mouth. The quality of the voice is determined by resonance and the manner in which the vocal cords vibrate; intensity is controlled by resonance and by the strength of the vibrations of the vocal cords.


Articulation refers to the speech sounds that are produced to form the words of language. The articulating mechanism comprises the lips, tongue, teeth, jaw, and palate. Speech is articulated by interrupting or shaping both the vocalized and unvocalized airstream through movement of the tongue, lips, lower jaw, and soft palate. The teeth are used to produce some specific speech sounds.


Language is an arbitrary system of abstract symbols agreed upon by any group of people to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Symbols may be verbal or non-verbal, that is, either spoken or written; additionally, non-verbal symbols may be gestures and body movements (See also Sign Language). In spoken language the skills of articulation are used; in written language, spelling is substituted for articulation. Both auditory and visual skills are essential to the comprehension and expression of language.

Rate and rhythm should also be considered in the evaluation of speech. Connected speech should not be so rapid or so slow that it interferes with comprehension. Rhythm is judged mostly in terms of fluency. Good or so-called normal speech cannot be exactly measured or described, however; it can be judged essentially only as it seems to be suitable for the sex, size, age, personality, and needs of the speaker.


Because speech is a learned function, any interference with learning ability may be expected to cause a speech impairment. The most common interfering conditions are certain neuroses and psychoses, mental retardation, and brain damage, whether congenital or acquired. Articulation itself may be impaired by such physical disabilities as cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or loss of hearing; it may likewise deteriorate as a result of paralysis of any part of the articulating mechanism. Impairment may also be the consequence of unconscious imitation of poor speech models or inadequate perception of auditory stimuli.

Voice disorders, so-called dysphonias, may be the product of disease or accidents that affect the larynx. They may also be caused by such physical anomalies as incomplete development or other congenital defects of the vocal cords. The most frequent cause, however, is chronic abuse of the vocal apparatus, either by overuse or by improper production of the voice; this may result in such pathological changes as growths on or thickening and swelling of the vocal cords.

Disorders of rate and rhythm are generally either psychogenic or have a basis in some neurological disturbance. A notable example of a neurological condition is Parkinson’s disease.


A speech therapist is a specialist who has been trained to diagnose and treat the various disorders of speech, language, and voice. Because physical, neurological, or psychological conditions often are either responsible for or are related to the speech disorder, the therapist often works as a member of a team, which may include a neurologist, an otolaryngologist (ear and throat specialist), a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychiatric social worker, and a speech pathologist.

Speech disorders caused by disease, injury, or malformation fall within the province of the doctor and surgeon. Once these defects are remedied, the speech therapist is responsible for teaching the speech-handicapped person to hear and monitor speech accurately, to think appropriately in verbal terms, and to exercise control over speech disordered by incoordination or emotional influences.

Inasmuch as a hearing loss (see Deafness) will prevent learning by imitation of essential speech patterns and sounds and prevent the individual from monitoring his or her own errors, one of the therapist’s most valuable techniques is the measurement of hearing. Because intellectual capacity and the ability to handle language are closely related, the therapist must also understand how intelligence develops in a young child. The most obvious emotional speech disorder is stuttering, which is often caused by anxiety. The speech therapist uses a programme of speech exercise to reduce this disability. Where necessary, the aid of a psychologist is enlisted; in extreme cases, a psychiatrist assists with psychotherapy.




Phonetics, a branch of linguistics concerned with the production, transmission, and perception of speech sounds. The main field of study is articulatory phonetics but other fields are experimental phonetics and acoustic phonetics. Basic phonetic principles are often applied to other linguistics disciplines, including sociolinguistics (for example, when variations in pronunciation according to social motivations are studied) and historical linguistics (for example, when pronunciation changes are investigated).


This describes speech sounds genetical, that is, with respect to the ways by which the vocal organs modify the air stream in the mouth, nose, and throat in order to produce a sound. Articulatory phonetics usually takes into account the following factors when describing a sound: air flow, vocal cords, the position of the soft palate, place of articulation, the manner of articulation, the position of the lips. All the vocal activities involved in a sound need not be described, but only a selection of them, such as the place and manner of articulation. Sounds are represented by phonetic symbols and their articulatory definitions. These are abbreviated descriptions of the selected activities taking place during the production of a certain sound. The symbols most commonly used are those adopted by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and they are written in square brackets “[k]” (phonemic symbols are written between oblique strokes “/k/”). Diacritics can be added to denote, for example, place of articulation.

The organs of articulation are either movable or stationary. Movable organs such as lips, jaws, tongue, soft palate, or vocal cords are called articulators. Stationary parts include the teeth, the alveolar arch and behind them, the hard palate.

A Air Flow

During the production of a sound, the flow of air (in or out of the lungs) determines the type of sound produced. Most speech sounds are made using pulmonic egressive air (air flowing out of the lungs). However, some languages use sounds that do not involve pulmonic (lung) air. These include the click sounds of the Khoisan languages, and glottalic sounds (where the glottis controls the air flow) common in African and Native American languages.

B Vocal Cords

A sound is also affected by the action of the vocal cords, which can vibrate (or not) during sound production. The vocal cords are located in the larynx. A sound is labelled voiced if the vocal cords are vibrating, and unvoiced or voiceless when the absence of vibration (where the cords stay in an open position) is noted. The contrast between a voiced and voiceless sound can be seen in the difference between [b] and [p]. Another action in the vocal cord area is that of a closed glottis (the vocal cords are tightly closed), used in the production of a glottal stop (as in, for example, the “dropped” [t] sound in Cockney English butter).

C Soft Palate

The position of the soft palate (or velum) during the production of a sound determines whether that sound is nasal or oral. When the soft palate is lowered the air is allowed to pass through the nose thus producing a nasal sound (as in English [n]). If the soft palate is raised the air flows out through the mouth, producing an oral sound (as in most English consonants and all English vowels). Air can also flow out through both the nasal and oral cavities when the velum is lowered. This is done during the production of nasal vowels as in the vowel in French bon.

D Place of Articulation

The lips, teeth and hard palate are all places of articulation: the point at which a sound is produced. Sounds made by touching two articulators, for example, the bilabial [p], which requires both lips, or those made by an articulator and a stationary part of the vocal apparatus, are named according to the organs that make the juncture. Reference to the tongue, when it is an articulator, is not expressed; for example, the [t] sound, which is produced when the tongue touches the alveolar ridge, is called alveolar because this is the place of articulation. The hard palate is the place of articulation in the palatal semivowel sound [j], as in the first sound of English yes.

E Manner of Articulation

The manner of articulation is determined by the way in which the speaker affects the air stream with his or her movable organs. This action may consist of stopping the air completely (plosive, for example, [p]); making contact with the tongue but leaving space on either side of it (lateral, for example, [l]); making merely a momentary light contact (flap, as in the Spanish “r” in pero); leaving just enough space to allow a continuing stream of air to produce friction as it passes through (fricative, for example, [f] or [s]); or permitting the air stream to pass over the centre of the tongue without oral friction (vocal: all vowel sounds).

Vowels of different quality are produced by varying the position of the tongue on its vertical axis (high, mid, low) and on its horizontal axis (front, central, back). The speaker may move the tongue gradually upwards and to the front or upwards and to the back, making diphthongal off-glides. For example, a speaker moves the tongue from low to high in pronouncing the first two vowels of Aïda, and from back to front in pronouncing successively the vowel sounds in “who” and “he”. The tongue positions for the vowel sounds [i:] (as in flee), [a] (as in northern UK English cat), [u:] (as in root), and [ ] (as in pot) are the highest and lowest cardinal points on the left and right of the Cardinal Vowel system quadrangle, a framework of vowels at fixed points that can be used as a starting point to determine where an individual speaker’s vowel sounds lie. The vowel sound is known as schwa (as in the first vowel sound in English ago) has the most central position.

When the speaker gives a strong puff of air after the contact, this is called aspiration. If the hand is placed on the lips, aspiration may be observed in the [ph] sound produced at the beginning of the word pie in English (note that a superscript h is used to represent the quality of aspiration when transcribing sounds). In contrast, French [p] sounds characteristically lack aspiration.

F Position of the Lips

The position of the lips is used to describe some sounds, particularly vowels. The quality of a vowel depends on whether the speaker keeps the lips rounded or unrounded and the degree to which the lips are open or closed (using the jaw). The tip of the tongue can also affect vowel quality, as it can be flat or curled up (retroflex, as in some South Asian languages).


Also referred to as Instrumental Phonetics, this is the physical science that collects measurable data about the production of vocal sounds by recording and analysing speech and vocal organs using instruments such as the kymograph, which traces curves of pressure; the spectrograph, which analyses sound waves and represents them visually; the oscilloscope, which has a function similar to a spectrograph but is technologically more advanced; and the X-ray, which allows physiological study. The amount of detail in the measurement of vocal sounds is limited only by the precision of the instrument. Differences are found in every vocal sound.


This is the study of the physical properties of speech, that is, speech waves as the output of a resonator (the resonator being the vocal tract coupled with other sources). Sound waves are closer than articulations to the essence of communication, for the same auditory impression can be produced by a normal articulation and by an entirely different sound apparatus, like that of parrots. A spectrograph may be used to record significant characteristics of speech waves and to determine the effect of articulatory activities. Parts of this record of speech waves can be cut out experimentally and the rest played back as sound in order to determine which features suffice to identify the sounds of a language.


This is a study of the sounds of speech in their primary function, which is to make vocal signs that refer to different things sound different. It is the focus of the branch of linguistics called phonology, although phonetic analysis contributes to this study. The phonemes of a particular language are those minimal distinct units of sound that can distinguish meaning in that language. In English, the p sound is a phoneme because it is the smallest unit of sound that can make a difference of meaning if, for example, it replaces the initial sound of “bill”, “till”, or “dill”, making the word “pill”. The vowel sound of “pill” is also a phoneme because its distinctness in sound makes “pill”, which means one thing, sound different from “pal”, which means another. Two different sounds, reflecting distinct articulatory activities, may represent two phonemes in one language but only a single phoneme in another. Thus phonetic [r] and [l] are distinct phonemes in English, whereas these sounds represent a single phoneme in Japanese, just as [ph] and [p] in “pie” and “spy”, respectively, represent a single phoneme in English although these sounds are phonetically distinct.


Phonetics is one of the oldest branches of linguistics. The earliest contributions to phonetics were made more than 2,000 years ago by Sanskrit scholars such as the grammarian Panini, who dealt with articulation to keep the pronunciation of ancient rituals unchanged. The first phonetician of the modern world was the Dane J. Matthias, author of De Litteris (1586). The English mathematician John Wallis, who instructed deaf-mutes, was the first (1653) to classify vowels according to their place of articulation. The vowel triangle, the precursor to the quadrangle, was invented in 1781 by the German C. F. Hellwag. The Cardinal Vowel system was laid out by the British phonetician Daniel Jones. Ten years later, the Austrian mechanician Wolfgang von Kempelen invented the machine that produced speech sounds. The German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, who wrote Sensations of Tone (1863), inaugurated the study of acoustical phonetics; the Frenchman Abbé Jean Pierre Rousselot was a pioneer of experimental phonetics. Late in the 19th century, the theory of the phoneme was advanced by the Pole Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and the Swiss Ferdinand de Saussure. In the United States, the linguist Leonard Bloomfield and the anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir contributed greatly to phonetic theory. The linguist Roman Jakobson developed a theory of the universal characteristics of all phonemic systems.

See also Language.


English Language


English Language, chief medium of communication of people in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and numerous other countries. It is the official language of many nations in the Commonwealth of Nations and is widely understood and used in all of them. It is spoken in more parts of the world than any other language and by more people than any other tongue except Mandarin Chinese.

English belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group within the western branch of the Germanic languages, a subfamily of the Indo-European languages. It is related most closely to the Frisian language, to a lesser extent to Netherlandic (Dutch-Flemish) and the Low German (Plattdeutsch) dialects, and more distantly to Modern High German. Its parent, Proto-Indo-European, was spoken around 5,000 years ago by nomads who are thought to have roamed the south-eastern European plains.


The English vocabulary has increased greatly in more than 1,500 years of development. The most nearly complete dictionary of the language, the Oxford English Dictionary (13 vols., 1933), a revised edition of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (10 vols., 1884-1933; supplements), contains 500,000 words. It has been estimated, however, that the present English vocabulary consists of more than 1 million words, including slang and dialect expressions and scientific and technical terms, many of which only came into use in the middle of the 20th century. The latest edition of the New Oxford Dictionary of English was published in 1998, after 6 years’ revision by a team of 30 editors. The publication caused much controversy as it describes how people speak English today, rather than how prescriptivists believe English should be used. It contains over 2,000 new words, including such 1990s phenomena as Prozac, Tamagotchi, and eye candy; new guidelines for acceptable usage are also included, such as the non-sexist generic singular pronoun they.

The English vocabulary is more extensive than that of any other language in the world, although some other languages—Chinese, for example—have a word-building capacity equal to that of English. It is approximately half Germanic (Old English and Scandinavian) and half Italic or Romance (French and Latin) and extensive, constant borrowing from every major language, especially from Latin, Greek, French, and the Scandinavian languages, and from numerous minor languages, accounts for the great number of words in the English vocabulary. From Old English have come cardinal and ordinal numbers, personal pronouns, and numerous nouns and adjectives; from French have come intellectual and abstract terms, as well as terms of rank and status, such as duke, marquis, and baron. In addition, certain processes have led to the creation of many new words as well as to the establishment of patterns for further expansion. Among these processes are onomatopoeia, or the imitation of natural sounds, which has created such words as burp and clink; affixation, or the addition of prefixes and suffixes, either native, such as mis- and -ness, or borrowed, such as ex- and -ist; the combination of parts of words, such as in branch, composed of parts of breakfast and lunch; the free formation of compounds, such as bonehead and downpour; back formation, or the formation of words from previously existing words, the forms of which suggest that the later words were derived from the earlier ones—for example, to jell, formed from jelly; and functional change, or the use of one part of speech as if it were another, for example, the noun shower used as a verb, to shower. The processes that have probably added the largest number of words are affixation and especially functional change, which is facilitated by the peculiarities of English syntactical structure.


English is said to have one of the most difficult spelling systems in the world. The written representation of English is not phonetically exact for two main reasons. First, the spelling of words has changed to a lesser extent than their sounds; for example, the k in knife and the gh in right were formerly pronounced (see Middle English Period below). Second, certain spelling conventions acquired from foreign sources have been perpetuated; for example, during the 16th century the b was inserted in doubt (formerly spelled doute) on the authority of dubitare, the Latin source of the word. Outstanding examples of discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation are the six different pronunciations of ough, as in bough, cough, thorough, thought, through, and rough; the spellings are kept from a time when the gh represented a back fricative consonant that was pronounced in these words. Other obvious discrepancies are the 14 different spellings of the sh sound, for example, as in anxious, fission, fuchsia, and ocean.


Theoretically, the spelling of phonemes, the simplest sound elements used to distinguish one word from another, should indicate precisely the sound characteristics of the language. For example, in English, at contains two phonemes, mat three, and mast four. Very frequently, however, the spelling of English words does not conform to the number of phonemes. Enough, for example, which has four phonemes (enuf), is spelled with six letters, as is breath, which also has four phonemes (breθ) and six letters. See Phonetics.

The main vowel phonemes in English include those represented by the italicized letters in the following words: bit, beat, bet, bate, bat, but, botany, bought, boat, boot, book, and burr. These phonemes are distinguished from one another by the position of articulation in the mouth. Four vowel sounds, or complex nuclei, of English, are diphthongs formed by gliding from a low position of articulation to a higher one. These diphthongs are the i of bite (a glide from o of botany to ea of beat), the ou of bout (from o of botany to oo of boot), the oy of boy (from ou of bought to ea of beat), and the u of butte (from ea of beat to oo of boot). The exact starting point and ending point of the glide vary within the English-speaking world.


Other ways of differentiating meaning in English, apart from the pronunciation of distinct vowels and consonants, are stress, pitch, and juncture. Stress is the sound difference achieved by pronouncing one syllable more forcefully than another, for example, the difference between ‘record (noun) and re’cord (verb). Pitch is, for example, the difference between the pronunciation of John and John? Juncture or disjuncture of words causes such differences in sound as that created by the pronunciation of blackbird (one word) and black bird (two words). English employs four degrees of stress and four kinds of juncture for differentiating words and phrases.


Modern English is a relatively uninflected language. Nouns have separate endings only in the possessive case and the plural number. Verbs have both a strong conjugation—shown in older words—with internal vowel change, for example, sing, sang, sung, and a weak conjugation with dental suffixes indicating past tense, as in play, played. The latter is the predominant type. Only 66 verbs of the strong type are in use; newer verbs invariably follow the weak pattern. The third person singular has an -s ending, as in does. The structure of English verbs is thus fairly simple, compared with that of verbs in similar languages, and includes only a few other endings, such as -ing or -en; but verb structure does involve the use of numerous auxiliaries such as have, can, may, or must. Monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives are inflected for degree of comparison, such as larger or happiest; other adjectives express the same distinction by compounding with more and most. Pronouns, the most heavily inflected parts of speech in English, have objective case forms, such as me or her, in addition to the nominative (I, he, we) and possessive forms (my, his, hers, our).


Although many grammarians still cling to the Graeco-Latin tradition of dividing words into eight parts of speech, efforts have recently been made to reclassify English words on a different basis. The American linguist Charles Carpenter Fries, in his work The Structure of English (1952), divided most English words into four great form classes that generally correspond to the noun, verb, adjective, and adverb in the standard classification. He classified 154 other words as function words, or words that connect the main words of a sentence and show their relations to one another. In the standard classification, many of these function words are considered pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions; others are considered adverbs, adjectives, or verbs.


Three main stages are usually recognized in the history of the development of the English language. Old English, known formerly as Anglo-Saxon, dates from ad 449 to 1066 or 1100. Middle English dates from 1066 or 1100 to 1450 or 1500. Modern English dates from about 1450 or 1500 and is subdivided into Early Modern English, from about 1500 to 1660, and Late Modern English, from about 1660 to the present time.

A Old English Period

Old English, a variant of West Germanic, was spoken by certain Germanic peoples (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) of the regions comprising present-day southern Denmark and northern Germany who invaded Britain in the 5th century ad; the Jutes were the first to arrive, in 449, according to tradition. Settling in Britain (the Jutes in Kent, southern Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight; the Saxons in the part of England south of the Thames; and the Angles in the rest of England as far north as the Firth of Forth), the invaders drove the indigenous Celtic-speaking peoples, notably the Britons, to the north and west. As time went on, Old English evolved further from the original Continental form, and regional dialects developed. The four major dialects recognized in Old English are Kentish, originally the dialect spoken by the Jutes; West Saxon, a branch of the dialect spoken by the Saxons; and Northumbrian and Mercian, subdivisions of the dialects spoken by the Angles. By the 9th century, partly through the influence of Alfred, king of the West Saxons and the first ruler of all England, West Saxon became prevalent in prose literature. The Latin works of St Augustine, St Gregory, and the Venerable Bede were translated, and the native poetry of Northumbria and Mercia were transcribed in the West Saxon dialect. A Mercian mixed dialect, however, was preserved for the greatest poetry, such as the anonymous 8th-century epic poem Beowulf and the contemporary elegiac poems.

Old English was an inflected language characterized by strong and weak verbs; a dual number for pronouns (for example, a form for “we two” as well as “we”), two different declensions of adjectives, four declensions of nouns, and grammatical distinctions of gender. These infections meant that word order was much freer than in the language today. There were two tenses: present-future and past. Although rich in word-building possibilities, Old English was sparse in vocabulary. It borrowed few proper nouns from the language of the conquered Celts, primarily those such as Aberdeen (“mouth of the Dee”) and Inchcape (“island cape”) that describe geographical features. Scholars believe that ten common nouns in Old English are of Celtic origin; among these are bannock, cart, down, and mattock. Although other Celtic words not preserved in literature may have been in use during the Old English period, most Modern English words of Celtic origin, that is, those derived from Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, or Irish, are comparatively recent borrowings.

The number of Latin words, many of them derived from the Greek, which was introduced during the Old English period has been estimated at 140. Typical of these words are the altar, mass, priest, psalm, temple, kitchen, palm, and pear. A few were probably introduced through the Celtic; others were brought to Britain by the Germanic invaders, who previously had come into contact with Roman culture. By far the largest number of Latin words was introduced as a result of the spread of Christianity. Such words included not only ecclesiastical terms but many others of less specialized significance.

About 40 Scandinavian (Old Norse) words were introduced into Old English by the Norsemen, or Vikings, who invaded Britain periodically from the late 8th century onwards. Introduced first were words pertaining to the sea and battle, but shortly after the initial invasions other words used in the Scandinavian social and administrative system—for example, the word law—entered the language, as well as the verb form are and such widely used words as taking, cut, both, ill, and ugly.

B Middle English Period

At the beginning of the Middle English period, which dates from the Norman Conquest of 1066, the language was still inflectional; at the end of the period, the relationship between the elements of the sentence depended basically on word order. As early as 1200 the three or four grammatical case forms of nouns in the singular had been reduced to two, and to denote the plural the noun ending -es had been adopted.

The declension of the noun was simplified further by dropping the final n from five cases of the fourth, or weak, declension; by neutralizing all vowel endings to e (sounded like the a in Modern English sofa), and by extending the masculine, nominative, and accusative plural ending -as, later neutralized also to -es, to other declensions and other cases. Only one example of a weak plural ending, oxen, survives in Modern English; kine and brethren are later formations. Several representatives of the Old English modification of the root vowel in the plural, such as man, men, and foot, feet, also survive.

With the levelling of inflections, the distinctions of grammatical gender in English were replaced by those of natural gender. During this period the dual number fell into disuse, and the dative and accusative of pronouns were reduced to a common form. Furthermore, the Scandinavian they, them were substituted for the original hie, hem of the third person plural, and who, which, and that acquired their present relative functions. The conjugation of verbs was simplified by the omission of endings and by the use of a common form of the singular and plural of the past tense of strong verbs.

In the early period of Middle English, a number of utilitarian words, such as egg, sky, sister, window, and get, came into the language from Old Norse. The Normans brought other additions to the vocabulary. Before 1250 about 900 new words had appeared in English, mainly words, such as baron, noble, and feast, that the Anglo-Saxon lower classes required in their dealings with the Norman-French nobility. Eventually, the Norman nobility and clergy, although they had learned English, introduced from the French words pertaining to the government, the Church, the army, and the fashions of the court, in addition to others proper to the arts, scholarship, and medicine. Another effect of the Norman Conquest was the use of Carolingian script and a change in spelling. Norman scribes write Old English y as u and ū as ou. Cw was changed to qu, hw to wh, and ht to ght.

Midland, the dialect of Middle English derived from the Mercian dialect of Old English, became important during the 14th century, when the counties in which it was spoken developed into centres of university, economic, and courtly life. East Midland, one of the subdivisions of Midland, had by that time become the speech of the entire metropolitan area of the capital, London, and probably had spread south of the River Thames into Kent and Surrey. The influence of East Midland was strengthened by its use in the government offices of London, by its literary dissemination in the works of the 14th-century poets Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and John Lydgate, and ultimately by its adoption for printed works by William Caxton. These and other circumstances gradually contributed to the direct development of the East Midland dialect into the Modern English language.

During the period of this linguistic transformation, the other Middle English dialects continued to exist, and dialects descending from them are still spoken in the 21st century. Lowland Scottish, for example, is a development of the Northern dialect.

C The Great Vowel Shift

The transition from Middle English to Modern English was marked by a major change in the pronunciation of vowels during the 15th and 16th centuries. This change, termed the Great Vowel Shift by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen, consisted of a shift in the articulation of vowels with respect to the positions assumed by the tongue and the lips. The Great Vowel Shift changed the pronunciation of 18 of the 20 distinctive vowels and diphthongs of Middle English. Spelling, however, remained unchanged and was preserved from then on as a result of the advent of printing in England in about 1475, during the shift. (In general, Middle English orthography was much more phonetic than Modern English; all consonants, for example, were pronounced, whereas now letters such as the l preserved in walking are silent).

All long vowels, with the exception of /i:/ (pronounced in Middle English somewhat like ee in need) and /u:/ (pronounced in Middle English like oo in food), came to be pronounced with the jaw position one degree higher. Pronounced previously in the highest possible position, the /i:/ became diphthongized to “ah-ee”, and the /u:/ to “ee-oo”. The Great Vowel Shift, which is still in progress, caused the pronunciation in English of the letters a, e, i, o, and u to differ from that used in most other languages of Western Europe. The approximate date when words were borrowed from other languages can be ascertained by means of these and other sound changes. Thus it is known that the old French word dame was borrowed before the shift, since its vowel shifted with the Middle English /e:/ from a pronunciation like that of the vowel in calm to that of the vowel in name.

D Modern English Period

In the early part of the Modern English period the vocabulary was enlarged by the widespread use of one part of speech for another and by increased borrowings from other languages. The revival of interest in Latin and Greek during the Renaissance brought new words into English from those languages. Other words were introduced by English travellers and merchants after their return from journeys to continental Europe. From Italian came cameo, stanza, and violin; from Spanish and Portuguese, alligator, peccadillo, and sombrero. During its development, Modern English borrowed words from more than 50 different languages.

In the late 17th century and during the 18th century, certain important grammatical changes occurred. The formal rules of English grammar were established during that period. The pronoun it came into use, replacing the genitive form his, which was the only form used by the translators of the King James Bible (1611). The progressive tenses developed from the use of the participle as a noun preceded by the preposition on; the preposition gradually weakened to a and finally disappeared. Thereafter only the simple ing form of the verb remained in use. After the 18th century, this process of development culminated in the creation of the progressive passive form, for example, “The job is being done”.

The most important development begun during this period and continued without interruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries concerned vocabulary. As a result of the colonial expansion, notably in North America but also in other areas of the world, many new words entered the English language. From the indigenous peoples of North America, the words raccoon and wigwam were borrowed; from Peru, llama, and quinine; from the Caribbean, barbecue and cannibal; from Africa, chimpanzee and zebra; from India, bandanna, curry, and punch; and from Australia, kangaroo and boomerang. In addition, thousands of scientific terms were developed to denote new concepts, discoveries, and inventions. Many of these terms, such as neutron, penicillin, and supersonic, were formed from Greek and Latin roots; others were borrowed from modern languages, as with blitzkrieg from German and sputnik from Russian.

E Present-Day English

In Great Britain there exists an accent that is not region-specific, known as Received Pronunciation (RP). A class dialect rather than a regional dialect (it used to be exclusively associated with the educated and rich), it is based on the type of speech cultivated at public schools and at such older universities as Oxford and Cambridge. Many English people who speak regional dialects in their childhood acquire Received Pronunciation while attending school and university. Its influence became even stronger in the recent past because of its use by public media such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (RP is also known as “BBC English”).

RP is not intrinsically superior to other varieties of English and is, itself, only one particular accent with its own system of phonological rules (just as, say, Scouse, which has an equally valid set of rules). RP is estimated to be spoken by less than 4 percent of the population of Great Britain.

Widely differing regional and local dialects are still employed in the various counties of Great Britain. Other important regional dialects have also developed; for example, the English language in Ireland has retained certain individual characteristics of pronunciation, such as the pronunciation of lave for leave and fluther for flutter; certain syntactical characteristics, such as the use of after following forms of the verb be; and certain differences in vocabulary, including the use of archaic words such as adown (for down) and Celtic borrowings such as banshee. The Lowland Scottish language, sometimes called Scots, first made known throughout the English-speaking world by the songs of the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, contains differences in pronunciation also, such as neebour (“neighbour”) and guid (“good”), and words of Scandinavian origin peculiar to the dialect, such as braw and bairn that have influenced the English spoken in Scotland. Australian English, with its marked diphthongization of vowels, also makes use of special words, retained from English regional dialect usages, or taken over from indigenous Australian terms.

F American English

An important development of English outside Great Britain occurred with the colonization of North America. American English may be considered to include the English spoken in Canada, although the Canadian variety retains some features of British pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary. The most distinguishing differences between American English and British English are in pronunciation and vocabulary. There are slighter differences in spelling, pitch, and stress as well. Written American English also has a tendency to be more rigid in matters of grammar and syntax, but at the same time appears to be more tolerant of the use of neologisms. Despite these differences, it is often difficult to determine—apart from context—whether serious literary works have been written in Great Britain or the United States/Canada—or, for that matter, in Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.

G English Around the World

Since the mid 20th century, the English language has become so widespread it is often considered the world language. The fast spread of English was facilitated by a number of factors, including the dominance of the United States as a world power and the remnants of British colonial power around the world. Nowadays, the English spoken around the world is quite different from that spoken in the UK where it originated, with many different varieties existing and evolving across the globe. The majority of World English speakers use English as a second or third language, and live in an environment where multilingualism is the norm, although English may be the official language. In many countries, including Singapore and Nigeria, English is the main language of instruction in schools (especially after primary education level) and is used in business and other official transactions. Just as UK English differs from US English, Indian English, Singaporean English, Nigerian English, and others are all varieties of English that have individual syntactic, lexical, and phonological systems, often influenced by the other languages in daily use. In fact some of these varieties are so distinct that some linguists suggest that they are separate, although related, languages.

H Basic English

A simplified form of the English language based on 850 keywords was developed in the late 1920s by the English psychologist Charles Kay Ogden and publicized by the English educator I. A. Richards. Known as Basic English, it was used mainly to teach English to non-English-speaking people and promoted as an international language. The complexities of English spelling and grammar, however, were major hindrances to the adoption of Basic English as a second language.

The fundamental principle of Basic English was that any idea, however complex, may be reduced to simple units of thought and expressed clearly by a limited number of everyday words. The 850-word primary vocabulary was composed of 600 nouns (representing things or events), 150 adjectives (for qualities and properties), and 100 general “operational” words, mainly verbs and prepositions. Almost all the words were in common use in English-speaking countries; more than 60 percent were one-syllable words. The abbreviated vocabulary was created in part by eliminating numerous synonyms and by extending the use of 18 “basic” verbs, such as make, get, do, have, and be. These verbs were generally combined with prepositions, such as up, among, under, in, and forward. For example, a Basic English student would use the expression “go up” instead of “ascend”.

I Pidgin English

English also enters into a number of simplified languages that arose among non-English-speaking peoples. Chinese Pidgin English, spoken in the Melanesian islands, New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii and on the Asian shores of the Pacific Ocean, developed as a means of communication between Chinese and English traders. The Chinese adopted many English words and a few indispensable non-English words and created a means of discourse, using a simple grammatical apparatus. Chinook Jargon, used by a small number of Canadians and North Americans contains English, French, and Native American words; its grammatical structure is based on that of the Chinook language. West African Pidgin English (WAPE) is spoken in various West African countries (from Gambia to Cameroon). It is mutually intelligible across some of these countries and has become a creole in some areas. WAPE arose in the 16th century through contact between West Africans and English traders.


The influence of the mass media appears likely to result in a more standardized pronunciation, more uniform spelling, and eventually a spelling closer to actual pronunciation. Despite the likelihood of such standardization, a unique feature of the English language remains its tendency to grow and change. Despite the warnings of linguistic purists, new words are constantly being coined and usages modified to express new concepts—change is inherent in language so this is an infinite process that can never be halted. The vocabulary of the English language is constantly enriched by linguistic borrowings, particularly by cross-fertilizations from American English. Global media, the Internet, and ever-improving technology are just some of the reasons why English is fast becoming a world language, but as predictions about language are very difficult to make, this situation could easily change very quickly.