Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, a language of unpromising origins and absurd spelling has turned into the most widely used language of all time, the true "lingua franca" of the modern age. Even a venerable member of the Académie Française (sworn enemy of anglicisms) once remarked: "To speak English is a necessity; to speak French is a privilege."
We usually think of English as the native tongue of a large percentage of North Americans, of most of the inhabitants of the British Isles, of the Australians and New Zealanders, and of many South Africans. But it is also the official language of a goodly number of improbable countries in Africa (including the most populous of them, Nigeria), in the Caribbean and even in Asia (e.g. Singapore). In spite of its "official" status, the English spoken in many of these countries is decidedly a "second" language of convenience used to unite peoples otherwise divided by local ethnicities and languages, "secondary" to the point of being barely intelligible to the occasional anglophone visitor. Of course, it is not necessary to go to Africa to experience such embarrassment: it is sufficient to travel to certain areas of the north of England, especially Yorkshire!
English's role as "lingua franca" is also fascinating. The author has heard southern Indians speaking in English to northern Indians; evidently, such people are more comfortable in English than in Hindi. If a Korean businessman goes to China, he doesn't use an Asian language, but English.
English does not recognize any central authority: attempts during the centuries to set up an academy similar to the French one, or even to make radical simplifications of the orthography, have had little success; and perhaps it is this vaguely anarchical flexibility which has allowed the language to prosper everywhere. English does not hesitate to borrow foreign expressions, often using them inappropriately, or to invent new words as required.
There are wide variations in accent among the various English-speaking areas of the world. In the "older" countries the differences can be heard at a distance of just a few kilometres (e.g. between one English village and the next), while in "younger" countries like Australia one can travel for thousands of kilometres without noticing regional differences. It is true that all over the world there are local terms, but there are no longer any, or many, real dialects except in areas, such as parts of Louisiana, which have had an unusual history. In the United States, there are "black" forms of speech which are so far removed from "standard" English as to seem like dialects. Those who use them can usually exaggerate or attenuate them according to the requirements of the moment.
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