The English language today is spoken by several hundred million people in five continents. It functions in different kinds of societies as a mother-tongue, a second language, a vehicle of officialdom, a medium of education, and as a language for science, business, and commerce. It is also used widely as a lingua franca-a language used among people who have no other tongue in common-and in some areas it has provided a base for pidgins and creoles. It is spoken by people who also use two or three or even more languages in the course of their daily lives, and it has come to symbolise many different and often sensitive issues and institutions in different areas: education, literacy, social mobility, economic advancement, Christianity, and colonial dominance.
These facts are often forgotten by people in England, most of whom tend to associate English with British nationality (the latter is sometimes even defined by it). And since they expect to spend their lives speaking only English it comes as a shock to learn that in other societies quite ordinary and unexceptional people need to be bilingual. When we look at English across the world today we find therefore that it varies enormously in accordance with its wide range of functions, and because it bears the imprints of the languages with which it has made contact. This is something that has also characterised its past-a fact that could be borne in mind when we consider the Asian, West Indian, African, and European languages and dialects that are spoken by schoolchildren in towns and cities of the United Kingdom.
So great is the variation in English that it is often difficult to say whether a certain variety in one place or another should be called English or not. But the demarcation of languages is a perennial problem in linguistics because there is no sure way of determining, on purely linguistic grounds, where one language ends and another begins. In reality there are only linguistic continua: different varieties of English shade off into each other, as English shades off into other languages. It is up
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Publication information: Book title: A Social History of English. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: Dick Leith - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 1.
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