views updated Jun 27 2018


LOCATION: United Kingdom ( England)
POPULATION: 50.7 million, out of a total UK population of 60.7 million
RELIGION: Church of England; Protestant; Jewish; Sikh; Hindu; and Muslim


While the English in large part share their national origins with the peoples of continental Europe, their outlook has always been colored by the fact that they live on an island. The surrounding seas have given England a security unknown to other European countries. No one has successfully invaded Britain since the Norman Conquest of 1066, although others have tried-notably the Spanish in 1588, the French in 1805, and the Germans in 1940-but English defenses were aided by the natural barrier formed by the English Channel and the North Sea.

The area that is now called England was first united by the Romans in the 1st century ad. When they withdrew (ad 410), the area was settled by Germanic tribes from continental Europe such as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. It is often said that the name "England" is a contraction of "Angle-Land." England was converted to Christianity during the 6th and 7th centuries ad. During the early medieval period, coastal regions were regularly raided by the Vikings, who even came to rule most of the north and east of England. They were ejected by an alliance of nobles, led by the semi-legendary King Alfred.

In 1066, the Normans, from northwestern France, deposed the Anglo-Saxon dynasties, and the new rulers imposed a strong central government with their capital in London. At this point, England's history of expansion into its neighboring countries began. Wales, conquered in the Middle Ages, was incorporated into England in the 16th century. Ireland was first invaded in the 12th century, although it took over 400 years to bring the whole island under English rule. There was recurrent war with Scotland until the time of Henry VIII, but the Scots remained independent until 1603 when the monarchies of the two kingdoms were united. In 1707 Scotland and England were joined politically. From the Middle Ages onward, then, it is difficult to talk about England alone, for its history is inextricably linked to these other nations.

In the 17th century, the first English colonies in America were established. By the mid-19th century, England had become the center of an empire that was eventually to cover a quarter of the globe-28.5 million sq km (11 million sq mi). It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, because it was always daytime in some part of it. Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, ensured that England was also the foremost economic, financial, and political power between the fall of Napoleon and the rise of Germany. At the height of the Empire's power, during the reign of Queen Victoria, England controlled an overseas population that was nearly 100 times larger than its own.

World War I (1914-1918) took an enormous toll on the English in terms of lives, resources, and national confidence. Altogether, the nation suffered over a million casualties, and more than 1 in 10 Englishmen under the age of 45 were killed. Soon after the war, the Empire started to disintegrate when Ireland became self-governing. Crippled economically by World War II (1939-1945), Britain withdrew from India and granted independence to most of the remaining colonies over the next 25 years, although almost all of them chose to remain part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. While England's international role is reduced from what it once was, the country is still prominent in world affairs as a member of the United Nations (with a permanent seat on the Security Council), the Commonwealth, the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).


England is the largest of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. (The others are Scotland and Wales-located, like England, on the island of Britain-and Northern Ireland.) Wales lies to the west of England and Scotland to the north. England is roughly triangular in shape, with a long, irregular coastline. Its varied terrain consists of rugged highlands in the north, flat plains to the east, lowlands and low hills in the south, and moors in the southwest. England's (and the United Kingdom's) capital city is London.

England has a high population density, with 383 people/sq km (992/sq mi), compared with 114 people/sq km (295/sq mi) for France. About 90% of England's people are city dwellers. Ethnically, the English are descended from a mixture of European groups, including Celts and Romans, various Germanic tribes, Vikings, the Norman French, and others. Immigrants from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland have settled in England, as have more recent arrivals from former British colonies in South Asia and the Caribbean.


English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken throughout the United Kingdom and, altogether, by an estimated 500 million to 1.8 billion people worldwide. (There are approximately 300-400 people worldwide who speak English as a first language, and anywhere rom 200 million to 1.4 billion people who speak English as a second language worldwide.) English is the international language of business and politics, too.

Derived from the Germanic tongue of Anglo-Saxon and modified by strong Latin, Greek and French influences, modern English has evolved from Old English-spoken until around ad 1100-and Middle English, which was in use from then until the late 1400s. Just as there are many types of English worldwide, so there are also many different dialects and regional accents throughout England itself; for instance, the speech of a person from Liverpool differs considerably from that of someone from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The "Queen's English," the kind of English that foreigners learn and which BBC newsreaders speak, is a sanitized form of that which is spoken in the southeast of England and London. Furthermore, differences in education and class background can show up between speakers who live in the same region. Class-based speech differences among Londoners were memorably dramatized in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and its musical version, My Fair Lady.

Although Americans speak English, in addition to differences in pronunciation, Americans may have difficulty under
standing the speech of the English because the people of their respective countries refer to many of the same things using different terms. Examples include:

ballpoint penbiro
car hoodbonnet
car trunkboot
phone boothcall box
trucklorr y
baby's diapernappy
baby buggypushchair


England's most famous body of folklore is that made up of the many different tales surrounding the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Particularly well-known are the stories of the disruption caused by the adultery between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, Arthur's favorite knight; Sir Gawain's meeting with the Green Knight; and the search for the Holy Grail. These stories have been retold many times. The earliest version is that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed in 1135, but Sir Thomas Malory's 15th-century book is probably the best-known. T.H. White's The Once and Future King is a very modern view of the legends, as are the many mo-tion pictures (such as Camelot, Excalibur, and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail) that have been made.

Probably the next most famous legends are those of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. They were outlaws who lived in Sherwood Forest near the city of Nottingham during the reign of King John (12th century ad), and were renowned for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Their arch-enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham, who, like King John, got his come-uppance when the legitimate king, Richard I, was restored to the throne. These tales are full of memorable characters like Little John, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and Will Scarlet.

There are many other folk tales, legends, and ghost stories from different parts of England, but their popularity declined after the Industrial Revolution made England more urban than agricultural. However, recent years have seen a revival of interest. Especially noteworthy is the resurgence of the medieval mystery plays. These plays, based upon Biblical stories but incorporating many non-Biblical elements drawn from daily life, were originally performed by ordinary townspeople during religious festivals.


Although there is almost complete freedom of worship in England, church and state are closely intertwined. The Church of England (or Anglican Church) is an established church. England was Roman Catholic until 1534, when Henry VIII broke with Rome and proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church of England. Today, the head of the church is still the reigning monarch who, upon ascending the throne, pledges to uphold the faith. Until the mid-19th century, a person had to be a church member in order to sit in Parliament or attend the prestigious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. There are approximately 13-17 million members of the Church of England, although only 1 million of those attend services each Sunday. Other Protestant sects, including Methodists and Baptists, are also active in England and are called free churches. The Roman Catholic church is still very strong, partly due to the large numbers of Irish immigrants and Polish or Italian refugees who have settled in England. The country also has one of Europe's largest Jewish populations, numbering 300,000, and many cities have recently become home to large Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim immigrant populations.


Most of England's holidays are those found in the Christian calendar. Others include New Year's Day, May Day and the August Bank Holiday. There is also a great deal of pageantry related to the government and the monarchy. The Queen publicly reviews her regiments of Guards-one of the elite forces of the British Army-at the Trooping of the Colour, which celebrates her official birthday in June. The Guards are the soldiers who perform the daily changing of the guard at the Queen's London residence, Buckingham Palace.

The annual State Opening of Parliament has a lot of complex ceremony built into it. For example, the Queen invites members of the House of Commons to come and hear her speech in the chamber of the House of Lords, but her envoy (known as Black Rod) always has the door to the Commons slammed in his face. He is expected to knock on the door and humbly request that the members come to hear the monarch. On the night before the opening of Parliament, the Tower of London guards search the basements of the Houses of Parliament for explosives (a ritual that harks back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a conspiracy to murder King James I as he opened Parliament).

The Gunpowder Plot is also commemorated on Guy Fawkes' Night (November 5) with bonfires, fireworks, and the burning of "guys" (cloth dummies) made from old clothes. Children go from door to door asking their neighbors to give them "a penny for the guy." Chestnuts are roasted in the same bonfire in which the guy is burning. Other historical events are recalled on Remembrance Sunday (the Sunday closest to November 11, the date of the armistice that ended World War I). On this date, the Queen leads a procession of retired soldiers to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall. At eleven o'clock, two minutes of silence are observed all over the country in honor of those who died in both world wars.


England, like the rest of Britain, is a modern, industrialized country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are connected with the education system. Apart from that, getting one's first job, gaining promotion, getting married, having children and retiring in one's sixties are the main signals of change in one's station.


The English are known for their politeness and their respect for law and order. They wait patiently in lines (or, as they call them, "queues") at stores, bus stops, movie theaters, and elsewhere. Hardly anyone dreams of jostling or trying to push ahead of others. Those living in the south are generally more reserved than northerners, who are more likely to greet strangers. The English also pride themselves on their dry humor and are known for their tolerance of other people's views, as well as of eccentric behavior.

It is hard to overstate the importance of class in English society. It has been a long time since England was anything like an absolute monarchy, but the nobility and the landed gentry did enjoy undisputed preeminence in English society until the middle of the 20th century, although the middle classes of businesspeople and industrialists have, for a long time, been far richer. In the 19th and 20th centuries, in fact, middle-class values tended to become the unofficial yardstick by which people's worth was measured. From a different perspective, many of the great philanthropic and reform movements of that time appear to be attempts to make poor people act more like the bourgeoisie. After World War II, many class barriers weakened, as working-class people gained access to better education and hence to better jobs, and society in general became more mobile. In the 1970s and 1980s, the meritocratic views of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister, gained wide popularity, and a new class of "yuppies" was born. That said, the way in which one speaks, the school one attended, one's parents' occupations, and many other things, still tend to place one in some class or another.


In spite of England's high population density, there is less overcrowding than in most European countries. About half the population now lives in dwellings constructed after World War II, usually two-story houses with gardens. More than 80% of England's population live in houses, while the rest occupy apartments (called "flats"). In the 1980s, many tenants were allowed to purchase the low-income housing in which they lived, resulting in a shortage of housing in the low-income rental market. Today, there are a growing number of homeless people in London and England's other major cities.

A comprehensive National Health Service provides health care free, or at reduced rates, to all England's residents. This includes general medical, dental, optical, pharmaceutical, hospital, home health care, and preventive medical services. Average life expectancy in 2007 was 78.7 years. Primary causes of death include cardiovascular disease and cancer. The Department of Health carries out health education campaigns to inform people of the dangers from smoking and the often rather unhealthy English diet. Since 1982, the government has funded measures to control HIV/AIDS, including blood testing and public education.

England's 321,800 km (200,000 mi) of road are its most important means of transportation. Its rail system carries passengers and freight between cities, and high-speed trains provide passenger transport all over the country. England's merchant marine is one of the world's largest and safest. The Channel Tunnel linking England and France boasts the longest tunnel system ever built under water. There are several international airports, and Heathrow in London leads the world in volume of international air traffic.


England's families have gotten smaller over the years. The average household has 2.36 members, compared with 4 at the turn of the 20th century. As housing costs go up and families become more mobile, grandparents often live alone or in retirement homes rather than with the family. An increasing number of couples are living together without being married, and those who marry do so at a later age than previously-26 for men, 24 for women. Often, they try to establish themselves in an occupation or career before they marry and have children. In 2002, approximately 30% of those aged 16 and over were single, with 52% married, 9% per cent widowed, and 8% divorced. The traditional gender roles of men and women are changing both in the home and in the workplace. Equal pay for men and women performing the same work has been the law since 1975.


There is no distinctive national costume for England. The one that is most readily associated with England-a man's dark jacket with striped trousers, bowler hat, and rolled umbrella-is in fact a rather old-fashioned and formal outfit for office-workers, particularly bankers and civil servants. For the most part, the English wear modern Western-style clothing similar to that of people in other industrialized nations. Blue jeans and T-shirts are very popular, heavy coats and mackintoshes (raincoats) and warm woolen clothes are required for the climate's cold, damp winters. Perhaps the best-known traditional costumes in England are the red uniforms and high black hats worn by the Queen's guard at Buckingham Palace. Ceremonial dress is worn by government troops and the royal family on such official occasions as Trooping the Colour. In rural areas, traditional folk costumes are worn for such festivals as May Day. On such occasions, men may appear in "motley"coats featuring swatches of many different colors, knee-length breeches and white hose, and have bells tied around their legs.


English cuisine, like that of other Northern European countries, does not usually include many herbs or spices, nor elaborate presentations of food. It can therefore seem bland and unimaginative to people from other countries. It seems that many English people agree, given the popularity of food from other countries, especially India and China. However, traditional English cooking relies for its effect upon either the freshness of the ingredients or the taste of the cooking media themselves (which explains the preoccupation with frying food that the English often seem to have).

The English are often believed to eat a large "English breakfast" of bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, and, often, kipper, a popular type of smoked herring, every day-and, doubtlessly, some people do so. However, today most families eat a lighter, continental-type breakfast of cereal with milk and sugar, perhaps followed by toast and marmalade. The traditional breakfast, while still widespread, is far too time-consuming to make every morning, when people need to be at work or school on time.

The main meal of the day may be eaten either at midday or in the evening. In either case, it generally consists of a meat dish, vegetables, and dessert. Sunday lunch is the most important meal of the week. Traditional dishes for it include roast beef, mutton, or lamb served with roast potatoes, peas, and other vegetables. Other traditional English fare includes steak and kidney pie; cottage (or "shepherd's") pie, consisting of minced beef with a mashed potato topping; and "toad-in-the-hole," which is made out of skinned sausages baked in pancake batter. Puddings, including rice pudding and bread pudding, are the most common traditional dessert.

Tea is England's national beverage, and the English consume about a third of the world's tea exports. They are known for their custom of afternoon tea, accompanied by cakes and sandwiches. However, in the past, this was mainly a custom of the leisured classes, who were able to take a meal at 4:00 PM when most people were at work. These days, the custom is probably no more common than it ever was, except perhaps on weekends.


Nearly the entire English population is literate, and education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. The education system is divided between state-run schools (which the vast majority of pupils attend) and a much smaller private establishment. State primary education, divided into infant and junior stages, lasts until the age of 11. The state secondary education system is known as the "comprehensive" system, since the state schools-mainly founded in the years following World War II-are designed to give a wide education to those who could not otherwise afford it. There is less "tracking" of students into certain schools, although recently the government has given parents a greater say in which schools their children attend. Students who attend private schools go to "preparatory" school between the ages of 7 and 13. Private secondary schools are known (confusingly to Americans) as "public schools." The best-known of these schools are Eton, Harrow, and Marlborough. The state requires all pupils attempt certain examinations. At the age of 16, pupils sit for exams in several subjects in order to get the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Thereafter, one may either leave school to find a job, or continue one's secondary education until the age of 18. At that age, pupils take more specialized, advanced level exams ("A"-Levels). These are usually a way of preparing to attend a university.

The university system is substantially (but not wholly) subsidized by the state. There are about 50 chartered universities in England, established in several historical stages. The "greystones" were founded in the medieval period. These include the world-famous universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which date from the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively. Next oldest are the "redbricks," which were founded in the 19th century, often by philanthropists using money that they had made from industrial or commercial enterprises. During the mid-20th century, many new universities were set up by the government, and are usually called "modern" universities.


England has a distinguished cultural heritage, particularly in literature, where it boasts one of the greatest writers of any time or place, the 16thcentury playwright William Shakespeare. It is traditionally held that his birthday (and also the date of his death) is April 23, which is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. Besides Shakespeare, England can claim great writers and literary works as far back as the Old English epic Beowulf, written around the 10th century ad, and Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century Canterbury Tales. Modern readers are still moved by the works of great Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and John Keats. The 19th-century clergyman Gerard Manley Hopkins exploited the purely musical potential of the English language perhaps more than any other writer. The 19th century saw a sudden flourishing of the novel, connected with such names as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy. Only a few of the many great English names in modern literature are D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W. H. Auden, and George Orwell. Great English writers born abroad include the Polish-born Joseph Conrad and the American-born T. S. Eliot. The contemporary scene includes Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Nick Hornby, Ian McEwan, and Harold Pinter. J.K. Rowling (b.1965) is the author of the wildly famous Harry Potter books.

Great 19th-century English painters include Joseph Turner and John Constable, while Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Graham Sutherland achieved renown in the 20th century, as did sculptor Henry Moore. From John Dowland, William Byrd and Henry Purcell in the 1500s and 1600s, through Gilbert and Sullivan's popular 19th-century light operas, to the modern works of Ralph Vaughn Williams and Benjamin Britten, English composers have given the world much memorable music. The composer whose name is most inextricably linked to England is Sir Edward Elgar, whose "Pomp and Circumstance" provides the melody for "Land of Hope and Glory," which is something of an unofficial English national anthem. In the 1960s, England became a trend setter in popular music as the home of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, two of the most successful rock groups ever formed, as well as numerous other successful artists and groups in the 21st century.


The average English work week is 35 to 40 hours long, spread out over five days-half the length of the work week a century ago. About half of England's workers are employed in service sector jobs, a third in manufacturing and engineering, and the rest in agriculture, construction, mining, and energy production. The north is highly industrialized and contains over a third of the country's manufacturing labor force. However, many of the older industries have declined, resulting in unemployment which has led to heavy emigration from the region. About half the workers in the Midlands region are employed in the automobile industry. In the southeast, more than 80% of the labor force works in the service sector, and dairy farming is an important source of employment in the southwest.


The most popular spectator and participant sport in England is soccer (usually called "football"), which is played in professional and amateur leagues as well as in schools, colleges, and local boroughs. The ubiquity of the game is such that there are some 100 professional clubs alone. Other favorite sports include cricket and rugby (named for Rugby School, where it began). Soccer, cricket, and rugby all originated in England, and spread worldwide due to the influence of the British Empire. Gambling on sports-which is legal in England-is a popular pastime. Most betting is done on horse racing. Over 90% of the population has gambled at some point, and around half do it regularly. Other popular sports include hockey, cross-country running, tennis, swimming, and other water sports. A famous horse race takes place regularly at the Royal Ascot, in which horses owned by the Royal Family are often entered.


Many people in England enjoy spending their leisure time relaxing at home with television or a video. The vast majority are regular newspaper readers, and nearly half read books on a regular basis as well. On weeknights, the hours between 7:00 and 11:00 PM are generally spent watching television or reading. More than 90% of English households own a television set and over half have a VCR or DVD. Until the mid-1980s, only four television stations were available. Since then, however, satellite broadcasting has considerably expanded the alternatives. Second to home recreations is visiting the local pub or club. There are many kinds of drinking establishments, but the most familiar is the quiet, traditional pub which serves not only alcohol but good traditional food.

Angling is the most popular pastime in the country. England has many miles of rivers and canals in which anglers fish for trout, carp, bream, and roach. The English are also very fond of games. Both snooker and darts are played by many people (the latter being especially popular in pubs), and, despite not being very visually exciting events, draw large audiences during televised professional tournaments. Among older people, bingo and cribbage are often taken very seriously.

The English are known for their love of gardening, and even apartment-dwellers without a plot of their own will often rent a piece of land on which to garden, or at least have a window box full of flowers. Fishing, hiking, and horseback riding are other popular outdoor leisure time pursuits. Many adults enjoy taking evening classes in every subject from basket weaving to yoga. Pets are very popular in England and half of its households have one-most often a dog, which is the national favorite.


England has a history of fine furniture-making dating back to the 18th-century craftsmen Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite, examples of whose art can still be seen today. Their contemporaries Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode made England famous for its ceramics as well, especially the blue-and-white Wedgwood jasperware that England still exports today. The most famous English folk dance is the Morris dance, still seen at local festivals. Male dancers stomp and leap while waving pieces of cloth and jingling bells.


Class divisions and economic inequality are facts of life in present-day England. Approximately 25% of the nation's wealth is owned by 1% of the population, while unemployment was 5.4% in 2007 and 14% of the population lived below the poverty line. Many immigrants from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and other countries have settled in urban areas, where they are often subjected to housing and other types of discrimination and have a high rate of unemployment. Racial tension between the white English community and non-white immigrants has erupted into riots in London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Birmingham. As well, England has been a target of international Islamic terrorists, with bombings on the London public transit system carried out in July 2005, killing 52 and injuring 700. In 2006 controversial Egyptian-born Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri was jailed for seven years after being found guilty of inciting murder and race hate. Abu Hamza, who is being sought for extradition by U.S. authorities on terror-related matters, preached at the Finsbury Park Mosque, in north London.


Women in England have a long tradition of working for equal rights. The 19th century saw the rise of the suffragettes (the right to vote for English women was won in 1918), and Girton at Cambridge University was founded as England's first women's college in 1869. The number of women in paid work increased substantially after the two world wars, but they generally had low-paid, female-dominated occupations, such as teaching and clerical work. In the late 1980s women made up more than 40% of the workforce in England, and they increasingly took managerial and professional jobs. However, although equal pay for men and women performing the same work has been the law since 1975, few women enjoy parity with men in pay. In 2007 pro-choice British women celebrated 40 years of legalized abortion.

Homosexuality is increasingly being tolerated by a large portion of the British population. However, some gay people still find it difficult to admit their sexuality, especially while at school or university. It is becoming more common for gay men to "come out" openly, but is not common to see gay men showing their sexuality in public (for example by holding hands or kissing). Many older British people still find it difficult to accept homosexuality. The official teachings of most churches in the UK remain hostile to homosexuality. Homosexuality was legalized in the United Kingdom in 1967, and the homosexual age of consent has been reduced since then from 21 to 18 and now to 16 (the same age as for sex between men and women). Since 2003 it is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace against someone on the grounds of his or her sexuality. Gay men and women have been allowed to serve in the military since 2000. Gay marriages are not legal in the UK. However, the Civil Partnership Act (in force as of 2005) created a new legal relationship of "civil partnership," which two people of the same sex can form by signing a registration document.

London, Brighton, and Manchester all have large gay communities. Blackpool, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Newcastle also have significant gay communities. The most famous place for gay people to meet is in Old Compton Street in London's Soho area. Every summer (late June or early July) in London there is a Pride London parade and rally. There is an annual film festival in London showing gay and lesbian films.


Abbe Scientist Research Division. AIDS and HIV in the United Kingdom. Washington DC: Abbe Publishers Association, 2008.

Díëez Medrano, Juan. Framing Europe: Attitudes to European Integration in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

England in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1990.

Fuller, Barbara. Britain: Cultures of the World. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1994.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.

Greene, Carol. England. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.

Helweg, Arthur W. "English." In Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Europe). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

James, T. B. The Story of England. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Pub., 2003.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1978.

Langley, Andrew. Passport to England. New York: Franklin Watts, 1994.

-revised by J. Hobby


views updated Jun 11 2018


In the fifteenth century, drama in England was dominated by modes now thought of as characteristically "medieval": cycles of liturgical mystery plays, morality playsof which Mankind (c. 1465), and Everyman (c. 15091519) are among the best-known examplesand secular interludes such as Henry Medwall's Fulgens and Lucrece (c. 1497) and John Heywood's The Four Ps (c. 15201530). By the end of the eighteenth century, the stage would have been almost unrecognizable to Medwall or Heywood. A tradition of performance based within communities was gradually supplemented by commercial structures; this new tradition was in its turn broken by the order that the public theaters be closed on the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Although dramatic activities did not ceaseprivate and surreptitious performances continued and a wide variety of dramatic texts were aimed at readersthere was a break with the preCivil War stage and with many of its conventions.


In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, drama was performed mainly in the houses of the nobility, in civic venues such as town halls or churches, or in educational establishments such as schools, universities, and the Inns of Court, where law students were educated. In the later period, large-scale open-air amphitheaters or innyard conversions were developed, with which settled companies became established: the best-known include the Red Lion (1567), the Theatre (1576), the Rose (1592), the Globe (1599), and the Red Bull (c. 1604). Other, smaller, commercial theaters were constructed in indoor venues; they were used in the first place by the children's companies that had devolved from performances by the choir schools of St. Paul's and the Chapel Royal. By 1610, an adult company, the King's Men, had started to perform at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, and by the end of the seventeenth century Continental-style proscenium arch theaters had supplanted the amphitheaters.

Perhaps the greatest change was in the nature of performers: professional actors rose from the level of vagrants to become substantial landowners and celebritiesEdward Alleyn, Richard Burbage, Thomas Betterton, and David Garrick are only the most famous. The Restoration (16601685) also saw the introduction of the first professional female performers, of whom the most celebrated include Elizabeth Barry, Anne Bracegirdle, and Anne Oldfield. This was also the period when women began to write for the commercial stages; the best-known of these writers include Aphra Behn, Mary Pix, and Susanna Centlivre.


In the early to mid-sixteenth century, classical influences began to intersect with folk and morality play influences, notably in plays such as Ralph Roister Doister (c. 1552) by Nicholas Udall, and Gammer Gurton's Needle (1566), often attributed to William Stevenson. The universities (Gammer Gurton was first performed at Cambridge) and the Inns of Court saw plays in English and Latin. Particularly noteworthy is the performance of the first English blank-verse tragedy, Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville's Gorboduc or Ferrex and Porrex, at the Inner Temple in 1562.

Tragedy. Influential tragedies included Christopher Marlowe's opulent and exotic two-part tragedy Tamburlaine (c. 15871589), Thomas Kyd's hugely popular revenge tragedy The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1589), William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595), and Thomas Heywood's domestic tragedy A Woman Killed With Kindness (c. 1603). These models for tragic drama were developed throughout the period by writers including George Chapman, John Webster, John Ford, Philip Massinger, and James Shirley. A related line of historical drama can be traced from John Bale's moral history King Johan (c. 1539) through Marlowe's Edward II (c. 1592), Shakespeare's first (Henry VI, Part One; Henry VI, Part Two; Henry VI, Part Three; and Richard III) and second (Richard II; Henry IV, Part One; Henry IV, Part Two; and Henry V) tetralogies, Shakespeare and John Fletcher's Henry VIII (1613), and Ford's Perkin Warbeck (1634).

"Closet" tragedy (intended primarily to be read, not staged) was more closely associated with classical and continental traditions: notable examples include Mary Sidney's version of Robert Garnier's Antonius (1595), Fulke Greville's Mustapha (1596) and Alaham (1600), and Elizabeth Cary's Tragedy of Mariam (1613), the first original English play written by a woman. A heavily classicist form of tragedy pioneered on the public stage by Ben Jonson in Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611) was unsuccessful in its own day.

It left its mark, however, on tragedies of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries such as John Dryden's All for Love (1678) and Joseph Addison's Cato (1713). These tragedies are often also termed "heroic drama": the mode is exemplified by Dryden's Conquest of Granada (1670) and Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved (1682) and parodied in George Villiers, duke of Buckingham's The Rehearsal (printed 1672) and Henry Fielding's Tom Thumb (1730). This period also saw a revival of domestic tragedy in George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731) and the revival and adaptation of many of Shakespeare's tragedies. Notable examples include Nahum Tate's versions of King Lear (1681), Richard II (The Sicilian Usurper, 1681), and Coriolanus (The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth, 1681), Colley Cibber's Richard III (1700), and Garrick's adaptations of Romeo and Juliet (1748) and Hamlet (1771), in which he also acted.

Comedy. Comedies such as Campaspe (1583) and Sappho and Phao (1584), written by John Lyly for the children's companies, combined classical settings with topical allusion to court and country in witty antithetical structures (Lyly's technique is often termed "euphuism" after the title of his bestselling prose romance, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, published in 1578). The romantic comedies of the next generation of writers, including those of Shakespeare, were heavily influenced by Lyly's work. Another important mode was comedy portraying the city, exemplified by Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599), Ben Jonson's Volpone (1605) and The Alchemist (1610), John Marston's The Dutch Courtesan (1605), Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1613), Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625), and Richard Brome's The Weeding of Covent Garden (c. 1632). In the mid-Jacobean period, the mixed genre of tragicomedy came to prominence, largely through plays written by Shakespeare and by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Both of these modes were quickly revived in the 1660s, and they exercised a shaping influence on the comedies of Behn, Centlivre, William Congreve, George Etherege, George Farquhar, John Vanbrugh, and William Wycherley. The plays of these dramatists constitute what is usually known as "Restoration Comedy": social satires that simultaneously criticized and enjoyed excessive behavior. Famous examples include Behn's The Rover (in two parts, 16771681), Wycherley's The Country Wife (1675), Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676), Vanbrugh's The Relapse (1676), Congreve's The Way of the World (1700), and Farquhar's The Beaux' Strategem (1707). Later, Richard Steele's The Conscious Lovers (1722) pioneered "sentimental" comedy, reacting against the supposedly immoral tone of Restoration comedies. A return to irreverence can be found in Fielding's 1730s farces, and in Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1777) and The Critic (1779).

Occasional drama. The early modern period also saw a flourishing tradition of occasional drama. Court theater included lavish entertainments under Elizabeth Isuch as the entertainment at Kenilworth (1575), Philip Sidney's The Lady of May (1578), and the Elvetham Entertainment (1591)and the masques on which Ben Jonson collaborated with the architect Inigo Jones during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Other occasional drama included Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (1592), John Milton's Masque at Ludlow (better known as Comus, 1634), and the earliest English opera, The Siege of Rhodes (1656), with a libretto by William Davenant and music (now lost) by Henry Lawes, Matthew Locke, Henry Cooke, George Hudson, and Edward Coleman. The Siege of Rhodes is also notable for featuring the first use in England of perspective scenery, designed by John Webb, and one of the earliest appearances by a female performer, Mistress Coleman. Major cities such as London, Coventry, Norwich, and York had their own tradition of plays, shows, and pageants, many of them organized by the trades guilds to mark religious festivals, the accession or entry to a city of monarchs, or the appointment of civic leaders. Other popular dramatic modes included puppet shows and, later, pantomimes.


Drama was throughout the early modern period a socially and politically engaged form. John Skelton's Magnificence, performed around 1519, launched a devastating critique on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chief adviser to Henry VIII, and on Henry's young courtiers. Nicholas Udall's Respublica (1553) was a political allegory lauding the accession of Mary I and the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church in England. A decade later, Sackville and Norton wrote Gorboduc to advise Elizabeth I about the succession. Middleton's A Game at Chess (1624), performed for nine days consecutively at the Globe Theatre, allegorized Anglo-Spanish relations and caused a public scandal by representing on the stage real people such as the Spanish ambassador, Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, marquis de Gondomar. During the Civil War (16421649) and Commonwealth (16491660), printed drama was highly prevalent in political polemic, including plays and dramatic dialogues such as A New Play Called Canterbury His Change of Diet (1641), Crafty Cromwell (1648), and Cromwell's Conspiracy (1660). These political playlets were published anonymously or under pseudonyms such as Mercurius Melancholicus (Crafty Cromwell) and Mercurius Pragmaticus (Cromwell's Conspiracy). Toward the end of the period, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728) focused on the inhabitants of Newgate, the famous London prison, and the career of the highwayman Macheath. It launched a new form of socially aware drama, and, drawing on genres such as the ballad, re-inscribed the stage's associations with other areas of popular culture.

The Beggar's Opera seems to be a world away from the civic religious drama of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. However, in spite of the many changes in performance location, casting, and dramatic style, the theater continued to exist in relation to society and the communities in which it was performed.

See also Beaumont and Fletcher ; Behn, Aphra ; English Literature and Language ; Jonson, Ben ; Marlowe, Christopher ; Shakespeare, William ; Sheridan, Richard Brinsley .


Primary Sources

Space does not allow an exhaustive list of primary texts. Useful anthologies of early modern English drama include the following:

Bevington, David, Lars Engle, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology. New York and London, 2002.

Canfield, J. Douglas, ed. The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama. Peterborough, U.K., 2001.

Kinney, Arthur, ed. Renaissance Drama: An Anthology of Plays and Entertainments. Malden, Mass., and Oxford, 1999.

Lyons, Paddy, and Fidelis Morgan, eds. Female Playwrights of the Restoration: Five Comedies. London and Rutland, Vt., 1991.

Manning, Gillian, ed. Libertine Plays of the Restoration. London and North Clarendon, Vt., 1999.

Somerset, J. A. B., ed. Four Tudor Interludes. London and New York, 1974.

Walker, Greg. Medieval Drama: An Anthology. Oxford and Malden, Mass., 2000.

Whitworth, Charles Walters. Three Sixteenth-Century Comedies: Gammer Gurton's Needle, Ralph Roister Doister, The Old Wife's Tale. London and New York, 1984.

Womersley, David, ed. Restoration Drama. Oxford, 2000.

Secondary Sources

Beadle, Richard, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994.

Braunmuller, A. R., and Michael Hattaway, eds. The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Cox, John D., and David Scott Kastan, eds. A New History of Early English Drama. New York, 1997.

Fisk, Deborah Payne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 15741642. Cambridge, U.K., 1980.

. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford and New York, 1996.

Kinney, Arthur F., ed. The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 15001600. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Owen, Susan J. A Companion to Restoration Drama. Oxford and Malden, Mass., 2001.

Randall, Dale B. J. Winter Fruit: English Drama 16421660. Lexington, Ky., 1995.

Walker, Greg. The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1998.

White, Paul Whitfield. Theatre and Reformation: Protestantism, Patronage and Playing in Tudor England. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1993.

Wiseman, Susan. Drama and Politics in the English Civil War. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.

Lucy Munro


views updated May 23 2018

1. The name of a people (the achievements of the English); the adjective associated with that people and with its country, England, which occupies the southern part of the island of Britain (English traditions).

2. Short forms E, E., Eng. The name of a language originating in north-western Europe (the history of English); the adjective relating to it (English dialects).

3. A course offered in schools, universities, and other institutions, whose aim is to provide students with knowledge about (and skills in relation to) the language, aspects of its literature, or both; first-year English; English as a Foreign Language (EFL); English language teaching (ELT); English Language and Literature; Business English; remedial English.

4. The adjective and noun used in Canada for speakers of English as opposed to French, regardless of ethnic origin: differences between the French and the English; English Canadians. [In the article that follows, the first and second senses only are discussed. For the third sense, see TEACHING ENGLISH; for the fourth, see CANADIAN ENGLISH.]

The English

Early Germanic settlers in Britain were referred to in Latin as the gens Anglorum, which can be translated as both ‘Angle race’ and ‘English people’, and called themselves Englisc/Ænglisc or Angelcynn (‘Angle-kin’). The name Englisc contrasted with the names of both Celtic and Scandinavian people in Britain: ‘Nah naðer to farenne ne Wylisc man on Ænglisc lond ne Ænglisc on Wylisc’ (Neither Welshman to go on English land, nor English on Welsh: ordinance); ‘Gif Ænglisc man Deniscne ofslea’ (If an Englishman kills a Dane: Laws of Aethelred, both citations from c.1000). However, by the time of the Norman Conquest, English was the name for all inhabitants of England, regardless of background. For many years after 1066, the Normans were commonly distinguished from their English subjects as French, a dichotomy sustained in state documents long after it ceased to mean much in social terms. By the 14c, English was again the name for all subjects of the king or queen of England, whatever their background, and has remained so ever since.


A new uncertainty developed in the 16c. Wales was united with England in 1535 and the English and Scottish monarchies became one in 1603. The union of the parliaments of England and Scotland took place in London in 1707 and the state of Great Britain officially came into existence. Increasingly from these dates, the term English has been used in three ways: to refer to the people of England and matters concerning England alone; to refer to the people of England and Wales and matters concerning both; to refer to the people of Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland, and varyingly all or part of Ireland), and matters concerning them all. Generally, the first usage prevails when Irish, Scots, Welsh, and English people are talking to or about each other, although English people are famous among the others for using their generic name to cover all four. When talking among themselves, through the media, and in international situations, many English people use English without specifying whether they are discussing themselves or all Britons and perhaps without being clear about the limits they intend. This is also often the case with Americans, mainland Europeans, and others:
‘While Rafelson is a great admirer of Robert Redford, he did not think an American playing an aristocratic Englishman in “Out of Africa” worked. So he decided he wanted English actors and settled for two virtual unknowns. Patrick Bergin, like Burton, whom he plays, is Irish and the star of “Act of Betrayal,” a recent mini-series about an Irish Republican Army informer. Iain Glen, a Scotsman, who plays Speke, was in the West End production of Tom Stoppard's “Hapgood” early last year’ (in ‘Quest for the Source of the Nile, on Film’, New York Times, Feb. 1989).

The language

English is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, along with, among others, Danish, Dutch, and German. Once confined to Britain, it is now used throughout the world. Its use and distribution can be discussed in various ways, including geographical distribution, status as an official or other language, and status as majority language or mother tongue (first language), alternative language, medium of education, second language, or foreign language.

In the later 20c, non-native users of English have come to outnumber native users, partly because of the accelerating spread of the language, and partly because of increases in population and educational opportunities in many parts of the world. Estimates of the overall number of users of English relate to the three criteria of English by birthright (in the ENL territories in the 1970s estimated at c.300m people), English through historical association (in the ESL territories also c.300m), and English through usually formal acquisition (in the EFL territories c.100m). The total of c.700m was widely accepted in the early 1980s, but some linguists, for example David Crystal (‘How Many Millions?—The Statistics of World English’, English Today 1, Jan. 1985), have discussed doubling this total to c.1.4bn so as to bring in anyone who uses any kind of English, extended or restricted, ‘correct’ or ‘broken’. It is probably safe to assume that by 1990 some 10% of the inhabitants of the EFL nations were usefully familiar with English, and that around a billion people currently use it in varying degrees and for various purposes, in almost a 2-to-1 ratio of non-natives to natives.


The diversity of English has always been so great that efforts have often been made to distinguish between a ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ core, almost always a minority form associated with class and education, and other forms that are closer to or further away from that core, which is usually perceived as the standard language. There are four ways in which this kind of distinction has been made:

Language and dialect.

The use of such terms as LANGUAGE and DIALECT for mutual definition is common to most European languages, but there is a paradox in how they are used and understood. Although a language is widely seen as being ‘made up’ of dialects, there is nonetheless in every language a single form held to be superior to all dialects: the social, literary, and educational standard. In this tradition, English paradoxically contains its dialects while standing apart from them. Linguists have sought to overcome the problem by treating STANDARD English as another dialect, the standard dialect, whose generally assumed superiority and prestige are not attributable to intrinsic merit but rather to social utility. Because of its status, this dialect has diversified in ways that make it the only one that can be used in discussing such matters as philosophy, economics, and literature. However, although a perception of the standard as also being a dialect may be helpful in social and educational terms (making it first, as it were, among equals), tensions persist between speakers whose usage is judged (more or less) non-standard and those whose usages (more or less) fit the norm.

Language and lect.

Sociolinguists have created such terms as acrolect, mesolect, and basilect from the root element of dialect. At first the terms referred, respectively, to the high, middle, and low forms of CREOLE languages, when compared with the standard form of the language on which they are based: for example, the acrolectal form of Jamaican Creole is that form perceived by sociolinguists and others as closest to standard English, while its basilect is the form or forms farthest removed from standard English, its mesolects jostling for space somewhere between. The terms have, however, been extended in recent years to refer to positions on the continuum of all relationships in any language complex. From this viewpoint, standard English is an acrolect in a firmament of other assorted lects.

Language and variety.

In order to avoid the social and class implications of such terms as dialect and lect, scholars have in recent years often preferred the neutral term VARIETY. Here standard English is one variety among others (whether it is first among equals or unequals), and in turn has its own (sub)varieties. The standard and its varieties are used for one range of purposes, Scots, Cockney, and their equivalents and all their varieties for other purposes, and Jamaican Creole, Krio, and their equivalents and all their varieties for others still. By and large, this approach has proved useful and even emollient. Variety coexists with dialect and lect and enables diverse difficult issues to be examined and discussed in non-adversarial ways. It does not, however, change the general perception of one English that is, in effect, more equal than the others, an ‘educated’ variety that spreads into a vast periphery of other (usually ‘uneducated’) varieties.

The Englishes and the English languages.

The most radical departure in recent years looks at English not as singular but plural: in effect, a family like the Germanic languages. In such a view, the term ‘English’ has always covered more than one language: Old English different from Modern English; Scots different from English (both being Germanic languages as distinct as Dutch and Frisian in the Netherlands, or Dano-Norwegian and Nynorsk in Norway). In addition, Krio in Sierra Leone, Kriol in Australia, and Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, etc., are so different from the core that they are ‘English-based’ rather than ‘English’. The commonest term for the plurality of English, especially in Africa and Asia, is the New Englishes, referring to varieties that have grown up in territories once controlled or greatly influenced by the UK and the US. An even more controversial expression is the English languages, which places the main varieties of English on a par with such groups as the Romance languages and Slavonic languages.

Many kinds of more or less marginal usage occur every day. In code-switching, a mix of English and Hindi (or Spanish, or Tagalog, etc.) may be more English one moment, more Hindi the next; it is often hard to indicate precisely when speakers cross the border between two otherwise distinct languages, as for example English and French in Montreal, Quebec. One group of English-speakers may refuse to confer equivalent status on another (‘They don't really speak English’), on weak grounds such as differences of accent or on strong grounds such as general unintelligibility. However, there is nothing new in this.


Regardless of the terminology they might use, few scholars have supposed that there is only one monolithic English; rather, the problem has been how to reconcile one label with the many facets of the thing so labelled. English was diverse when it began and has continued to be diverse. Until the Union of the Parliaments (1707), the varieties used in England and Scotland were no less distinct than the different but closely related Spanish and Portuguese, but a consequence of the Union was the subordination of Scots (the English language of Scotland) to English (the English language of England) and a blurring of its ancient distinctness. In large part, the generic name English contributed to the assumption even among Scots that there was only one English language properly so called. In the same century, however, the American Declaration of Independence (1776) marked the creation of a new national and linguistic ‘pole’: a second national variety of the standard language that had been disconnected from London and the institutions of England. In the later 20c, Australia had begun to create the institutions of yet another national standard, while at the same time the concept of national standards has begun to spread: if there could be acknowledged varieties of the standard in two long-established autonomous nations, there could be further such varieties elsewhere.

National standards

The question has become: how many such standards are there (or can there be), and how do (or should) they relate to each other? In the last two decades, there has been a thoroughgoing reconsideration of the idea of a standard language or dialect or variety. Effectively, this is as much a political as a linguistic issue. In places once diffident about their English and accustomed to being patronized (such as Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, and Scotland), the possibility that they too either have or could have their own standard has led to such works as ‘The Accents of Standard English in Scotland’ ( David Abercrombie, in Languages of Scotland, edited by A. J. Aitken and Tom McArthur, 1979) and In Search of the Standard in Canadian English (edited by W. C. Lougheed, 1985). Whereas few disagree that there is a national standard for the US and for England (or Britain), many are dubious about a standard Australian or an Irish standard, while others doubt that there is even such an entity as Indian English out of which a standard might grow. The debate proceeds, and institutions are emerging (linguistic surveys, dictionaries, publishers' house styles, centres of language study) that increasingly serve to reinforce and even extend claims that once seemed both radical and slightly absurd.



The territories in which English is a significant everyday language, in alphabetic order according to regions of the world, are:

Africa and the western Indian Ocean.

Botswana, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The mainland Americans and the South Atlantic.

Argentina, Ascension (Island), Belize, Bermuda, Canada, the Falkland Islands, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, St Helena, Surinam, Tristan da Cunha, the United States.


Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam.

The Caribbean.

Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Virgin Islands (American and British).


The Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Irish Republic, the Isle of Man, Malta, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland).


Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii (in the US), Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Western Samoa.

It is not always easy to establish whether English has a constitutionally endorsed status in the territories in which it plays a role. It might be expected to have such a status in the UK and the US, but does not; in both it is a de facto rather than a de jure official language, although in a number of US states it is formally endorsed as the official language: see ENGLISH LANGUAGE AMENDMENT. English has generally acquired legal status only when a government has concluded that explicit recognition is necessary, usually to establish it as a sole medium or a comedium of administration and education. In the following countries, English has a statutory role: Botswana (with Setswana), Cameroon (with French), Canada (with French), Gambia, Ghana, India (with Hindi), the Irish Republic (with Irish Gaelic), Lesotho (with Sesotho), Malawi (with Chichewa), Nigeria, Pakistan (with Urdu), Papua New Guinea (with Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin), the Philippines (with Filipino), Seychelles (with Creole and French), Sierra Leone, Singapore (with Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil), the Solomon Islands (with Solomon Islands Pidgin English), South Africa (with Afrikaans, Ndebele, Pedi, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu), Swaziland (with Siswati), Tanzania (with Swahili), Uganda, Vanuatu (with French and Bislama), Zambia, Zimbabwe.


The global distribution of English is often currently described in terms of English as a Native Language (ENL), English as a Second Language (ESL), and English as a Foreign Language (EFL):

1. ENL territories.

Most people in ENL territories have English as their first and often only language. There are two groups: (a) English profoundly dominant: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Ascension Island, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Dominica, England, the Falkland Islands, Grenada, Guyana, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, Montserrat, Northern Ireland, St Christopher and Nevis, St Helena, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States of America (but see next), the Virgin Islands (American and British). (b) At least one other language significant: Canada (French), Channel Islands (French), Gibraltar (Spanish), the Irish Republic (Irish Gaelic), Liberia (various Niger–Congo languages), New Zealand (Maori), St Lucia (Creole French), Scotland (Scottish Gaelic, and Scots if defined as a distinct language from English), South Africa (Afrikaans; various Bantu and Khoisan languages), Wales (Welsh). Some commentators argue that the US is, or will soon be, a member of this group, with Spanish as the other nationally significant language.

2. ESL territories.

Many people in ESL territories use English for various purposes, and in some English has an official, educational, or other role. English may be generally accepted or more or less controversial. The territories are: Bangladesh, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Cook Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Western Samoa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

3. EFL territories.

The rest of the world. English may be more or less prestigious and more or less welcome in particular places. Many people learn it for occupational purposes and/or as part of education and recreation, at school or in college, or its acquisition may be casual and haphazard, in the family or the workplace, or on the street. Competence varies across a gamut from fluent to a smattering gleaned for limited purposes.


These categories need to be buttressed by certain provisos regarding, among other things, the varieties of English used in ENL territories, the existence and use of related English-based creoles in both ENL and ESL territories, and the presence of communities of native speakers in some EFL territories.


views updated Jun 08 2018




Identification. England, unlike Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, does not constitutionally exist, and thus it has no separate rights, administration, or official statistics. The Church of England is its main distinctive institution. The English maintain their separate identity in sports (soccer, cricket, and rugby) and heritage; this is manifest in the monarchy, aristocracy, and associated pageantry, parliament, pride in their country, and love for their local community (with the local pub being an integrating institution). English poetry, literature, and art is also distinctive. With the decrease of specialized industry, an increase in mass marketing, and greater population mobility, English distinctiveness is threatened. However, measures such as restoration and protection of city centers, the countryside, and historic buildingsalong with the movement for greater control and participation in local affairshelp counter the trend toward homogeneity.

Location. England constitutes the largest land area and highest population density of any of the four units of the United Kingdom. It is also the most intensely industrialized region. Located off the northwest coast of continental Europe, it is bounded on the north by Scotland and on the west by Wales. It is located approximately between 49°56 and 55°49 N and 1°50 E and 5°46 W (not including the Channel Islands). Geographically, England constitutes 130,863 square kilometers or 53 percent of the land area of the United Kingdom and is divided into the uplands and lowlands. Following a line joining the mouths of the Tees and Exe rivers, the uplands in the northwest are characterized by rocky and mountainous areas while the lowlands of the southeast contain gentle rolling country with some hills. For the United Kingdom as a whole, the terrain is 30 percent arable, 50 percent meadow and pasture, 12 percent waste or urban, 7 percent forest, and 1 percent inland water. The climate is variable and mild for its latitudes. Rainfall for the south is 90 centimeters, with the southwest receiving 105 to 158 centimeters per year, while the extreme east gets 63 centimeters. The mean temperature for England in July is 16° C; in January and February it is 5° C. However, the north is slightly colder than the south; winter in the north averages 70 days of frost while the south averages 13.

Demography. The English number 46,168,120 (1989 estimate), 81.5 percent of the population of the United Kingdom. They have maintained their relative proportion of the United Kingdom population, but the proportion of younger and older people has increased because the birthrate declined between 1921 and 1942 and then increased after World War II. The population is primarily urban and suburban. In 1921, more than 40 percent of the people lived in the six great conurbations that center on London. After World War II, there was movement from the inner cities to the suburban fringes and beyond, with the inner cities showing a marked decrease. However, English population density is among the highest in the world, averaging 840 persons per square mile in 1981 for England and Wales and rising to 12,600 for the greater London area.

Linguistic Affiliation. The English language is of the Indo-European Family. Its parent tongue is the West Germanic Group of Proto-Indo-European. The closest related Languages are German, Netherlandic, and Frisian. There is considerable dialectical variation, the most distinctive being in Lancashire, Cornwall, and parts of East London. Radio, television, and transportation are causing these differences to diminish, with the style of the southeast becoming the Standard. However, there is no difference in literary style between the various regions.

History and Cultural Relations

Early English history is marked by immigration. Although not the first, the Celts began arriving around 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. England became part of the Roman Empire in a.d. 43. After the Roman withdrawal in a.d. 410, waves of Jutes, Angles, and Saxons arrived and established control, in spite of Danish incursions from the eighth through the eleventh centuries. By the fifth century a.d., the term "English""Angelcynn," meaning "angel kin"was applied to the Teutonic inhabitants collectively. By the eleventh century, the term included the Celtic and Scandinavian elements and all natives of England, except for the Normans, who remained separate for several generations after their conquest in 1066. The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 guaranteed the rights of rule by law, a point of pride for the English. In 1301, Edward of Caernarvon, son of King Edward I of England, was created Prince of Wales. The Hundred Years' War (1338-1453) resulted in the claim to large parts of France being lost, and the War of the Roses (1455-1485) led to the Tudor monarchy, which in turn led to a distinctively flourishing English civilization. In 1534, religious independence from the pope was established. Under Queen Elizabeth I, England became a major naval power and its colonies and trade expanded. In 1603, James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England as King James I, and the island of Britain was united under one royal family. After a civil war (1642-1649), a republic under Oliver Cromwell was established, but the monarchy was restored in 1688, confirming the sovereignty of the English Parliament and the English Bill of Rights. By increasing colonial holdings and industrial power in the eighteenth century, the United Kingdom became a world power. Although victorious in both world wars, the country lost its position of world leadership, but it continued its industrial growth. During the postwar period, the Labor party governments passed some socialist legislation nationalizing some industries and expanding social security; but the Thatcher government reversed that trend and increased the role of private enterprise.

Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, a relatively homogeneous population has been maintained. However, England has been a haven for refugees ranging from the Huguenots in the seventeenth century to persecuted Jews in the twentieth. Starting in the 1950s, population homogeneity has been challenged by the immigration of West Indians and South Asians. As of 1989, they comprise about 4 percent of England's population (2 percent of the United Kingdom's population). Laws curbing immigration and prohibiting racial discrimination have been enacted, but racial tensions are present, especially in the inner urban centers of London and West Midlands where 60 percent of the immigrants reside.


About 90 percent of England's population is urban or suburban, and less than 3 percent of its people are engaged in agriculture. Thus, there is a structure of towns, villages, and cities where one sees scattered groups of high-density residence patterns. In spite of the large urban sprawl, England has extensive tracts of farms with smaller villages engulfed by trees, copses, hedgerows, and fields. Settlement patterns are classed into seven categories: conurbations, cities, boroughs, towns, villages, hamlets, and farms. Conurbations refer to the large complexes of densely populated urban areas with a complex of suburbs and towns surrounding or within a large city. A city is a large important borough. A borough is a town possessing a municipal corporation with special privileges conferred by royal charter (a city can have boroughs within it). A town can be incorporated or not incorporated within a conurbation, but either way it is a small cluster of buildings, which has an independent government with greater powers of rating (taxation), paving, and sanitation than those of a village. The village is smaller than a town and has less independence, and a hamlet is smaller still, often without a church. An examination of settlement patterns of towns, villages, and hamlets reveals a great variety of planned or unplanned settlements, with buildings at regular or random intervals. They can be clustered around a center, with its own structure of roads or lanes, or linear, along the sides of a road or field. Farmsteads generally comprise the farming family.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For planning purposes, England is divided into eight regions, but it can be grouped into four divisions comprising the north, Midlands, southeast, and southwest. The north contains about one-third of the total land area and one-third of the population. Although there is some dairy and grazing livestock production, the division is highly industrial, comprising 35 percent of England's manufacturing labor force (43 percent of England's total work force in manufacturing). Most cities are near coal fields. Old, stable industries have declined, leading to unemployment. Emigration from the region has been high, although the region continues to have a slight population increase. The Midlands has about half of its workers employed in manufacturing industries, making automobiles, metal goods, and related products. About 3 percent of them work in coal and iron ore fields and 1.5 percent in mixed farming. It is common to find villages that specialize (locks and keys in Willenhall, needles and hooks in Ridditch, and so on). In the southeast, more than 60 percent of the labor force is in Service industries such as construction and public administration, 32 percent in manufacturing, and less than 2 percent in agriculture. Electrical equipment, machinery, paper, printing, and publishing are the leading industries. The southwest has a lower population. Dairy farming is prominent and manufacturing employs 32 percent of the labor force. Many people retire there and tourism is important. However, unemployment is also high. In essence, England has been going through a long process of change. In the nineteenth century, the north, which was previously underdeveloped and backward, became the powerhouse or "workshop of the world." As the United Kingdom lost its prominence in the world economy, the north also lost its importance and power shifted to the southeast.

Industrial Arts. Service industries employ about half of England's work force, while a third of the workers are in manufacturing and engineering. The remainder are in agriculture, construction, mining, and energy.

Trade. Three types of trade take place in English communities. The traditional institution is the central market, which is often covered but open. It has stalls that sell everything from fish to clothes. Within neighborhoods there are clusters of specialty shops which usually comprise a grocer, butcher, newsstand, appliance store, and sweet shop. Since 1970, chain enterprises in fast food and groceries have developed and expanded.

Division of Labor. There is a hierarchy and division of labor with limited mobility. In manufacturing, jobs are specialized according to skill and hierarchy of class is maintained where bosses have authority over subordinates. Division of labor according to gender is diminishing in the workplace as well as the domestic sphere. Class consciousness is decreasing, with the upwardly mobile young urban professional (Yuppie) becoming a dominant role model.

Land Tenure. Land in England is privately owned.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The most important kin group is the extended family, which generally includes all known relatives. Although descent is not strictly lineal, the family name is traced patrilineally. However, relationship through the female line is acknowledged informally. If he has no male heir, a son may incorporate the name of his mother's family as his family name in a hyphenated form. Kin relationships are strongly Influenced by distance, stage of life, and closeness of relationship. In practice, the mother-daughter relationship dominates and it is around the wife's mother that much family activity is determined. Other members of the kin group are included if they live nearby. However, neighbors are very Important in providing companionship and social support, and these friendships are often maintained after a person has moved away.

Marriage. The emphasis on marital status has decreased in the last decade. Self-esteem and status are now determined by a career, whereas previously they centered on having a spouse and children. Today people often delay marriage and children until their career aspirations stabilize. Generally marriages are by the choice of the male and female. Abortion is legal and divorce is acceptable; both have increased in the postwar era.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most prevalent domestic unit. It consists of the mother, father, and juvenile children. During times when housing was scarce, it was Common for a newly married couple to live with the wife's family. Among the landed gentry residence for the eldest son was patrilocal while other offspring resided elsewhere.

Inheritance. Traditionally, inheritance was through the male line. The aristocracy maintained its wealth by a system of primogeniture, where the estate went to the eldest son. Other sons had to serve in the army, the church, or business, or vanish into obscurity or poverty. Now, inheritance is according to the wishes of the owner of the resources. He or she dictates the inheritance by a will or testament. If there is no will, it is probated in a court.

Socialization. Parents, peers, and media are three primary influences for socialization. Parents discipline, but corporal punishment is not acceptable. Evaluation by one's peers is important for English children. Television, videos, rock music, advertising, and other forms of popular media culture exert a strong influence on children.

Sociopolitical Organization

England is a constitutional monarchy. There is no written constitution, and so statutes, common law, and practice guide governance. The monarch is the chief of state and Controls the executive branch. The prime minister is the head of the government and has a cabinet. The legislative section is a bicameral Parliament composed of a House of Commons and a House of Lords; primary power lies with the House of Commons. There is also a court system, with the House of Lords being the highest level.

Social Organization. In English society, the aristocracy, "new society," middle class, and working class are the primary units. The landed aristocracy is the only aristocracy. Alongside the aristocracy is the new society, the self-made rich. In the nineteenth century, wealth did not buy power, because it was concentrated in the aristocracy. However, the aristocracy has lost its monopoly on power. At present, most Britons see themselves as belonging either to the middle or working class. What makes a person claim membership to one of these two classes varies; economic affluence and occupation are not consistent indicators. Also, the middle class is fragmenting with each group defining itself in opposition to other groups.

Political Organization. Under the central government, the country is divided into municipalities, counties, and Parliamentary constituencies. In 1974, the conurbations were detached from existing counties and designated as metropolitan counties.

Social Control. The court system, sense of tradition, public opinion, and mass media all work together to promote conformity and resolve conflicts in English society.

Conflict. Since England has not suffered from invasions since the Norman Conquest, there is no focused animosity against any particular group, although some resentment toward the Germans exists as a result of the two world wars. Internal conflicts have been primarily with Northern Ireland. They started in 1968 with demonstrations by Catholics who charged that they were discriminated against in voting rights, housing, and employment. Violence and terrorism has intensified between the Irish Republican Army (which is outlawed), Protestant groups, police, and British troops. Racial tensions between the white English community and the West Indians and South Asians have developed recently, but they have not resulted in ongoing terrorism and violence.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe and Practices. Although England is a secular country, about one-half of the population is baptized in the Anglican church; however, only 10 million are communicant members. Roman Catholics number 6 million, and the rest belong to nonconformist free churches such as Methodist or Baptist. Except for some areas of Irish settlements in the northwest, religious tolerance persists.

The Church of England traces its history back to the arrival of Christians in Britain during the second century. It has preserved much of the tradition of medieval Catholicism while holding on to the fundamentals of the Reformation. It broke with the Roman papacy during the reign of Henry VIII (15091547). The church has gone through persecution and was also influenced by the Puritans. Nevertheless, it has maintained an episcopal form of government, with the monarchy acting as the secular head of the English church and the Archbishop of Canterbury having spiritual prominence.

Arts. England has a strong and distinctive tradition in literature, theater, and architecture. In literature, writers tend to focus on their particular region, while in plays they are more likely to deal with England as a whole. In architecture, the English have borrowed from other cultures, but they have transformed the concepts into a characteristically English style. England has also become a leader in popular culture with musical groups that have captured international prominence. London is the theater center for the English-speaking world.

Medicine. England's national health service provides quality care. However, the system has declined somewhat under the Thatcher government and private practice has increased.

Death and Afterlife. In the Anglican church, exactly what happens at death is a mystery. However, Anglicans believe that the individual "is received by God into his arms," which is taken to mean the person passes into a timeless and spaceless relationship with God, unlike that which is experienced in this life. Funerals are conducted by a priest or minister a day or two after death.


Bonfield, Lloyd, Richard M. Smith, and Keith Wrightson, eds. (1986). The World We Have Gained. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Helweg, Arthur W. (1986). Sikhs in England. 2nd ed. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Newby, Howard (1979). Social Change in Rural England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Noble, Trevor (1981). Structure and Change in Modern Britain. London: Batsford Academic and Educational.

Priestley, J. B. (1934). English Journey. New York and London: Harper Brothers.

Sampson, Anthony (1983). The Changing Anatomy of Britain. New York: Random House.

United Kingdom, Government of. Central Office of Information (1989). Britain 1989: An Official Handbook. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Young, Michael, and Peter Willmott (1957). Family and Kinship in East London. Baltimore: Penguin.



views updated Jun 08 2018



LOCATION: United Kingdom (England)

POPULATION: Over 48 million


RELIGION: Church of England; Protestantism; Judaism; Sikhism; Hinduism; Islam


England is unique among European countries. As an island, it has been protected by surrounding waters that form a natural barrier. No country has successfully invaded England for the last 1,000 years.

The area now called England was occupied by many European cultures and tribes. In 1066 ad the Normans, from France, invaded and became the new rulers of England. London was established as the country's capital. Soon after, England began expanding into its neighboring countriesWales, Ireland, and Scotland. England's history has been continuously linked with these three nations through to present times.

In the seventeenth century, the first English colonies in America were established. England continued to expand its colonies and became an empire (a government with many territories under its rule) that covered one-quarter of the world.

England suffered enormous losses during World War I (191418). After the war, England began to lose authority over its colonies. Ireland was the first to become independent. World War II (193945) was also devastating to England. In the twenty-five years that followed, the British Empire granted independence to the majority of its other colonies. Most of the former colonies still retain economic and political ties to Britain. The British economy and society still have a strong influence in world affairs today. The British royal family, which no longer has any political power, is often the focus of international publicity.


England is the largest of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. Two othersScotland and Walesshare the same island (Britain) with England, and the three countries are collectively known as Great Britain. The fourth, Northern Ireland, is a close neighbor. England is roughly triangular in shape, with a long, irregular coastline. Its countryside includes many types of terrain, including mountains, plains, lowlands and low hills, and moors (marshy, open areas). London is the capital city.

England has a high population density (many people living close together). Most of England's inhabitants live in cities. Ethnically, they come from a mixture of European groups. Many people have moved from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to live in England. Immigrants have also come from former British colonies in South Asia and the Caribbean.


English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by close to 450 million people around the globe. Many varieties of English are spoken worldwide, and many dialects and regional accents exist within England. Although Americans speak English, they may have difficulty understanding the speech of the English people. In addition to differences in pronunciation, people in the two countries often use different words for the same thing. Examples include:

ballpoint penbiro
car hoodbonnet
car trunkboot
phone boothcall box
stroller (for baby)pushchair
baby buggypram


The most famous folklore of England is about King Arthur and the Knights of theRound Table. If there was a real King Arthur, he most probably lived in the sixth century ad. King Arthur is believed to have ruled justly, which was uncommon for rulers of that era. Famous characters from that folklore include Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Many books and movies tell these stories, including T. H. White's The Once and Future King and the movies Camelot and Excalibur.

Also famous are the English legends about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. These noble outlaws lived in Sherwood Forest near the city of Nottingham in the twelfth century ad. They were famous for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.


Church and state are closely intertwined in England, unlike in the United States. About 60 percent of England's population are members of the Church of England (also called the Anglican Church). Other Protestant sects are also active in England, as is the Roman Catholic Church. England has one of Europe's largest Jewish populations. In addition, many cities have recently become home to large immigrant populations of Sikhs (followers of a Hindu-Islamic religion), Hindus, and Muslims (followers of Islam).


Most of England's holidays are those celebrated by the Christian religion. Other holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), May Day (May 1), and the August bank holiday.

There is also a great deal of celebration related to the government and the monarchy. Much ceremony surrounds the State Opening of Parliament (the governing council) each year. Traditions also surround anniversaries of many historical events. Among them is Remembrance Sunday, which commemorates the armistice (military truce) that ended World War I (191418).


England is a modern, industrialized country. Therefore, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are connected with their progress through the educational system. Other rites of passage include getting a first job, being promoted, getting married, having children, and retiring in one's sixties. These are the main markers of significant life changes.


English people are known for their politeness and their respect for law and order. They wait patiently in lines (which they call "queues") at stores, bus stops, and movie theaters. It is uncommon for people to try to push ahead of each other. Those living in the south are usually more reserved than northerners, and are less likely to greet strangers. The English are also known for their acceptance of other people's views and eccentricities (peculiar behaviors).

Social class is an important feature of English society. In earlier times, people from wealthy families enjoyed great privileges not available to working-class and poor people. After World War II (193945), working-class people gained access to better education and therefore to better jobs. As a result, many barriers between classes weakened. However, class identity is still inferred from such things as patterns of speech, which school one attended, and one's parents' occupations.


Even though England has a high population density, there is less overcrowding than in most European countries. About half the population now live in dwellings constructed after World War II (193945). These are usually two-story houses with gardens. More than 80 percent of England's population live in houses, while the rest occupy apartments (called "flats.") There is a shortage of low-income rental housing. This has contributed to a growing homeless population in London and England's other major cities.


England's families have gotten smaller over the years. Grandparents are more likely to live alone or in retirement homes rather than with their families. More young couples are living together without marrying. Those who marry do so at a later age than in previous times. They often establish themselves in their occupations before starting a family. Gender roles of men and women are changing, both at home and in the workplace.

Women are moving toward greater equality in relationships and responsibility. A 1975 law established equal pay for men and women performing the same work.


There is no unique national costume for England. For the most part, the English wear modern-style clothing similar to that worn in the United States and other industrialized countries. Blue jeans and T-shirts are very popular. The cold, damp winters require heavy coats, mackintoshes (rain-coats), and warm woolen clothes.

The most famous traditional costumes in England are the red uniforms and high black hats worn by the royal guard at Buckingham Palace. Ceremonial dress is worn by government troops and the royal family on official occasions. In rural areas, traditional folk costumes are worn for festivals such as May Day (May 1, a celebration of spring).


English cuisine can seem bland and unimaginative to people from other countries. It usually does not include many herbs or spices, or fancy presentations. This may be why food from other countries, especially India and China, is popular in England.

The traditional English breakfast is quite substantial. It includes bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, and kipper (a type of smoked fish). Modern English people rarely take the time to prepare such an elaborate breakfast before going off to work or school. They usually eat a lighter meal, often cereal and toast with marmalade.


Bubble and Squeak


  • 2½ cups shredded cabbage
  • ½ pound roast beef (corned beef may be used), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sliced onions
  • ½ cup mashed potatoes
  • Pepper


  1. Fill a pot large enough to hold the shredded cabbage with water. Heat until the water is boiling.
  2. Add the cabbage, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cabbage, and drain in a colander. Press on the cabbage to squeeze out most of the water.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook them over low heat, stirring constantly, until the onions are softened (about 2 minutes).
  4. Add the cabbage to the skillet and stir to combine with the cooked onions.
  5. Add the mashed potatoes and mix. Cook the mixture for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the meat to the mixture.
  7. Cook until the meat is heated through (about five minutes), stirring occasionally.

Adapted from Howard Hillman, Great Peasant Dishes of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

The main meal of the day may be eaten either at midday or in the evening. It usually consists of a meat dish, vegetables, and a dessert. Sunday lunch is the most important meal of the week.

Tea is the national beverage. The English are known for their custom of afternoon tea, accompanied by cakes and sandwiches. The custom originated with the wealthier classes who were able to eat at 4:00 pm when most people were at work. Nowadays, afternoon tea is mostly a weekend event.

Bubble and Squeak is a dish with a funny name that was invented to make use of leftovers from a roast beef dinner. The "bubble and squeak" refers to the dish as it cooks. A recipe for Bubble and Squeak is on the previous page.


Education is required for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Nearly all English people are literate (able to read and write). Most students attend state-run schools. Primary education lasts until the age of eleven, followed by secondary education. At the age of sixteen, pupils sit for exams in several subjects to get the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). After that, they may either leave school to find a job, or continue secondary education until the age of eighteen. At that age, they may take more advanced exams (A-Level). These are usually taken in preparation for attending a university.


England has a distinguished cultural heritage, including one of the greatest writers ever, the sixteenth-century playwright William Shakespeare. Other great writers include the poets William Wordsworth and John Keats; novelists Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy; and modern writers D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W. H. Auden, George Orwell, and T. S. Eliot.

Great English painters include Joseph Turner and John Constable (nineteenth century), and Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Graham Sutherland (twentieth century). Henry Moore was a famous twentieth-century sculptor. English composers include John Dowland, William Byrd, and Henry Purcell (1500s and 1600s); Gilbert and Sullivan (nineteenth-century light operas); and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten in modern times. In the 1960s, England became a trendsetter in popular music as the home of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.


The average English workweek is five days and thirty-five to forty hours long. This is about half of the workweek of a century ago. Approximately half of England's workers are employed in service sector jobs (jobs that directly serve the public). A third work in manufacturing and engineering. The rest work in agriculture, construction, mining, and energy production.


The most popular sport in England, both for watching and playing, is soccer (called "football"). It is played in professional and amateur leagues as well as in schools, colleges, and small towns. Other favorite sports include cricket and rugby. These three games all originated in England and spread throughout the world due to the influence of the British Empire. Other popular sports include horse racing, hockey, cross-country running, tennis, swimming, and other water sports. Gambling on sportswhich is legal in Englandis popular.


Many people in England spend their leisure time relaxing at home watching television or videos. Most are regular newspaper readers, and nearly half read books regularly. The English also enjoy going to a local pub (bar) for good traditional food as well as alcoholic beverages.

Angling (fishing with a hook and line) is the most popular pastime in the country. The English are also very fond of games, including snooker (a billiards game) and darts. Older people often enjoy bingo and cribbage (a card game). The English are known for their love of gardening. Even apartment dwellers cultivate window boxes full of flowers, or rent a piece of land on which to garden. Fishing, hiking, and horseback riding are also popular, as are raising pets and taking a variety of evening classes.


England has a history of fine furniture-making. This dates back to the eighteenth-century work of Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite. The ceramics of Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode also date back to that time. England still exports blue-and-white Wedgwood jasperware. The most famous English folk dance is the Morris dance, still seen at local festivals. Male dancers stomp and leap while waving pieces of cloth and jingling bells.


The most serious social problems in modern-day England are class divisions and economic inequality. Over 20 percent of the nation's wealth is owned by 1 percent of the people. Unemployment hit 10 percent in 1993.

Many immigrants from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and other countries have settled in England's urban areas. They often suffer the effects of discrimination and have high rates of unemployment. Racial tension between the white English community and nonwhite immigrants has erupted into riots in several major cities.


England in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1990.

Fuller, Barbara. Britain: Cultures of the World. London, England: Marshall Cavendish, 1994.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.

Greene, Carol. England. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.

Helweg, Arthur W. "English." In Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Europe). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Langley, Andrew. Passport to England. New York: Franklin Watts, 1994.


British Council. [Online] Available http://www.britcoun.org/usa/, 1998.

British Information Service. United Kingdom. [Online] Available http://www.britain-info.org, 1998.

British Tourist Authority. [Online] Available http://www.visitbritain.com, 1998.


views updated May 14 2018


LOCATION: South Africa

ALTERNATE NAMES: Whites (a generic term that includes Afrikaners)

POPULATION: About 3.1 million


RELIGION: Christianity


About 14 percent, or 6.3 million, of the population of South Africa is white. English South Africans make up just under half of that group, or about 6 percent. Despite their small numbers, English culture and language are powerful influences. English is the principal language of business and tourism, English-language newspapers are published daily in the urban centers, and public signs and notices are posted in English. A visitor to South Africa who speaks only English would have no difficulty getting about and being understood.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, South Africa's political life was dominated by white Afrikaners. (See the article on "Afrikaners" in this volume. Afrikaners are descendants of settlers mostly from the Netherlands.) English South Africans were prominent in commerce, industry, and the professions throughout much of this period. They remain influential as one of the best-educated and most affluent sectors of the population.


English South Africans have historic and language ties to England, but they see themselves as South African, not British. English are concentrated in and around South Africa's urban areasthe coastal cities of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, and the inland cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Kimberley.

English presence in South Africa goes back to the end of the eighteenth century when Britain seized control of the Cape of Good Hope, the first white settlement area in Cape Town. The British government encouraged its citizens to emigrate to the Capemostly to establish a buffer between African tribesmen and farming colonists on the eastern frontierand the first sizable group of 4,000 began to arrive in 1820.

Eventually the British government went to war with the native Zulus (see the article on Zulus in this volume), defeating them after a number of bloody battles. At the turn of the century, British forces fought the Anglo-Boer war and defeated the Afrikaners. South Africa was incorporated into the British Empire. In 1910 the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, was created. Throughout this turbulent history, English South Africans settled all over the country.


English has been spoken in South Africa since the nineteenth century. It is the same as English spoken elsewhere in the world, but it has a distinctive South African accent and vocabulary. South African English pronunciation of the words yes, kettle, and axle are yis, kittle, and eksel.

South African English slang has borrowed some structures from Afrikaans, such as "I am going to the shop, will you come with?" It has also taken some words from African languages, such as indaba (gathering).


English South Africans share in holidays, legends, and myths with others in the English-speaking world. They celebrate Christmas with gifts, family gatherings, and dinner. They get together for parties and celebrations on New Year's Eve, and sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight.


Religious beliefs are an important part of the daily life of many South Africans. Most English South Africans belong to Protestant Christian denominations; a lesser number adhere to the Catholic church. Religion played a key role in opposition to the racial discrimination known as apartheid. Religious leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church in South Africa became politically prominent in their campaigns for equality and democracy.


The English of South Africa observe national and religious holidays. These include Republic Day, May 31, honoring the date in 1961 that South Africa became a republic; Kruger Day, October 10, honoring the birth of Stephanus Johannus Paulus Kruger (19251904), an early Afrikaner political leader.


The rites of passage for English South Africans would be familiar to their counterparts in other parts of the world. After graduation from high schoolknown as matriculation in South Africait is common to go on to a technical college or to a university.

Few South African youths own cars before they get full-time jobs. The purchase of the first car is an important rite of passage, as is reaching the age of eighteen when it becomes legal to drive, to vote, and to drink alcohol. On the twenty-first birthday, it is usual to present the celebrant with a symbolic silver key to adulthood. Marriage usually occurs in the mid-twenties.

After university graduationand sometimes beforeit is common for young English South Africans to try to travel abroad. Typically, they travel to Britain and the European continent (fourteen hours away by air) but increasing numbers are traveling to the United States, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Because of the expense involved, many try to get work during their travels. It is not uncommon to find young English South Africans working in other countries as farm laborers, maids, nannies, and in other casual jobs.

In the past, military service was compulsory at age eighteen for white males only. Army duty brought English and Afrikaner South Africans together. As of the late 1990s, all races served in a volunteer defense force, further demolishing past racial barriers.


In the past, English South Africanslike other ethnic and racial groups in the countrytended to keep to themselves with most social contacts confined to members of their own group. With the end of separation of the races (which began by stages in the 1980s and reached its peak with the beginning of democracy in 1994), whites and blacks have been brought together in schools, colleges, the workplace, and sports fields. As a result, people are being exposed to customs that may be different than their own. For instance, in some African cultures it is considered polite to sit down when a prominent person or someone elderly enters a room. English South Africans have been taught traditionally that younger people should stand up as a mark of respect. They are learning that their way is not necessarily practiced by everyone.


Under the apartheid system, whites (both English and Afrikaner) were afforded many advantages. For instance, they had better schools, better job opportunities, and better recreation and health facilities. English-speaking South Africans were part of that elite. As of the late 1990s, there are no longer legal barriers to race groups living anywhere. The typical English South African lives in a single family house on a wide suburban street or in an apartment or semi-detached row house with neighborhood playgrounds, shopping centers, and cinemas (movie theaters).


In English South African families, both parents typically work. Younger children are cared for after school by live-in domestic workers. With high interest rates and sharply rising property prices, it has become fairly common for young adults to continue to live at home for longer than they would have in the past. Sometimes families build separate structures on their property for their adult children or elderly parents.

English South African families celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, special achievements in school or in sports, and often take vacations together, renting cottages or apartments at the seaside. Many families keep one or two dogs or cats as pets.


Everyday clothing is similar to that worn by middle-class people throughout the world. It is common to find men giving up traditional Western business suits at work for a more casual style of dress. This trend was set by President Nelson Mandela who wore colorful open-neck shirts even at formal meetings. Schoolchildren wear school uniforms. Sometimes these uniforms include the traditional blazer and tie for boys and girls, but this is hot and uncomfortable during the summer. Many schools have opted for open-neck clothes. Shorts and T-shirts are popular on weekends.


English South Africans traditionally enjoyed roast beef or lamb with roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, prepared on Sunday morning and eaten at a family lunch (followed by a nap). Lifestyles and dietary changes are changing this tradition. The traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs has also been given up on most mornings. English South Africans drink coffee or tea, and eat toast, breakfast cereal, or fruit. Lunch is often a sandwich or slice of pizza. Dinner might by grilled steak with fried or baked potatoes. Fried or baked fish is popular in coastal cities. In winter, bredies (stews) are popular. English South Africans like to garnish their food with chutney (pickled relish). Many enjoy a bread spread called Marmite, a dark-colored yeast extract with a salty taste. Fast foods are gaining in popularity.


Almost all English South Africans are literate (can read and write). Education is compulsory to the age of sixteen. It generally takes twelve years to obtain a high school diploma or senior certificate which is required to continue studies at a technical college or university. University undergraduate degrees generally take three years to complete. (The academic year is longer than in the United States.) An additional year of study after a bachelor's degree can lead to an honors degree, followed by further work for master's degrees or doctorates.

It is becoming more difficult to get a good job without a bachelor's degree or a technical college diploma. Many families will sacrifice to ensure that their children are educated.


English South African writers have achieved international renown for their depiction of dramatic events in South Africa. Probably the best-known such writer is Alan Paton (190388). His novel, Cry the Beloved Country, explores the impact of racism on whites as well as blacks. Another writer who has achieved international fame is Nadine Gordimer (1923). Playwright Athol Fugard (1932) has also achieved international fame with his dramatic portrayals of life through South Africa's racetinged prism. Many English South Africans have developed a taste for African music, as performed by groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. American musician and entertainer Paul Simon has done much to bring this music to an international audience.


A typical work week ranges from forty to forty-six hours. There is no legally mandated minimum wage. Until 1979, special classes of labor were reserved for workers by race. The more highly paid jobs were reserved for, and are still largely held by, whites. After apartheid, this situation was changing. Some English South Africans express concern over affirmative action programs to correct the inequities created by apartheid. Some claim now that this has led to a new kind of apartheid in which whites are unable to get jobs and promotion because of their skin color.


Outdoor sports are very popular. Cricket and rugby are national obsessions. Other popular sports are soccer, field hockey (mostly female participants) played in winter, tennis, track and field athletics, competitive cycling, and swimming. Lawn bowls (bowling) is played mostly by older adults. Windsurfing, surfing, yachting, hiking, and mountaineering are all popular. Events that attract thousands of spectators and participants include annual road marathon races in Cape Town and Natal. Horse racing also has a large following, and two races in particularthe Cape Metropolitan handicap and the Durban Julyare major media events. The fashions worn by the spectators get as much attention as the horses.


Popular recreation attractions in South Africa include Kruger National Park and several game reserves. Entertainment facilities include symphony halls, theaters, movies, nightclubs, and discos.


English in South Africa enjoy the varied hobbies of citizens of any industrialized nation.


South Africa's transition to democracy in 1994 brought equal rights and new opportunities to the disadvantaged sectors of the population. It also sparked a dramatic increase in the rate of crime and violencean result of poverty and high unemployment. Burglaries, muggings, carjackings, rapes, and murders all increased in the late 1990s. As a result, there is a growing interest in the possibility of emigration (moving out of the country), and growth of home security services and the development of gated communities.

South Africa's transition also made it a target for foreign narcotics traffickers who saw an opportunity to ship drugs through the newly opened borders. Illegal drugs are shipped through South Africa to North America and Europe in a complex network that makes themt difficult to trace.


Crocker, Chester A. High Noon in Southern Africa. New York: Norton, 1992.

Mallaby, Sebastian. After Apartheid. New York: Random House, 1992.

Morris, Donald R. The Washing of the Spears. London, England: Jonathan Cape, 1972.

Paton, Alan. Towards the Mountain, An Autobiography. Cape Town: David Philip, 1980 (also published in the United States by Charles Scribner's Sons).

Reader's Digest Illustrated History of South Africa. Cape Town: Reader's Digest Association, 1994.

Suzman, Helen. In No Uncertain Terms, A South African Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1993.


Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.southafrica.net/, 1998.

Government of South Africa. [Online] http://www.polity.org.za/gnu.html, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. South Africa. [Online] Available http://www.geographia.com/south-africa/, 1998.

Southern African Development Community. South Africa. [Online] Available http://www.sadcusa.net/members/safrica/, 1998.

English Language

views updated May 23 2018


ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The English language has its origins in about the fifth century a.d., when tribes from the continent, the Jutes, the Saxons, and then the larger tribe of Angles invaded the small island we now call England (from Angle-land). Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, is preserved in Beowulf (c. a.d. 800). Middle English developed following the Norman invasion of 1066, exemplified in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1400). Modern English, dating from the sixteenth century, is exemplified in the plays of William Shakespeare (1564–1616). From the time the Pilgrims landed in America (1620), the language began to take its own course in this "New World." Expressions like "fixing to," which had never been used in England, were "cropping up" (an expression going back to Middle English) in the colonial press by 1716.

So the American Revolution (1775–1783) not only created a new nation but also divided the English language into what H. L. Mencken, author of the classic study The American Language; An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, called "two streams." These streams diverged to produce different words with the same denotation (the American "trunk" of a car is a "boot" in England), different pronunciations for the same words (the American sked-ju-el is the British shed-ju-el), and different spellings (theater vs. theatre, labor vs. labour).

By 1781, the word "Americanism" had been coined by John Witherspoon, a Scottish clergyman recruited to become president of Princeton University. These Americanisms, Witherspoon wrote, were not "worse in themselves, but merely …of American and not of English growth." The separation of the "two streams of English" was already noticeable. In his usual acerbic manner, Mencken applauded the American resistance to rules: "Standard [British] English must always strike an American as a bit stilted and precious" (p. 774).

Judgment by Language: The Shibboleth

Once there is any kind of "standard," people could begin passing judgment (that's spelled "judgement" in England) based on what was deemed "correct." One of the first recorded instances is the "shibboleth" test in the Old Testament. Hebrew, like all other languages, had many dialects, and the twelve tribes of Israel did not always pronounce words in the same way. Thus, when the Gileadites "seized the fords of the Jordan" (Judg. 12:5–6), it was not enough to merely ask those who wished to cross the river "Are you an Ephraimite?" They needed a test to distinguish the enemy. They used pronunciation, and those who said "sib-bo-leth" instead of "shib-bo-leth" were slain.

Americans are by and large more tolerant of language differences than the English. George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), the Englishman who wrote Pygmalion (on which the musical My Fair Lady was based), wrote, "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him." Shaw was, like Mencken, a great debunker and exploder of pretension. "An honest and natural slum dialect," he wrote, "is more tolerable than the attempt of a phonetically un-taught person to imitate the vulgar dialect of the golf club" (Mencken, p. 775).

Dialects: The Branches of the Stream

Shaw's comment raises a point worth highlighting: we all speak a dialect. If English, in Mencken's phrase, divides into "two streams," British and American, there are within those streams many creeks and branches (two Americanisms according to Witherspoon). Both Cockney and "the Queen's English" are, after all, dialects of British English, although one carries more prestige.

Likewise, we have many dialects in the United States. Mark Twain, in his prefatory note to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, tells us that there are at least seventeen distinguishable dialects in the novel. In the early twenty-first century we find many dialects of American English as we move from the New York Bronx to Charleston, or from the Midwestern plains to the San Fernando Valley (home of the "valley girls"), or from Chicago to New Orleans (is that pronounced with the stress on the first or the second syllable: ore-leans or ore-lens?) Is there such a thing today as a "standard" American language?

Guides to Correctness

Certainly there have been those willing to provide guidance to the public on "correct" usage of the language. America's most famous lexicographer, Noah Webster, published his "Blue-backed" American Speller soon after the Revolution, teaching not only spelling but also pronunciation, common sense, morals, and good citizenship. His first dictionary (1806) was one of several (the first in English being Samuel Johnson's in 1755), but when Webster died in 1843, the purchase of rights to his dictionary by Charles and George Merriam led to a new, one-volume edition that sold for six dollars in 1847. This edition became the standard. Except for the Bible, Webster's spelling book and dictionary were the best-selling publications in American history up to the mid-twentieth century.

Webster's spelling book (often marketed with the Bible) molded four generations of American schoolchildren, proclaiming what was "right" without apology. In contrast, The American Heritage Dictionary of the late twentieth century offers guidance based on a survey of its "Usage Panel," a group of respected writers and speakers who are asked what they find acceptable. In the third college edition (1997), the editors note drastic changes in the Panel's attitudes. More and more of the old shibboleths are widely accepted. For example, in 1969 most of the Usage Panel objected to using the words "contact" and "intrigue" as verbs, but by the 1993 survey, most had no problem with either (though "hopefully" and "disinterested" remained problematic for most). Language, if it is spoken, lives and changes (in contrast to a "dead language" such as Latin, which does not evolve because it is not spoken). As with a river, so with language: you never put your tongue to the same one twice.

Lexicographers now present their dictionaries as a description of how the language looks at a particular time rather than as a prescription of what is "correct." The constant evolution of language makes new editions necessary. Many people have come to use the word "disinterested" to mean "uninterested" instead of "without bias"; therefore, despite objections of purists, it does in fact mean that. "Corruption" or change?

Likewise with pronunciation. In the 1990s, the word "harass" came into frequent use in the news. Americans had traditionally put the stress on the second syllable: he-RASS. This pronunciation, according to The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide (1999), "first occurred in American English and has gained wide acceptance over the last 50 years." But reporters on television during the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, in which he was accused of "sexual harassment" by Anita Hill, tended to prefer the pronunciation HAR-ess, "the older, more traditional pronunciation [which] is still preferred by those for whom British pronunciation is a guide." There are many influences on our shifting language habits.

Simplification Movement

Pragmatic Americans have often sought to simplify the language. The Simplified Spelling Board, created in 1906, sought to simplify the spelling of words like "though." "But tho their filosofy was that simpler is better, they cood not get thru to peepl as they wisht." The Chicago Tribune began to simplify spelling in their publication in 1935, but the American public would not send their brides down the "aile" nor transport their loved ones' caskets in a "herse," so the attempt was largely abandoned with a few exceptions, such as "tho," "thru," and "catalog." Spelling, after all, has often been used as a test of intelligence and education. It also reflects the history of the language. The word "knight" carries with it the echoes of Chaucer's Middle English pronunciation: ka-nick-te.

Another major impediment to spelling reform is the association of phonetic spelling with illiteracy: while the reformers may "ake" to "berry" those men and "wimmen" who "apose" them, those who write of the "kat's tung" open themselves to ridicule. Mencken declared, however, that "American spelling is plainly better than English spelling, and in the long run it seems sure to prevail" (p. 483).

Growing Vocabulary

One distinctive aspect of the English language is its tendency to absorb foreign words. English-speaking peoples

Table 1

Trends in New Word Formation, 1900–2000
Category producing
Decadethe most new wordsExample
10swarflame-thrower (from the German Flammenwerfer)
20sclothesbathing beauty, threads (slang for clothes)
30swardecrypt, fifth column, flak
40swarground zero, radar
50smediateleconference, Xerox
60scomputerinterface, cursor
70scomputerhard disk, microprocessor
80smediacyberspace, dish (TV antenna), shock jock
90spoliticsGeneration X, off-message

(many of them explorers and adventurers) have adopted and adapted terms from many languages. Loanwords come from many foreign languages, sometimes directly, sometimes through other languages: dirge (Latin), history (Greek), whiskey (Celtic), fellow (Scandinavian), sergeant (French), chocolate (Spanish), umbrella (Italian), tattoo (German), sugar (Arabic), kowtow (Chinese), banana (African), moccasin (Native American).

Sometimes new words have to be created. In a survey of new words in the twentieth century, John Ayto found an interesting correlation between neologisms and the events and inventions of the times. Consider the list shown in Table 1.

Promoting and Resisting One "Standard"

One of the great forces for molding a common American English since the mid-twentieth century has been the media, especially television. During the first decades of television news coverage, reporters and anchors were expected to have or to adopt a Midwestern accent, the least distinctive and most generally understandable, the most "American" as it were. This tended to promote a common "American" accent. As the century grew to a close, however, ethnic groups grew in size and multiculturalism became a potent force in society. More dialects (and more ethnicity in general) began to show up on the screen. In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush emphasized his ability to speak Spanish.

This increasing power of groups who spoke English as a second language or not at all led to a widespread call for "English only" laws in the 1980s and 1990s, though the movement never achieved critical mass. On the other end of the political spectrum were those who argued that teachers should use the vernacular of the pupils in order to help them learn. Great arguments swirled around the terms "Ebonics" and "bilingual education."

The International Language

English has replaced French as the international language for many reasons: the political, military, and economic dominance of the United States since World War II (1939–1945), of course, but also the influence of American culture, especially movies, television, and rock music. We were well on our way to this position before Pearl Harbor drew us into war in 1941. Mencken attributes this partly to the "dispersion of the English-speaking peoples," but in typical Mencken style goes on to say that those peoples "have been, on the whole, poor linguists, and so they have dragged their language with them, and forced it upon the human race." Robert MacNeil, in the fascinating study of the English language for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), The Story of English (1986), observed that when landing in Rome, an Italian pilot flying an Italian airliner converses with the control tower in English.

The Digital Word

Just as the printing press, widely used throughout Europe by 1500, changed our use of words, leading to new written forms such as the novel and the newspaper, so the computer has created change. E-mail, chat rooms, and Web pages have made words on the screen almost as common as on the printed page. We already see changes taking place, as onscreen language becomes more informal (often creating new words, such as "online"). Words get shortened: electronic mail becomes e-mail, which in turn becomes email. Note, however, that this is not new. "Today" was spelled "to-day" in the early twentieth century.

We many need help "navigating the shifting verbal currents of the post-Gutenberg era," according to Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age (version 1.0, 1996, with 2.0 published in 1999). The online experience has spawned various means of conveying tone including acronyms (such as LOL for "laughing out loud" and IRL for "in real life" —as distinguished from the virtual world of cyberspace) and emoticons such as >: D for "demonic laughter" and >: P for "sticking tongue out at you." English continues to change with influences of all kinds.

Finding Guidance Amid the Flux

The two streams continue to evolve, of course, and the purists like William Safire and John Simon continue to preach against the "corruption" of the language. But like the river, the English language will flow whither it will. Two of the most respected guides in the midst of this flux are both in third editions.

The Elements of Style, praised as the best of its kind by professional writers for over four decades, is E. B. White's revision of his professor's book. William Strunk's "little book" (1918) so impressed White as a college freshman that decades later he revised Strunk's original (which can be found on the Internet) into this thin volume in praise of conciseness and precision in writing. It has never been out of print since 1959 when the first edition was published, is still in print and praised as the best of its kind by professional writers.

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996) shows tolerance for expressions that Henry Watson Fowler (1858–1933) would have never allowed in his first edition in 1926. The third edition, unlike the first two, lists as one of three meanings for "fix": the "American expression 'to be fixing to,' meaning 'to prepare to, intend, be on the point of.'" This guide, one of the most esteemed in print, labels it "informal" and notes that it is "hardly ever encountered outside the US." American English continues to evolve and standards continue to change.


Ayto, John. Twentieth-Century Words. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Burchfield, R. W., ed. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Widely respected guide to "correct" usage.

Hayakawa, S. I. Language in Thought and Action. 4thed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Classic work on semantics.

Hale, Constance, and Jessie Scanlon. Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Wired magazine is an influential publication about computer technology.

Mencken, H. L. The American Language; An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States. Raven I. McDavid, Jr., ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963. Classic readable and influential examination of the new stream.

McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Viking, 1986. This book is a companion to the excellent PBS television series available on videotape.

Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Pyles, Thomas, and John Algeo. The Origins and Development of the English Language. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

Strunk, William Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1979.

William E.King

See alsoEducation, Bilingual ; Slang .


views updated May 29 2018

ENGLISH IN ENGLAND Also ANGLO-ENGLISH, England English, ENGLISH ENGLISH. The English language as used in England. For many people in England and elsewhere, the terms Anglo-English, England English, and English English are tautologous and barbarous. It has seemed natural to them that, just as French is the language of France, so English is (and should be) the native language of the inhabitants of England. Other forms of the language have been used elsewhere, in some cases for many centuries, but they have been widely regarded in England as peripheral and in many cases deficient. In the late 20c, however, English in England is generally seen by scholars as one of many varieties that bear the name English, but because English English is, as it were, the parent stock it is often harder to discuss and describe than varieties that have added distinctive characteristics of their own. In the English of North America, parts of Africa, and South Asia, it is relatively easy to identify phonological, grammatical, and lexical features unique to certain varieties. It is less easy to say that a particular feature will be heard only or mainly in England.

A language without competition

Since the decline of French in the late Middle Ages, English in England has had no major competitor. English people have not shared the experience of the Celtic parts of Britain, where the presence of other vernaculars may affect the idiom even of those who do not speak them. Nor has there been resistance to the status of English, such as that which makes the Irish writer James Joyce's character Stephen Daedalus think after speaking to an Englishman, ‘My soul frets in the shadow of his language.’ The language has never been officially standardized, but a typically English nostalgia for the past is reflected in attempts to fix one period as definitive. In the 18c, the best English was widely supposed to have been used in the ‘Augustan’ reign of Queen Anne (1702–14). Writers and scholars like Swift and JOHNSON sought to fix it, but at the same time there was strong and successful resistance to suggestions for an Academy on the French model. There continues to be a feeling that a certain type of English is the best, phrases like the Queen's English, BBC ENGLISH, OXFORD ENGLISH suggesting that the ruling and cultural establishment has by right the correct usage.

Standard and accent

There is in England a degree of confusion between the terms STANDARD ENGLISH (SE) and RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (RP). Although SE is generally defined by linguists and teachers in terms only of grammar and vocabulary, and RP only in terms of ACCENT, both are often used as virtual synonyms, and SE is often assumed to include (and require) RP. SE, however, can be and is spoken in many accents. RP emerged more slowly than SE; although regional accents were recognized and considered slightly comic or substandard as early as the 16c, generally dialect was not despised: Walter Raleigh spoke with a Devon accent and was an accomplished courtier and writer. It is not until the late 19c that the prestige of RP becomes apparent, with the desire to acquire it for the enhancement of status. SE is not a class usage, but RP is. Although it has considerable prestige value, RP is disliked and caricatured by many speakers with other accents. It is accepted without comment from a BBC newsreader, but is liable to arouse mirth or hostility when used by anyone suspected of shedding the local speech and ‘talking posh’.

The permutations of SE and RP are many. It is likely that an RP speaker will use SE in speech and writing. Most English people write SE, with occasional lapses in spelling and grammar. Many also speak SE, often with some mixture of regional words and idioms, ranging from an occasional item to full dialect. There has, however, been a steady decline in the degree of dialect differences from SE, accelerated over the last fifty years by media mainly purveying SE usage in RP voices. Dialect variation of lexis and syntax is less marked among younger people, but accents are still diverse. Some speakers in effect command two dialects, local for intimate uses and a version (among the many versions) of the national standard for more formal purposes. The increase of town populations has created marked differences between urban and rural dialects. In large conurbations, local forms which sometimes varied over even a small area have tended to lose their distinctiveness and merge into a more general and extensive type of speech. Pressures from the national educational system and the media have also acted to remove or reduce some of the more extreme variants. A large English town today will contain a variety of spoken English determined by social, educational, and generational factors, rather than the simpler division between educated speech and a fairly uniform local dialect which would until recently have been found in rural areas. The presence of immigrant groups has brought new forms of speech; the second generation usually acquires the local accent, but older speakers often keep distinctive features.

Defending the language

Strong feelings about the state of the language are made public in various ways. Among older middle-class users there is resistance to change and a freely expressed distrust of American and other influences. Resistance to an Academy has paradoxically resulted in unofficial watchdogs such as the Society for Pure English, founded in 1913, which carried on for many years a campaign against what it regarded as degenerate tendencies. Postwar exponents of ‘U and non-U’ (upper-class and non-upper-class usage) stigmatized certain words and idioms as ‘common’, and for a time in the 1950s the spotting of U and non-U terms was a kind of national game. The idea grew from an article by the linguist A. S. C. Ross, which suggested that the comparative levelling of outward signs of rank and wealth in post-war England had made linguistic usage a more important pointer. In 1979, taking a different tack, Plain English Campaign publicly destroyed government forms as the opening move in a crusade against officialese and obfuscation.


English in England appears to be losing many of its particularities. Traditionally, educated English people have separated shall for the first person and will for the second and third, and reversed them for special meaning or emphasis: I shall come tomorrow; you shall go to the Ball! The immediate ‘Have you (got) a pen?’ has been distinguished from the more habitual ‘Do you have a pen?’ Similarly, the present perfect tense has been used for past states within a continuing time period: ‘Have you seen him today?’ as against ‘Did you see him yesterday?’ Modal verbs such as would and might have been used to express hesitation or extra politeness. Would you care for some more tea?—If I might. These and other features are still found with older speakers but seem to be declining, perhaps through the influence of AmE. Because so much is shared with other parts of the UK, and because there has been so much AmE influence in recent decades, it is probably true to say that specifically English English is currently less distinctive within the British Isles than at any time in the past.


English language

views updated May 11 2018

English language. This originated in the speech of small groups of Anglo-Saxon settlers in eastern Britain in the 5th and 6th cents. It is now not only the most widely spoken language in the world but also forms the basis for national and international communication between members of other speech communities.

The language of the Anglo-Saxon settlers and their pre-Norman successors is conventionally known as Old English. Closely related to Old Saxon and Old Frisian, it forms part of the Germanic grouping within the Indo-European language system. Little direct evidence of its nature survives from the 5th and 6th cents. but, as fuller records become available with the advent of Christian literacy, it emerges as a highly inflected language realized in four main dialectal varieties: Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon, and Kentish. Though Latin was inevitably the main language of learned communication, education, and the church, Old English was used as early as King Ine (d. 726) as a language of law; King Alfred's educational reforms of the late 9th cent. built on this precocious official usage and massively expanded its employment in literary and educational texts. As a result, by the 10th cent., the vernacular had acquired a literary prestige attained nowhere else in contemporary Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon period saw two major cultural revolutions: the conversion and the Scandinavian settlement. Both affected the development of the language. The linguistic impact of Christianity is probably exaggerated by the ecclesiastical nature of our sources but there is no doubt that it involved both borrowing from Latin and, more importantly, exploitation of the resources of English through compounding of, and semantic extension to, existing vocabulary to express the concepts of the new religion. The Scandinavian languages of the Viking settlers penetrated much more deeply into English vocabulary, syntax, morphology, and phonology. The influence of this cognate Germanic language clearly operated at the everyday level of communication and even included the transfer of the ancestral forms of the pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’, and ‘their’—items of a type rarely borrowed from one language to another. More indirectly, the Scandinavian settlement seems to have accelerated the progressive loss of inflexional complexity in English, for it is in the Viking-settled areas that these tendencies are most evident, encouraged no doubt by a desire to remove barriers to inter-intelligibility between the two related languages of Old English and Old Norse.

Paradoxically the extent of Scandinavian influence is not fully apparent until the post-Conquest period. The reason for this is that a standard written language had emerged in the late Anglo-Saxon period which was based upon the dialect of the politically dominant kingdom of Wessex, where also was the heartland of the Benedictine reform movement. This conservative, southern-based language registered little of the more radical linguistic changes spreading southwards from the Anglo-Scandinavian north. Only with the Norman Conquest, when the introduction of Norman French scribes resulted in the disruption of West Saxon literary conventions, did these changes become apparent. Untrammelled by convention scribes began to write what they heard. As a result the ‘Early Middle English’ language of their manuscripts differs greatly from that of ‘Late Old English’ texts, yet all that had happened was that written forms had caught up with spoken developments—which had included simplification of many inflectional distinctions and the absorption of Scandinavian vocabulary.

Under pressure from Latin and French in the post-Conquest period, English lost literary prestige; the ‘Middle English’ stage of the language between the 12th and 14th cents. is thus a record of geographically limited dialects. By the 14th cent., however, English had risen once more in status though it was only in the late 14th and early 15th that a new standard written language emerged, based upon the language of the capital, London. This standard was later reinforced and spread by the introduction of printing. Linguistic variation in spelling and vocabulary, however, long persisted.

The 14th-cent. language of Chaucer in the south and the Gawain poet in the north bears the marks of strong French influence in vocabulary and syntax. Detailed analysis of this French impact shows that it did not follow immediately upon the Norman Conquest but effectively began in the 13th cent. under the combined effects of the loss of Normandy in 1204 with a consequent identification of an Anglo-Norman nobility with England, and the European cultural ascendancy of French literary forms.

The flood of new ideas associated with the Renaissance and with Elizabethan and later exploration exposed the English speech community to languages and experience from most of the inhabited world. Terms to express the new concepts of religion, scholarship, and science invaded the language, not least from Latin and Greek; such ‘inkhorn terms’ were the subject of anguished debate and comedy among contemporary polemicists and satirists. The lack of fixed forms in English, particularly in contrast to the apparent stability of Latin, was also increasingly a matter of concern for those anxious to establish the vernacular as a language of learned discourse. This concern led to the eighteenth-century preoccupation with regularizing, fixing, and recording language of which Johnson's Dictionary and the appearance of prescriptive grammar books represent two complementary facets.

By the 18th cent., however, English was no longer the language of a small part of Britain. In the preceding century settlers had taken it to North America and the West Indies; it was now to spread to Australasia, South Africa, and India. In all of these areas it developed its own forms which proceeded to interact with British English, the more so as communications became easier. The language in its various varieties has continued to evolve, with conservative and innovative forces continually at war within it. One extreme example can illustrate this conflict: alongside the host of new coinages, based on Latin and Greek roots, which have been adopted to express the technology and science of the 19th and 20th cents. there coexisted an extraordinarily archaic, yet highly influential, form of language in the world of religion where the Anglican church continued to use prayer books and bibles published in the period of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles II which themselves drew heavily upon the language of Tyndale (d. 1536), Cranmer (d. 1556), and Coverdale (d. 1569).

See also dialects.

Richard N. Bailey


Barber, C. , The English Language: A Historical Introduction (Cambridge, 1993);
Freeborn, D. , From Old English to Standard English (1992);
Leith, R. , A Social History of English (1983);
Strang, B. , A History of English (1970).


views updated May 21 2018

English the English are a nation of shopkeepers proverbial saying, early 19th century; attributed to Napoleon, but a similar usage is found earlier in the writings of Adam Smith (1732–90), ‘To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.’

An earlier reference to the same idea is found in J. Tucker's Letter from a Merchant (1766), ‘A shopkeeper will never get the more custom by beating his own customers; and what is true of a shopkeeper, is true of a shopkeeping nation.’
English Pale that part of Ireland (see pale1) over which England exercised jurisdiction before the whole country was conquered. Centred on Dublin, it varied in extent at different times from the reign of Henry II until the full conquest under Elizabeth I. The term was also used for a small area round Calais, the only part of France remaining in English hands after the Hundred Years War. It was recaptured by France in 1558.

See also Englishman.

About this article

English language

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic