Learn something new on English Language Day

April 23rd is St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s birthday and the UN’s English Language Day.

I’ve put together a few thoughts with which to celebrate these observances.

  1. English Language Day was established by the United Nations in 2010, alongside specific days for five other languages widely used by the member states.

The aim of the UN’s Language Days was to increase awareness and respect for the identified languages among the UN community. The other languages recognised in this way are Arabic, Russian, French, Chinese and Spanish.

  1. The date for English Language Day was chosen to be 23rd April as it’s widely celebrated as William Shakespeare’s birthday.

Although the 23rd April is often recognised as Shakespeare’s birthday, it’s not actually known when he was born as such records weren’t kept at that time.

What is known is that Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th 1564 and, as he later died on 23rd April 1616, this has become the date on which we celebrate his life.

  1. William Shakespeare is credited with inventing numerous words and phrases which are still in use today – but is this true?

According to Shakespeare Online, we can thank William Shakespeare for the creation of various words which have continued to be used in our vocabulary including blushing, puking and green-eyed.

More recent research, however, suggests that his creativity may not have been as significant as we thought. According to Ammon Shea (author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation) this misunderstanding has occurred because the Oxford English Dictionary defines the first recorded use of a word in writing which has, in the past, often credited Shakespeare’s works. Due to the breadth of his works, and their popularity, it is easy to see how Shakespeare gained these credits. However, Shea suggests that further research by the OED is consistently reducing the number of words for which he can be credited.

  1. The English language is constantly changing.

Despite continuing to use words and phrases from the 16th century, there are new words being created all the time. [For a picture of how new words are created this TED talk by Erin McKean is really interesting.]

While not all new words will get adopted into the language, there are enough changes to our vocabulary to mean that the Oxford English Dictionary currently makes four updates a year. The most recent update in March 2018 resulted in more than 700 new words, senses or subentries being added, including cultural appropriation, trans and mardy bum.

  1. Wouldst thou choose to speaketh like Shakespeare?

If you’re not ready to come to terms with the development of the English language, perhaps you’d like to travel back in time with your vocabulary.

First launched in 2009 (and inspired by the successful International Talk Like a Pirate Day), the Chicago Shakespeare Theater launched National Talk Like Shakespeare Day.

Suggestions include

  • When in doubt, add the letters ‘eth’ to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth).
  • Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
  • Don’t waste time saying ‘it’, just use the letter ‘t’ (t’is, t’will, I’ll do’t).
  1. Around 20% of the world’s population speaks English; that’s almost 1.5 billion people.

These statistics come from Dylan Lyons of the online Language Learning service Babbel who states that English is the world’s most studied language.

Only around 360 million people speak English as their first language however, so most of the 1.5 billion English speakers worldwide are using it as a second language.

  1. Learning to fly? Speaking English helps…

English is the official language of aviation and has been since 2001.

The need for a standard language in flying had been recognised for years, with communication failures being blamed for air traffic accidents in the past. The directive from the International Civil Aviation Organisation ensures that all flight crews, pilots, and air traffic controllers have an appropriate proficiency in the English language to communicate effectively.

Whether today will encourage you to learn English, speak like Shakespeare, or learn how to fly. I hope you’ve found out something interesting about the English language.

Do you have any English language facts you’d like to share?