Salient features or Characteristics of English Language
English is spoken and read not only in England and the United States but also in many countries of the East and West. It is now spoken as a second language throughout the world. Through historical, political, and economic factors that have much to do with this worldwide extension of English, there are qualities and characteristics inherent in the language itself to which English owes much of its ever-increasing Global appeal. The following are some of the characteristics which contribute to this worldwide extension of English.
The first and the most important of these features is its extraordinary receptive and adaptable heterogeneousness–the varied ease and readiness with which it has taken to itself material from almost everywhere in the world and has made the borrowed material its own. It has taken and assimilated wonderfully materials from almost every known language of the world. The English vocabulary actually contains a large number of borrowings from diverse languages and well reveals a marked tendency to borrow, whenever necessary, from other linguistic resources and use and adopt all borrowing effectively. In fact, heterogeneous elements adapted from numerous sources are fused and blent so successfully in the language that the origin is known only to erudite philologists.
A second outstanding characteristic of English is its simplicity of inflections–the ease with which it indicates the relationship of words in a sentence almost without endings or changing the shape of words. There are languages such as Chinese which have greater inflectional simplicity, but English has gone further than other European languages in reducing the inflections it once had to a minimum. Classical languages like Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit have inflections of the noun, the adjective, the verb, and the pronoun even. Some inflections, causing immense intricacies are not found in English, as in modern French, Germany, and Russian. In fact, in this process of inflectional simplification, English in the words of A.C. Baugh, ‘has gone further than any other language of Europe.’
The Third characteristic of the English language is found in its relatively fixed word order as a means of grammatical expression. Words in English not play hide and seek as they often do in Latin. English shows more regularity and Less caprice in the matter of word order than most or probably all Indo-European languages. If in an English sentence, such as ‘Tom broke the pen,’ we transpose the position of the nouns, we entirely change the meaning of the sentence; the subject and object or not denoted by any terminations to the words, as they would be in Greek or Latin or in modern German, but by their position before and after the verb. In English an auxillary verb does not stand far from its principal verb; an adjective almost always stands before its noun; the subject precedes the verb; the verb transitive verb precedes its object.
The fourth quality of the English language is its masculinity. It is, according to Jespersen positively and expressly masculine; It is the language of a grown-up man and has very little childish or feminine about it. Such qualities as fixed word order, reduction of the inflections to the minimum, sobriety in expression, the logic of facts, and freedom from pedantry bear out its masculinity. Of all the above quality it is adaptable receptiveness and simplicity of inflections that have contributed to making the English language a world language. On the other hand, the very copiousness and heterogeneousness of the English lead to the vagueness and the lack of clarity. Its resources are so vast that only the well-educated can use it to full advantage. C.L. Wrenn is perhaps right to say that “English is among the easiest languages to speak badly, but the most difficult to use well.”
The fifth quality of the English language is its logic. English is by far the most logical of all languages with the sole exception of Chinese which has been described as a pure and applied logic. In English the difference between past ‘he did’ and present perfect ‘he has done’ or the past perfect ‘he had done’ is maintained with great consistency.
The sixth outstanding characteristic of English is the development of new varieties of intonations to express shades of meaning which were formerly indicated by varying shapes of words. This is perhaps comparable “to the vast use of intonation in Chinese as a method of expressing meaning in a sentence which would otherwise seem series of the unvarying monosyllabic root.” By varying intonation, the tone of the voice, a wonderful variety of shades of meaning has been obtained in English.
These are, in miniature, the characteristic features of the English language. Of course, as Jespersen has rightly claimed: ‘It is impossible to characterize a language in one formula.’
Yet, different aspects and trends in a language serve to build up its nature. The English language may be characterized on the same basis, as energetic, clear, methodical, business-like, sober, and cosmopolitan. The high hopes for such a language are really no day