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The English Language


Although English is an inflected) language, it has lost most inflections. Nouns, pronouns, and verbs in modern English are inflected, but adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections are not.

Inflection is the change in the form of a word to mark distinctions of tense, person, number, gender, mood, voice, and case. In English, this usually is accomplished by adding endings. Examples are the "s" or "es" to denote the plural form of nouns (chairs, boxes), "er" or "est" for comparatives (taller, tallest), and "s," "ed," or "ing" for verbs (walks, walked, walking). Another type of inflection uses changes to the stem, or main word part of the word (sing, sang, sung). Five personal pronouns have different forms for subject and object (e.g., he - him, she - her).

Other European languages have retained more inflections. For example, French and Spanish verb endings denote the person (I, you, he) and number (singular or plural). The leniency of English syntax makes it easy lo speak this language poorly.

The English language also makes use of affixation.

An affix is a word element that attaches to a word as a prefix (pre-, dis-) or a suffix (-able, -er). An affix may be Greek (hyper-) or Latin (-ment), or native (over-, -ness). Many different affixes are used in English. Some have the same meaning. Some have many meanings.

Another important aspect of the English language is composition (compounding). This is the creation of a new word from two other words. The new word may be:

  1. A compound word in which the first component noun modifies the second noun (e.g., barmaid, countertop, songbird, ballgame);
  2. A compound word constructed from a noun plus a noun, which consists of a verb plus a suffix (e.g., homeowner, lawnmower).
  3. A compound constructed from a verb plus an object (e.g., drivetime, callgirl, singsong, football, sunrise).
  4. An adjective plus a noun (e.g., redcap, blackface, lowball. shortcake;
  5. A noun and a present participle (e.g., backbreaking, woodcutting, housewarming).

Back-formation is the reverse of affixation. It is the formation of a new word from one that is incorrectly assumed to have been derived from the former. For example, the verbs "edit" and "act" derive from "editor" and "actor," although one assumes the contrary.

Some English words are blends. These are telescoped forms, such as motorcade (motor cavalcade) or coalescences, such as bash (bang and smash).

Another characteristic of the English language is that a word may be employed for different parts of speech, depending on the context. For example, the word, "paper," can be an adjective in "paper hat," a noun in "lined paper," or a verb in "paper over their differences." "Separate" can function as an adjective ("separate rooms") or a verb ("separate from"). Similarly, "call" can function as a noun, verb, or adjective. This characteristic is not common to other European languages because of their much greater use of inflectional endings,

English is a strongly stressed language. A change in stress can change the meaning of a sentence or a phrase. Where to place the emphasis in English is less predictable than in other European languages. The stress in adopted French words is often maintained.

Pitch (word tone or musical tone) in English may fall, rise, or fall and then rise. The pitch of a word can affect its meaning. Intonation (sentence tone) at the end of a sentence is important. A falling intonation is used in commands, statements, and some questions that a "yes" or "no" can answer. A rising intonation is used in polite requests, certain questions answerable by "yes" or "no," and statements made with some reservation. An intonation, which rises and then falls, is used in sentences that make contrasts.

The vocabulary of Modern English is largely German (Old English and Scandinavian) and Italic or Romance (French and Latin) with great numbers of words from Greek and other languages. The words for things, concepts, pronouns, conjunctions, simple prepositions, auxiliary verbs, and numbers come largely from Anglo-Saxon. However, many words concerning cuisine, politics, literature, art, and cuisine, have come from French. Although the words for craftsmen are usually Anglo-Saxon, the words for skilled artisans are normally French. French synonyms tend to be more abstract or intellectual, whereas English synonyms tend to be more tangible and human. As a result of modern transportation and communication, new words continue to be adopted by the English language from all areas of the world.

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