English Language Day is observed every April 23 by the United Nations to celebrate the English language and promote its history, culture, and achievements. The language is one of the two working languages and among the six official languages of the United Nations. These official languages include English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. They are also the topmost spoken languages in the world. Did you know that April 23 is also the birthday and death day of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare? UN English Language Day is celebrated not only to promote the language but also to recognize the life and works of William Shakespeare.
History of UN English Language Day
The history of the English language began with the invasion of Britain by three Germanic tribes — the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes — during the 5th century A.D. These Germanic tribes migrated from today’s Denmark and northern Germany, crossing the North Sea and pushing the original inhabitants — Celtic-speaking people — out of Britain. The native Britons resettled in today’s Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The Angles originated from Engla-land (land of the Angles), and they spoke Englisc. It’s from these words that England and English were derived.
The Germanic tribes spoke similar languages, which evolved into Old English. This language is different from the English used today, and even native English speakers would find it difficult to understand. While Old English is obsolete, it is the basis for modern English, and commonly used words like ‘be,’ ‘strong,’ and ‘water’ were derived from it.
In 1066, William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded and conquered England. As a result, the language of the Normans, a variety of French, became the language of the royal court and business, and English, the language of the lower class. However, despite status changes, English continued to grow, incorporating Latin and French words.
In the 14th to 15th centuries, the people of the British Isles put an end to French rule, and the English language regained its royal and business status. It was also a period of development in literature and culture for the language. Individuals like William Shakespeare were crucial players in this development. Shakespeare added over 1700 words to the English vocabulary through his books and plays, including ‘compromise,’ ‘deafening,’ ‘cold-blooded,’ ‘blushing,’ ‘cater,’ and ‘barefaced.’
From the 1600s, the English language underwent a series of evolution and development due to international trade, the printing press, and classical learning. The English colonization of North America further boosted the growth and the popularity of the language. To this day, the language is growing and expanding, incorporating words from various English-speaking countries and newly invented words for business and technology.
UN English Language Day timeline
Britain is invaded by three Germanic tribes, who speak similar languages, which develops into Old English.
Following the invasion of the Normans, English regains its status as the main language, but it has evolved into a new form called Middle English by adopting many French words.
The English colonization of North America grows its reach across the world, making it the language with the greatest number of speakers.
The United Nations introduces the English Language Day to promote multilingualism.
UN English Language Day FAQs
Why do we celebrate UN English Language Day?
The United Nations observes English Language Day, recognizing the culture, contributions, and influence of the English language and celebrating the life and achievements of William Shakespeare. Other languages are also celebrated by the U.N. on separate days, including French, Chinese, and Russian.
Is ‘English’ an English word?
Not exactly. It originated in Anglo-Saxon England and is originally from Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialects.
What are the two types of English?
The prominent types of English spoken widely across the world are British English and American English. However, there are other variants, including Australian English, South African English, and Singaporean English.
UN English Language Day Activities
Organize a book-reading event
A book-reading event is one of the simplest ways to celebrate English culture and vocabulary. Since Shakespeare is also celebrated on UN English Language Day, you can read one of his books, like “Hamlet” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” If you’re in a book club, have the members set aside the day to read the works of Shakespeare. If not, you can gather friends and loved ones together and do the reading.
Organize a quiz
Organizing a spelling contest or a word trivia is another way to celebrate. The participants can be your friends or the kids in your family. You will have to buy presents for the winners, either trophies or interesting English novels. The venue can be right in your living room or backyard, and you can be the host.
Build your English vocabulary
Why not use the day to expand your English vocabulary. You can tackle those words that are ordinarily difficult for you to pronounce. Or you could go through your dictionary and memorize words you haven’t heard of or used before.
5 Important Facts About American English
It is not the U.S. official language
Although it is the most spoken language in the United States, there’s no law stating that it’s the country’s official language.
It has different accents
There are at least 10 different accents of American English spoken across the United States, but the ‘General American’ is the one used in mass media.
Most U.S. states’ names aren’t English
The majority of states in the United States derived their names from the Native American tribes who once inhabited them.
It is older than British English
The American English originated from the version of English that employed rhotic speech, which is older than the soft ‘r’ sound currently used by the British.
It was a form of protest
The author of the American English dictionary, Noah Webster, spelled the English words differently from the British words to show America’s independence from the British.
Why We Love UN English Language Day
English is essential to international business
As it is the language mostly used in economic powerhouses, such as the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, English is essential to any business that wants to truly go global. English also helps individuals access job opportunities outside their country.
English is the medium of global communication
English is a language spoken by over one billion people across more than 118 countries. That is, one in five people on the planet speaks English. It is also the language used on the internet and most media organizations, including major news stations and movie industries. Having English skills can enable you to communicate with people of different nationalities, learn about other cultures, and gain access to information.
English is crucial to learning
Before being translated to other languages, most scientific papers, textbooks, and novels are first written in English. Even most universities across the world request evidence of strong English skills as a requirement for admission.
UN English Language Day dates