English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca. It is an official language of almost 60 sovereign states, the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, and a widely spoken language in countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia.
It is the third most common native language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the United Nations, of the European Union, and of many other world and regional international organisations.
English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the fifth century, are called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England.
Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London and the King James Bible as well as the Great Vowel Shift. Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries.
Through newspapers, books, the telegraph, the telephone, phonograph records, radio, satellite television, and the Internet, as well as the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and in professional contexts such as science.
There is little morphological inflection in Modern English, and the syntax is generally isolating. English relies on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and negation.
Despite noticeable variation between the forms of English spoken in different world regions, English-speakers from around the world can communicate with one another effectively. Different accents are distinguished only by phonological and phonetic differences among speakers, whereas dialects also display grammatical and lexical differences.