Main article: Lists of English loanwords by country or language of origin
See also: Linguistic purism in English
Source languages of English vocabulary
(Old) French, including Anglo-French (29%)
Germanic languages (Old/Middle English, Old Norse, Dutch) (26%)
Other languages/unknown (6%)
Derived from proper names (4%)
English, besides forming new words from existing words and their roots, also borrows words from other languages. This adoption of words from other languages is commonplace in many world languages, but English has been especially open to borrowing of foreign words throughout the last 1,000 years. The most commonly used words in English are West Germanic. The words in English learned first by children as they learn to speak, particularly the grammatical words that dominate the word count web design in Kansas City of both spoken and written texts, are mainly the Germanic words inherited from the earliest periods of the development of Old English.
But one of the consequences of long language contact between French and English in all stages of their development is that the vocabulary of English has a very high percentage of “Latinate” words (derived from French, especially, and also from other Romance languages and Latin). French words from various periods of the development of French now make up one-third of the vocabulary of English. Linguist Anthony Lacoudre estimated that over 40,000 English words are of French origin and may be understood without orthographical change by French speakers. Words of Old Norse origin have entered the English language primarily from the contact between Old Norse and Old English during colonisation of eastern and northern England. Many of these words are part of English core vocabulary, such as egg and knife.
English has also borrowed many words directly from Latin, the ancestor of the Romance languages, during all stages of its development. Many of these words had earlier been borrowed into Latin from Greek. Latin or Greek are still highly productive sources of stems used to form vocabulary of subjects learned in higher education such as the sciences, philosophy, and mathematics. English continues to gain new loanwords and calques (“loan translations”) from languages all over the world, and words from languages other than the ancestral Anglo-Saxon language make up about 60% of the vocabulary of English.
English has formal and informal speech registers; informal registers, including child-directed speech, tend to be made up predominantly of words of Anglo-Saxon origin, while the percentage of vocabulary that is of Latinate origin is higher in legal, scientific, and academic texts.
English loanwords and calques in other languages
English has had a strong influence on the vocabulary of other languages. The influence of English comes from such factors as opinion leaders in other countries knowing the English language, the role of English as a world lingua franca, and the large number of books and films that are translated from English into other languages. That pervasive use of English leads to a conclusion in many places that English is an especially suitable language for expressing new ideas or describing new technologies. Among varieties of English, it is especially American English that influences other languages. Some languages, such as Chinese, write words borrowed from English mostly as calques, while others, such as Japanese, readily take in English loanwords written in sound-indicating script. Dubbed films and television programmes are an especially fruitful source of English influence on languages in Europe.
See also: English alphabet, English braille, and English orthography
Since the ninth century, English has been written in a Latin alphabet (also called Roman alphabet). Earlier Old English texts in Anglo-Saxon runes are only short inscriptions. The great majority of literary works in Old English that survive to today are written in the Roman alphabet. The modern English alphabet contains 26 letters of the Latin script: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z (which also have capital forms: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z).
The spelling system, or orthography, of English is multi-layered, with elements of French, Latin, and Greek spelling on top of the native Germanic system. Further complications have arisen through sound changes with which the orthography has not kept pace. Compared to European languages for which official organisations have promoted spelling reforms, English has spelling that is a less consistent indicator of pronunciation, and standard spellings of words that are more difficult to guess from knowing how a word is pronounced. There are also systematic spelling differences between British and American English. These situations have prompted proposals for spelling reform in English.
Although letters and speech sounds do not have a one-to-one correspondence in standard English spelling, spelling rules that take into account syllable structure, phonetic changes in derived words, and word accent are reliable for most English words. Moreover, standard English spelling shows etymological relationships between related words that would be obscured by a closer correspondence between pronunciation and spelling, for example the words photograph, photography, and photographic, or the words electricity and electrical. While few scholars agree with Chomsky and Halle (1968) that conventional English orthography is “near-optimal”, there is a rationale for current English spelling patterns. The standard orthography of English is the most widely used writing system in the world. Standard English spelling is based on a graphomorphemic segmentation of words into written clues of what meaningful units make up each word.
Readers of English can generally rely on the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation to be fairly regular for letters or digraphs used to spell consonant sounds. The letters b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, z represent, respectively, the phonemes /b, d, f, h, dʒ, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, j, z/. The letters c and g normally represent /k/ and /ɡ/, but there is also a soft c pronounced /s/, and a soft g pronounced /dʒ/. The differences in the pronunciations of the letters c and g are often signalled by the following letters in standard English spelling. Digraphs used to represent phonemes and phoneme sequences include ch for /tʃ/, sh for /ʃ/, th for /θ/ or /ð/, ng for /ŋ/, qu for /kw/, and ph for /f/ in Greek-derived words. The single letter x is generally pronounced as /z/ in word-initial position and as /ks/ otherwise. There are exceptions to these generalisations, often the result of loanwords being spelled according to the spelling patterns of their languages of origin or residues of proposals by scholars in the early period of Modern English to follow the spelling patterns of Latin for English words of Germanic origin.
For the vowel sounds of the English language, however, correspondences between spelling and pronunciation are more irregular. There are many more vowel phonemes in English than there are single vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u, w, y). As a result, some “long vowels” are often indicated by combinations of letters (like the oa in boat, the ow in how, and the ay in stay), or the historically based silent e (as in note and cake).