Celebrating English Language Day

Written by Catherine Pearson

English Language Day took place this week on the 23rd April, a day originally established by the United Nations to dedicate a day for each of the organisation’s six official languages. It’s also, not at all coincidentally, the birthday and date of death of master wordsmith William Shakespeare.

As INSHUR’s resident writer, I leapt at the chance to write a piece about the English language. At INSHUR we pride ourselves on the diversity of our staff. Our team is not only based across three different countries (the UK, the US and the Netherlands), but we also have team members from all around the world who have grown up speaking different native languages.

English Language Day is not only an opportunity for us to celebrate the beauty of the English language, with all its inconsistency and bizarreness, it’s also an opportunity for native English speakers to recognise the people in our lives and organisations who have the skill to speak another language and the bravery to work in their second best!

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery”.

– Amy Chua

Here is a list of just some of the native languages spoken by our team:

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The English language is the most widely spoken language in the world, spoken in 146 countries by over 1.3 billion people. This is not to be confused with languages with the most native speakers, which sees Mandarin Chinese top the list with 921 million (with Spanish coming in at 471 million and English at 370 million).

At INSHUR, we’re #AlwaysLearning. When my colleague Mat Valencic shared the image below on our #random Slack channel, it sparked a conversation on some of the more baffling English language oddities – rules that were melting the brains of native speakers and non-native speakers alike!

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We gawped over how “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is technically a completely grammatically correct sentence (seriously, take a look) and we discussed the difference between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ in sentences.

This level of grammar nerdiness was right up my street and it got me thinking about some of my favourite English language facts:

Did you know there’s a single word in English for the act of being thrown out of a window?

Well, there is. It’s ‘defenestration’. Used in a sentence, you ask? “They were annoying me, so I defenestrated them”. You may have spotted the French word for ‘window’ (fenêtre) buried in this bizarre English word, as both languages have their root in Latin.

Shakespeare invented more words than you might think

The bard is well known for pioneering many phrases we still use today, including “in a pickle”, “too much of good thing” and “what’s done is done”. But did you know there are many individual words that first appeared in Shakespeare’s plays, too?

Shakespeare came up with the words ‘critic’, ‘lonely’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘overblown’ and ‘admirable’, to name but a few.

Some of Shakespeare’s phrases sadly haven’t quite made the transition to the 21st Century, however. Although I personally love his insult from Troilus and Cressida, “thou crusty batch of nature”.

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‘Ough’ is rough to pronounce

There are no fewer than eight different ways to pronounce ‘ough’, known as a tetragraph (a sequence of four letters used to represent a single sound).

These are: “aw” as in bought, “ow” as in plough (in the US this is regularised to plow), “oh” as in dough, “ooh” as in through, “uh” as in thorough, “uf” as in rough, “off” as in cough and “up” as in hiccough (often regularised to hiccup).

Some English sentences require a double-take

Meet the deceptive ‘Garden Path Sentence’, so named because it leads you down the metaphorical garden path, requiring you to retrace your steps and reinterpret the meaning of the words you’ve just read. Take this sentence as an example:

“The old man the boat”.

You’d likely initially interpret “the old man” to mean “the elderly male”… but then you’re just left with “the boat” 🤔

What’s happening in this sentence is that “the old” refers to “the elderly people” and “man” is a verb, meaning ‘to staff/operate’. Try reading it again as, “the elderly people are operating the boat”.

It’s I before E except after C. Except…

When you run a feisty heist on your weird beige neighbour in a foreign country. English is exhausting, isn’t it?!

If you would like to join a diverse workplace that values inclusivity, open-mindedness and autonomy, check out INSHUR’s open roles here.