British Isles Languages

Within the British Isles many hundreds of languages are spoken by communities originating from all over the world e.g. Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, Gujarati, Cantonese, Polish, Italian and Greek. Over 100 languages are spoken domestically by the families in London.

There are generally considered to be seven indigenous spoken languages:
English which is the language of the majority,
the Celtic languages: Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish.

Additional 2 forms of English are often recognised as regional languages:
Scots and Ulster Scots

As well as the spoken languages there are two sign languages, widely used by the deaf and hard of hearing communities:
British Sign Language (BSL)
Irish Sign Language

Two creoles are recognised:
Romani (Romany) spoken by Gypsies
Shelta (Sheldru) spoken by Travellers (Tinkers)

Formerly there were the other languages e.g.
Anglo-Norman French, a form of French spoken by the Norman aristocracy in mediaeval times. Anglo-Norman was the spoken language of the Norman nobility and was also used in the courts, to compile official documents, to write literature, and for commercial purposes. Some speakers of Anglo-Saxon used to learn Anglo-Norman and some early textbooks for non-native speakers still exist. Norman French was the official language of England from 1066. Although Anglo-Norman was falling into everyday disuse by the 13th century it has left an indelible mark on English. Thousands of words, phrases and expressions derived from it. English would have been a very different language without the influence of Anglo-Norman. Today Norman French is now only used by a small number of people in the Channel Islands. Some Norman French is still used in the Houses of Parliament for certain official business between the clerks of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and on other official occasions such as the dissolution of Parliament.
Cumbric, a Celtic language, similar to Welsh, spoken in Cumbria until mediaeval times. Elements of Cumbric survive in dialect.
Norn, a Norse language, similar to Faroese, spoken in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The northern isles of Shetland and Orkney have mainly Norsee-derived placenames, and were part of Norway which were ceded to Scotland in lieu of an unpaid dowry in 1472, and they never spoke Gaelic. Their traditional vernacular Norn, a derivative of Old Norse mutually intelligible with Icelandic and Faroese, died out in the 18th century after large-scale immigration by Lowland Scots speakers. Elements of Norn survive in dialect.

English developed from the Teutonic (Germanic) dialects of the Anglo-Saxon settlers which came to Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire. The area they settled become known as England. English shows influences of Norman French, Scandinavian languages and has adopted words from many world languages especially French, and many technical words from Latin and Greek.

Today English is spoken by about 55,000,000 people in the United Kingdom and by has about 340,000,000 first language speakers in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere. English is used as a second language or third language by many millions more people throughout the world especially in Commonwealth countries such as India and South Africa. It is taught as a foreign language in schools throughout the world.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the main form of sign language used within the UK. BSL is the preferred language of between 50,000 and 70,000 people and is used on a daily basis by over 250,000 people. Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as the predominant spoken language, British Sign Language is quite distinct from American Sign Language (ASL). BSL fingerspelling is also different from ASL as it uses two hands whereas ASL uses one. BSL is also distinct from Irish Sign Language (ISL) which is more closely related to French Sign Language (LSF). BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK government on 18 March 2003, but it has no legal protection as an official language of the United Kingdom.

Gaelic is the native language of the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland, where it developed from the Irish Gaelic spoken by settlers in the sixth century. Today it is spoken by about 60,000 people, in Scotland, where and it holds official status in Highlands and Western Isles. Some Scots Gaelic is also spoken by about 5,000 people in an established Highland Scots community in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in Canada. Scots Gaelic is a Celtic language closely related to Irish Gaelic. Familiar Scots Gaelic words which have come into English include:
cairn, clan, claymore, crag, gillie (meaning servant), glen, loch, ptarmigan, slogan and whisky.
The Scottish Bible Society is currently considering a new Bible translation into modern Scots Gaelic.

Irish is the native language of Ireland but English became the language of the majority in the nineteenth century, and it is now only spoken as a first language by about 30,000 people in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking regions) of mainly western Ireland, although about 260,000 Irish people can speak Irish as a second language, where it is taught in schools. Irish is the official language of the Republic of Ireland along with English. Irish words which have come into English include:
banshee, bog, leprechaun, shamrock and smithereens.

Manx is the native language of the Isle of Man, an island of 77,000 people in the Irish Sea. It developed from Irish Gaelic and the Isle of Man was totally Manx speaking until the 18th century but today is spoken by few of its inhabitants.

The last native first language speaker of Manx died in 1974, but Manx is a second language for 200 to 300 people, who either learnt it from elderly relatives or who have learnt it by attending courses. Since 1992 Manx has been taught in Manx schools, and Manx is still used in an official capacity for some public functions and all laws are written in Manx and English.

Cornish is the native language of Cornwall, a region in the far south-western peninsular of Britain. It is closely related to the Breton language of Brittany. Cornish, or a variety of Cornish, was spoken in Devon into mediaeval times. Cornish shares about 80% basic vocabulary with Breton, 75% with Welsh. Cornish died out as a spoken everyday language but elements of it survived enough to allow for its revival in the twentieth century. Cornish is no longer used as a mother tongue although a number of people under 20 years of age have been brought up as bilingual Cornish and English speakers by language enthusiasts, and the number of speakers of Cornish is growing. 1967 Kesva An Tavas Kernewek (the Cornish Language Board) was established. There are 1,000 speakers who use Cornish as their everyday language, and about 2,000 others who speak it fluently. In early 2003 Cornish was recognised as a regional language in the UK even though the orthography of modern Cornish is not settled. Words from Cornish which have come into English include: gull meaning seabird, and wrasse a type of fish.

Shelta is the language of Travellers (tinkers). It is based on English with a lot of Irish vocabulary.
Words from Shelta which have come into English slang include: gammy meaning lame, and monicker meaning alternative name.

Romani is the language of Gypsies. Romany was originally a language originating from northern India in mediaeval times, but Gypsies have always mixed their language with the language of where they live or lived. Romany as separate language no longer exists in the British Isles, but it survives as a mixture of Romany and English. Romani words adopted into English as colloquialisms or slang include: kushti meaning good, mush meaning man, nark meaning informant, pal meaning friend, cosh meaning a heavy blunt weapon and rum meaning strange or odd.