English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now the most widely used language in the world. English is spoken as a first language of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. It is the third-most-common native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language, it has often been referred to as a "world language". Since around the 9th century, English has been written in the Latin script, which replaced Anglo-Saxon runes. The modern English alphabet contains 26 letters of the Latin scrip. A significant number of English words are constructed on the basis of roots from Latin, because Latin in some form was the lingua franca of the Christian Church and of European intellectual life.