It is true that
English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive among the world's languages, contains an immense number of
words of foreign origin. Explanations for this should be sought in the history
of the language which is closely connected with the history of the nation
speaking the language.
The first century B.C. Most of the
territory now known to us as Europe was occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the
inhabitants of the Europe are Germanic tribes. Theirs stage of development was rather primitive,
especially if compared with the high civilization of Rome. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know almost nothing about land cultivation.
Their tribal languages contain only Indo-European and Germanic elements.
Roman invasion Germanic tribes had to come into contact with Romans (Roman
invasion in Britain began in 43 A.D.
Romans had held on the country for 400 years (till 407 A.D.)). Romans
built roads, bridges, military camps. Trade is carried on, and the Germanic people
gain knowledge of new and useful things. The first among them are new things to
eat. It has been mentioned that Germanic cattle-breeding was on a primitive
scale. The only products known to the Germanic tribes were meat and milk. It is
from the Romans that they learn how to make butter and cheese and, as there are
naturally no words for these foodstuffs in their
tribal languages, they had to use the Latin words to name them
(Lat. “butyrum”, “caseus”). It is also to the Romans that the Germanic tribes
owe the knowledge of some new fruits and vegetables of which they had no idea
before, and the Latin names of these fruits and vegetables entered their
vocabularies: “cherry” (Lat. “cerasum”), “pear” (Lat. “pirum”), “plum” (Lat.
“prunus”), “pea” (Lat. “pisum”), “beet” (Lat. “beta”), “pepper” (Lat. “piper”).
Here are some more examples of
Latin borrowings of this period: “cup” (Lat. “cuppa”), “kitchen” (Lat.
“coquina”), “mill” (Lat. “molina”), “port” (Lat. “portus”), “wine” (Lat.
The Germanic tribal languages gained a considerable
number of new words and were thus enriched.
became the earliest group of borrowings (вy a borrowing or loan-word we
mean a word which came into the vocabulary of one language from another and
was assimilated by the new language) in the future English
language which was - much later - built on the basis of the
Germanic tribal languages.
The fifth century A.D. Several of the
Germanic tribes (the most numerous among them were the Angles, the Saxons and
the Jutes) migrated across the sea to the British Isles. There
they were confronted by the Celts, the original inhabitants of the Isles. The Celts
desperately defended their lands against the invaders, but nevertheless
gradually yielded most of their territory. They retreated to the North and
South-West (modern Scotland, Wales and Cornwall).
Through numerous contacts with the defeated Celts, the conquerors borrowed a
number of Celtic words (bald, down, glen, bard, cradle).
Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of
rivers, hills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but the names of
many parts of their territory remained Celtic. For instance, the names of the
rivers Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Ux originate from Celtic words meaning
"river" and "water".
even the name of the English capital originates from Celtic “Llyn+dun” in which
“llyn” is another Celtic word for "river" and “dun” stands for
"a fortified hill" - the meaning of the whole is "fortress on
the hill over the river".
Some Latin words entered the
Anglo-Saxon languages through Celtic, among them such widely-used words as
“street” (Lat. strata via) and “wall” (Lat. vallum).
The seventh century A.D. This
century was significant for the christianization of England. Latin
was the official language of the Christian church, and consequently the spread
of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings. These
borrowings no longer came from spoken Latin as they did eight centuries
earlier, but from church Latin. Also, these new Latin borrowings were
very different in meaning from the earlier ones. They mostly indicated persons,
objects and ideas associated with church and religious rituals: e. g. priest
(Lat. presbyter), bishop (Lat. episcopus), monk (Lat. monachus), nun (Lat.
nonna), candle (Lat. candela).
It was quite natural that
educational terms were also Latin borrowings, for the first schools in England were church schools, and the
first teachers priests and monks. So, the very word “school” is a Latin
borrowing (Lat. schola, of Greek origin) and so are such words as “scholar”
(Lat. Scholar(-is) and “magister” (Lat. magister).
From the end of the 8th century to the middle
of the 11th century England underwent several
Scandinavian invasions. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian
borrowings: call (v.), take (v.), cast (v.), die (v.), law (n.),
husband (sc. “hus+bondi” means "inhabitant of the house") (n.),
window (Sc. “vindauga” means "the eye of the wind") (n.), ill (adj.),
loose, (adj.), low (adj.), weak (adj.). Some of Scandinavian borrowings are
easily recognizable by the initial (sk-)
combination. E.g. sky, skill, skin, ski, skirt.
English words changed their meanings under the influence of Scandinavian words
of the same root. So, the old English “bread” which meant "piece"
acquired its modern meaning by association with the Scandinavian “braud”. The
old English “dream” which meant "joy" assimilated the meaning of the
1066. With the famous Battle of Hastings, when
the English were defeated by the Normans under William the
Conqueror, began the eventful epoch of the Norman
Conquest. The Norman culture of the 11th century was certainly superior to that of the Saxons. The result was that English
vocabulary acquired a great number of French words. But instead of being
smashed and broken by the powerful intrusion of the foreign element, the
English language managed to preserve its essential structure and vastly
enriched its expressive resources with the new borrowings. England became a bilingual country, and the
impact on the English vocabulary made over this two-hundred-years period is
immense: French words from the Norman dialect penetrated every aspect of social
life. Here is a very brief list of examples of Norman French borrowings.
Terms of everyday life: table,
plate, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle, etc.
The Renaissance Period. In England, as in
all European countries, this period was marked by significant developments in
science, art and culture and, also, by a revival of interest in the ancient
civilizations of Greece and Rome and
their languages. Hence, there occurred a considerable number of Latin and
Greek borrowings. In contrast to the earliest Latin borrowings (1st
century B.C.), the Renaissance ones were rarely concrete names. They were
mostly abstract words (e. g. major, minor, moderate, intelligent,
permanent, to elect, to create). There were numerous scientific and artistic
terms (e.g. datum, status, phenomenon, philosophy, method, music). Quite a number of words were borrowed into English
from Latin and had earlier come into Latin from Greek.
The Renaissance was a
period of extensive cultural contacts between the major European states.
Therefore, it was only natural that new words also entered the English
vocabulary from other European languages. The most significant were French
borrowings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are
known as Parisian borrowings. Examples: routine, police, machine, ballet, matinee, scene, technique,
bourgeois, etc. Italian also contributed a considerable number of
words to English, e. g. piano, violin, opera, alarm, colonel.
The historical survey above shows the ways in which English vocabulary
developed and of the major events through which it acquired its vast modern
resources. Summary is shown in the table 1.
The second column of
the table contains more groups, but it also implies a great quantity of words.
Modern scholars estimate the percentage of borrowed words in the English
vocabulary at 65—70 percent which is an exceptionally high figure. It means
that the native element (by
the native element we mean words which were not borrowed from other
languages but represent the original stock of this particular language) doesn’t prevail. This anomaly is
explained by the country's eventful history and by
its many international contacts.
Considering the high
percentage of borrowed words, one would have to classify English as a language
of international origin or, at least, a Romance one (as French and Latin words
obviously prevail). But here another factor comes into play: the native
element in English comprises a large number of high-frequency words like the articles, prepositions,
pronouns, conjunctions, auxiliaries and, also,
words denoting everyday objects and ideas (e. g.
house, child, water, go, come, eat, good, bad, etc.).
Furthermore, the grammatical
structure is essentially Germanic and it remains unaffected by foreign
The Etymological Structure of English
Vocabulary (by etymology of words is understood their origin)
The native element
The borrowed element
I. Celtic (5th – 6th c.A.D.).
1st group: 1st c.B.C.
2st group: 7th
the Renaissance period
3. English Proper element (no earlier than 5th c.A.D.)
III. Scandinavian (8th – 11th c.A.D.)
1. Norman borrowings: 11th–13th c.A.D.
V. Greek (Renaissance)
VI. Italian (Renaissance
VII. Spanish (Renaissance
X. Russian and some other
The first column of
the table consists of three groups, only the third being dated: the words of
this group appeared in the English vocabulary in the 5th century or later, that is, after the Germanic tribes
migrated to the British Isles. The tribal languages of the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, by the time
of their migration, contained only words of
Indo-European and Germanic roots plus a certain number of the earliest Latin borrowings.
By the Indo-European element are meant words of
roots common to all (or most) languages of the Indo-European group. The words
of this group denote elementary concepts without
which no human communication would be possible. The following groups can be
1. Family relations: father, mother, brother, son, daughter.
2. Parts of the human body: foot, nose, lip, heart.
3. Animals: cow, swine, goose.
4. Plants: tree, birch, corn.
5. Time of day: day, night.
6. Heavenly bodies: sun, moon, star.
7. Numerous adjectives: red, new, glad, sad.
8. The numerals from one to a hundred.
9. Pronouns - personal (except “they” which is a Scandinavian borrowing) and
10. Numerous verbs: be, stand, sit, eat, know.
element represents words of roots common to all or most Germanic
languages. Some of the main groups of Germanic words are the same as in the
1. Parts of the human body: head, hand, arm, finger, bone.
2. Animals: bear, fox, calf.
3. Plants: oak, fir, grass.
4. Natural phenomena: rain, frost.
5. Seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer (“Autumn” is a
6. Landscape features: sea, land.
7. Human dwellings and furniture: house, room, bench.
proper element is opposed to the first two groups. For not only it can be approximately
dated, but these words have another distinctive feature: they are specifically English have no cognates(Cognates - words of the same etymological root,
of common origin) in other languages whereas for Indo-European and Germanic
words such cognates can always be found, as, for instance, for the following
words of the Indo-European group.
Star: Germ. - Stern, Lat. -
Stella, Gr. - aster.
Germ. – stehen, Lat. - stare, R. – <>стоять.
Here are some examples of English proper words: bird, boy, girl, lord,
lady, woman, daisy, always.
Structural elements of borrowings
There are certain structural
features which enable us to identify some words as borrowings and even
to determine the source language. We have already established that the initial
(sk) usually indicates Scandinavian origin. We can also recognize words of
Latin and French origin by certain suffixes, prefixes or endings. Here are some
typical and frequent structural elements of Latin and French borrowings:
Latin affixes of nouns:
The suffix (-ion): legion,
opinion, etc.; the suffix (-tion): relation, temptation, etc.
Latin affixes of verbs:
The suffix (-ate): appreciate, create,
congratulate, etc.; the suffix (-ute): attribute, distribute, etc.; the remnant
(by remnant suffixes are meant the ones that are
only partially preserved in the structure of the word: Lat. (-ctus) >Lat. (-ct)) suffix (-ct): act, collect, conduct, etc.; the
prefix (dis-): disable, disagree, etc.
Latin affixes of adjectives:
The suffix (-able): detestable, curable,
etc.; the suffix (-ate): accurate, graduate, etc.; the suffix (-ant): constant,
important, etc.; the suffix (-ent): absent, evident, etc.; the suffix (-or):
major, senior, etc.; the suffix (-al): final, maternal, etc.; the suffix (-ar):
solar, familiar, etc.
French affixes of nouns:
The suffix (-ance): endurance,
hindrance, etc.; the suffix (-ence): consequence, patience, etc.; the suffix
(-ment): appointment, development, etc.; the suffix (-age): courage, marriage,
village, etc.; the suffix (-ess): actress, adventuress, etc.
French affixes of verbs:
The prefix (en-): enable,
enact, enslave, etc.
French affixes of adjectives:
The suffix (-ous): curious, dangerous, etc.
It’s important to
note that later formations derived from native roots borrowed Latin and French
affixes (e.g. eatable, lovable).
it is done to fill a gap in vocabulary. When the Saxons borrowed Latin
words for "butter", "plum", "beet", they did it because
their own vocabularies lacked words for these new objects. For the same reason
the words “potato” and “tomato” were borrowed by English from Spanish when
these vegetables were first brought to England by the
But there is also a
great number of words which are borrowed for other reasons. There may be a word
(or even several words) which expresses some particular concept, so that there
is no gap in the vocabulary and there does not seem to be any need for
borrowing. However a word is borrowed because it supplies a new shade of
meaning or a different emotional colouring though it represents the same
concept. This type of borrowing enlarges groups of synonyms and provides to
enrich the expressive resources of the vocabulary. That is how the Latin
“cordial” was added to the native “friendly”, the
French “desire” to “wish”, the Latin “admire” and the French “adore” to
“like” and “love”.
circumstances stimulate the borrowing process. Each time two nations come into
close contact. The nature of the contact may be different. It may be wars,
invasions or conquests when foreign words are imposed upon the conquered
nation. There are also periods of peace when the process of borrowing is due to
trade and international cultural relations.
Words Change or do They Remain the Same?
When words migrate from one
language into another they adjust themselves to their new environment and get
adapted to the norms of the recipient language. They undergo certain changes
which gradually erase their foreign features, and, finally, they are
assimilated. Sometimes the process of assimilation develops to the point when
the foreign origin of a word is quite unrecognizable. It is difficult to
believe now that such words as “dinner”, “cat”, “take”, “cup” are not English
by origin. Others, though well assimilated, still bear traces of their foreign
background. “Distance” and “development”, for instance, are identified as
borrowings by their French suffixes, “skin” and “sky” by the Scandinavian initial
(-sk), “police” and “regime” by the French stress on the last syllable.
Borrowed words are adjusted
in the three main areas of the new language system: the phonetic, the
grammatical and the semantic.
nature of phonetic adaptation is best shown by comparing
Norman French borrowings to later (Parisian) ones. The Norman borrowings have
for a long time been fully adapted to the phonetic system of the English
language: such words as “table”, “plate”, “courage”, “chivalry” bear no
phonetic traces of their French origin. Some of the later (Parisian)
borrowings, even the ones borrowed as early as the 15th century,
still sound surprisingly French: “regime”, “valise”, “matinee”, “cafe”,
“ballet”. In these cases phonetic adaptation is not completed.
adaptation consists in a complete change of the former paradigm of the borrowed word. If it is a noun, it is certain to
adopt, sooner or later, a new system of declension; if it is a verb, it will be
conjugated according to the rules of the recipient language. Yet, this is also
a lasting process. The Russian noun “<>пальто” was borrowed from
French early in the 19th century and has not yet acquired the
Russian system of declension. The same can be said about such English
Renaissance borrowings as “datum” (pl. data), “phenomenon” (pl. phenomena),
“criterion” (pl. criteria) whereas earlier Latin borrowings such as “cup”,
“plum”, “street”, “wall” were fully adapted to the grammatical system of the
language long ago.
adaptation is meant adjustment to the system of meanings of the
vocabulary. Sometimes a word may be borrowed "blindly" for no obvious
reason: they are not wanted because there is no gap in the vocabulary nor in
the group of synonyms which it could fill. Quite a number of such "accidental"
borrowings are very soon rejected by the vocabulary and forgotten. But some
“blindly” borrowed words managed to establish itself due to the process of
semantic adaptation. The adjective “large”, for instance, was borrowed from
French in the meaning of "wide". It was not actually wanted, because
it fully coincided with the English adjective “wide” without adding any new
shades or aspects to its meaning. This could have led to its rejection. Yet,
“large” managed to establish itself very firmly in the English vocabulary by
semantic adjustment. It entered another synonymic
group with .the general meaning of “big in
size”. Still bearing some features of its former meaning it is successfully
competing with “big” having approached it very closely, both in frequency and
It is often the case
that a word is borrowed by several languages, not just by one. Such words
usually convey concepts which are significant in the field of communication. Many of them are of Latin and Greek origin.
Most names of sciences are
international (e. g. philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology,
medicine, linguistics, lexicology). There are also numerous terms of art in this group: music, theatre, drama,
tragedy, comedy, artist, primadonna, etc.;
and the sports terms: football, volley-ball, baseball, hockey, cricket,
rugby, tennis, golf, etc. It is quite
natural that political terms frequently occur in the international group
of borrowings: politics, policy, revolution, progress, democracy, communism,
anti-militarism. 20th century scientific
and technological advances brought a great number of new international
words: atomic, antibiotic, radio, television, sputnik (a Russian borrowing). Fruits
and foodstuffs imported from exotic countries often transport their names
too and become international: coffee, cocoa, chocolate, banana, mango, avocado,
similarity of such words as the English “son”, the German “Sohn” and the
Russian “сын” should not lead one to the quite false conclusion that
they are international words. They represent the Indo-European group of the
native element in each respective language and are cognates, i. e. words of the
same etymological root, and not borrowings.
The words originating
from the same etymological source, but differing in phonemic shape and in
meaning are called etymological doublets.
enter the vocabulary by different routes. Some of these pairs consist of a native word and a borrowed
word: “shrew”, n. (E.) – “screw”, n. (Sc.).
Others are represented by two borrowings from different languages:
“canal” (Lat.) - “channel” (Fr.), “captain” (Lat.) — “chieftain” (Fr.). Still others were borrowed from the same language twice,
but in different periods: “travel” (Norm. Fr.) - “travail" (Par. Fr.), “cavalry”
(Norm. Fr.) - “chivalry” (Par. Fr.), “gaol” (Norm. Fr.) - “jail” (Par. Fr.).
may also consist of a shortened word and the one from which it was derived:
“history” - “story”, “fantasy” - “fancy”, “defence” - “fence”, “shadow” - “shade”.
Etymological triplets (i. e. groups of three words of common root) occur rarer, but
here are at least two examples: “hospital” (Lat.) — “hostel” (Norm. Fr.) —
“hotel” (Par. Fr.), “to capture” (Lat.) — “to catch” (Norm. Fr.) — “to chase”
(the term “loan-word” is equivalent to “borrowing”)
we indicate borrowings of a special kind. They are not taken into the vocabulary of another language more or less in the same
phonemic shape in which they have been functioning in their own language, but
undergo the process of translation. It is quite obvious that it is only
compound words (i. e. words of two or more stems). Each stem was translated
separately: “masterpiece” (from Germ. “Meisterstuck”), “wonder child” (from
Germ. “Wunderkind”), ”first dancer” (from Ital. “prima-ballerina”).
Etymological and Stylistic Characteristics of
The answer must be affirmative. Among learned words and terminology the
foreign element dominates the native.
It also seems that the whole
opposition of "formal versus informal" is based on the deeper
underlying opposition of "borrowed versus native", as the informal
style, especially slang and dialect, abounds in native words even though it is
possible to quote numerous exceptions.
In point of comparing
the expressive and stylistic value of the French and the English words the
French ones are usually more formal, more refined, and less emotional. “to
begin” – “to commence”, “to wish” — “to desire”, “happiness" — “felicity”.
words are much warmer than their Latin synonyms, they don’t sound cold and dry:
“motherly” — “maternal”, “fatherly” — “paternal”, “childish” —
“infantile", “daughterly” — “filial”, etc.
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англий ского языка. - М.: «Дрофа», 1999
2. Palmer F.R. Semantics. A new outline. - M.: V.Sh. 1982
3. Reznik R.V., Sorokina T.S., Reznik I.V. A History of the English Language. M.: «Флинта», 2001.