Latin Influences on English


Latin Influences on English


Latin Influences on English

Latin Influences on English

Latin Influences on English

English is an omnivorous language. It borrows words and linguistic elements freely from any language of the world when occasion needs. From the very earliest period of the English language to the present day, it has undergone many foreign influences such as- Latin, Greek, French, Scandinavian and many others.

Among the influences on English, the influence of Latin is much more ancient and vast, because the early English-speaking races, mainly the Anglo-Saxon race, had a good term with the Latin-speaking nation. There are certain periods within which English was much influenced by Latin. These periods may be classified as:

a) Latin influence in the Pre-Christian period.

b) Latin influence during the introduction of Christianity into England.

c) Latin influence during the Middle English period and

d) Latin influence during and after the Renaissance period.

Now let’s discuss Latin influence on English period by period in brief as under:

Latin Influence in the Pre-Christian period

Pre–Christian Period dates back to the late sixth century. During this Pre-Christian period the English nation had a good touch with the higher Roman Civilization and as a result, many Latin elements pertaining to to- (a) Trade and commerce (b) war and warfare. (c)  domestic life and household affairs and (d) names of plants and fruits were introduced.

Words relating to trade and commerce were: wine (from Latin word vanum), sester (Latin jar) flasce (Latin flask) calic (Latin cup) etc. Other words borrowed from Latin of commercial significance are- monger, pound, mint etc.

Words relating to war and warfare are: camp (battle), segn (banner) pytt (pit), mil (mile) etc.

Words pertaining to domestic life and household affairs are kettle (Latin catillus), cook (Latin coquss) mill (Latin Molina), cuppe (Latin cuppa) etc.

Words pertaining to plants, fruits and food were- pear, plum, pea, pepper, cheese, butter etc.

Latin Influence During the Introduction of Christianity into England

The second influence of Latin on English fell during the introduction of Christianity into England. This influence began from the very beginning of the seventh century and lasted down the eleventh century. The adoption of Christianity by the English brought them into immediate contact with Latin Christianity and Latin Literature.

During this period Latin influence on English was related to church, domestic life and household affairs, names of trees, plants and herbs and the names of animals.

Words relating to church were- church, alter, bishop, candle, angel, anthem, creed, disciple, epistle, hymn, martyr, devil, monk, num, priest etc.  

Words pertaining to domestic life and household affairs are- cap chest, dish, mat, pillow, pin, silk etc.

Words relating to trees, plants and herbs were- pine, lily, palm, plant, mallow, poppy etc.

Words connected with animal names were- capon, doe, phoenix, trout, turtle, elephant, etc

Along with such words English also adopted some words from Latin relating to education and learning such as- school, master, verse, meter, talent etc.

Besides the above-mentioned nouns, Latin also lent a number of verbs and adjectives such as- verbs: offer, shrive, spend, slop, etc; and adjectives- short, crisp etc.

Latin Influence During the Middle English Period

The third great influence of Latin on English began in the Middle English Period, especially from the eleventh century to the sixteenth century. The Latin influence on English during this period fell especially through literature, mainly through the Latin translation of the Bible. The occasional men of learning learned and spoke Latin and through them, the Latin words entered the domain of English. When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English then more than one thousand Latin words entered English through this translation. During this period Latin influence on English was pertaining to law, literature theology, and science.

Words relating to the law are- conspiracy, custody, homicide, incumbent, minor, prosecute, testimony etc.

Words pertaining to literature are- allegory, summary, ornate, prosody, index etc.

Words relating to theology are- scripture, incarnate, supplicate, tract etc.

Words pertaining to science and medicine are- lunatic, mechanical, nervous, rational, solar, stupor, ulcer, zenith etc.

Latin Influence During and after the Renaissance Period

Fourth Latin influence fell on English vigorously during the Renaissance and past Renaissance periods. The words borrowed by English during this period are- nouns, verbs and adjectives and they entered the domain of English through literature.

Nouns: anachronism, allurement, allusion, atmosphere, dexterity, folio, circus, vacuum, stratum, excursion etc.

Verbs: adapt, alienate, assassinate, emancipate, meditate, extinguish, harass, etc.

Adjectives: abject, dexterous, expressive, habitual, domestic, scholastic, filial etc.

After the Renaissance period especially during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries English was influenced by such words as– premium, equilibrium, specimen, series, propaganda, auditorium, ultimatum, insomnia, sanatorium, referendum etc. Besides these, English adopted many Latin suffixes and prefixes to native words such as– Miltoniana, Shakespeareana, dethrone, pre-Raphaelite, pro-Russian, re-organization etc.

English was not influenced by Latin vocabulary only, but also by its syntax and style. The influence of syntax and style on English began to fall during the Middle English period and this continues till the present day. The absolute participle in many sentences we used today is due to Latin influence. For example- ‘The weather being cold, sister did not go to school’ and ‘The sun having set, they returned home’. In these two sentences, we notice the use of absolute participle being cold and having set.

Secondly, there are some other Latin constructions that many authors of the Renaissance period tried to imitate and they use ‘who’ for ‘he who’. As, for example- “who has come here is not known to me”. The same is true of such interrogative sentences as– To read what books have I been sent for?

Generally, the influence of Latin on English syntax is ungrammatical, but this influence gives English a new style in which many English writers show their interest. Among the causes of the influence of Latin on English, the main is that Latin was the only grammar taught in schools and found worthy of study and imitation in sixteen, seventeenth and even in eighteen century England.

There is a great effect of Latin influence on English. First Latin influence on English enriched the English vocabulary, secondly, it gave a vast wealth of synonyms to English, with the result that there is an advantage of versifications. Thirdly Latin influence gave a new turn to the English sentence structure. But there has been an evil effect of Latin influence, and this is the shifting of stress from the initial syllable which has led the English language to irregularity in pronunciation. 0 0 0

Characteristics of the Modern English Language

Read More: Characteristics of  (Old) English Language

Characteristics of the Modern English Language

N. B. This article entitled ‘Characteristics of the Modern English Language’ originally belongs to the book ‘A Brief History of the English Language‘ by Menonim Menonimus. Characteristics of the Modern English Language

Books on Linguistics by M. Menonimus:

  1. A Brief History of the English Language
  2. Essays on Linguistics
  3. My Imageries
  4. Felicitous Expression: Some Examples
  5. Learners’ English Dictionary

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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