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Introduction-Classical influence in English
English is a mix of different languages. The core of English is divided between
Romance and German languages, in a similar way also his culture is influenced.
It is important to know the origin of words to understand a language.
English is made up of various parts, a basic Anglo-Saxon, with Latin and Greek
influence, and Norman, so English vocabulary is composed by words that come from
German thanks to the Germanic tribes and the Vikings, the Christianization of Britain
in 597 brought England into contact with Latin civilization and made significant
additions to the vocabulary and words that were imported by Norman invasion from
The Classical influence affected also the alphabet, the Old English (500-1100 a.D.)
written in an alphabet called Runic(derived from the Scandinavian languages) was
substituted by Latin alphabet brought from Ireland by Christian missionaries and
remained the writing system of English. The vocabulary of Old English consisted of
a basic Anglo-Saxon terms borrowed from the Scandinavian languages (Danish and
Norwegian) and Latin.
The Norman invasion of 1066 created a society divided in three blocks:
1. bellatores ("those who go to war ," and the aristocracy ) ,
2. oratores ("those who pray ", or the clergy ) ,
3. laboratores ("those who work the earth ").
Each of these groups spoke a different language, giving rise to a situation defined
triglossia, the nobility used French, ecclesiastics wrote in Latin 1 , while among
peasants survived the Germanic Anglo-Saxon English, but the Norman conquest of
1 Latin was a spoken language among ecclesiastics and men of learning, and a certain number of Latin words could well have passed directly into spoken English. Katamba F., English words : structure, history, usage,
second edition, London ; New York : Routledge, 2005, p.46
1066 had strong consequences, the language of Normans became the official means
of communication. When, after two centuries, English regained its dominant position,
it was full of foreign words, almost all of Latin origin.
The fifteenth century brought a revival of Classic languages 2 with the full flowering
of classical studies throughout Europe made by Italian Renaissance. The introduction
of unusual words from Latin became a conscious stylistic device, extensively used by
poets and occasionally by writers of prose.
English was literally flooded with Latin and Greek terms thus opening a new and
unpredictable cultural horizons 3 .In the sixteenth century the period of the Middle
English terminates, now co-existed in English three components: Germanic, Norman-
French and Latin-Greek.
English has an important role: it is well known that, starting from twentieth century,
it was the language that has taken the greatest number of new words from other
language. English, after Italian, is the language that in the course of its history, has
used Latin for the recovery and the coining of new words, as defined by Tullio De
Mauro, “la più latinizzata e neolatinizzata lingua del mondo non neo latino”.
The circulation and acceptance of foreign words and expressions is not a novelty,
always languages come into contact and modify each other and depending on
cultural and economic prestige and influence in some countries, their languages
assume greater or lesser ability to penetrate into other language.
English is currently the language of communication.
Together with Anglicisms, English helped to put into circulation even some
Latinisms, we talk about xenolatinismi to indicate these Latin words formed in
2 The Revival of Learning had revealed how rich was the store of knowledge and experience preserved from the
civilizations of Greece and Rome. Hughes G., A history of English words, Oxford ; Malden, Mass. : Blackwell, 2000,
3 Latin and Greek were not only the key to the world’s knowledge but the languages in which much highly esteemed
poetry, oratory, and philosophy were to be read. And Latin, had the advantage of universal currency. Beside the
classical languages, the vulgar tongues were immature, unpolished, and limited in resource. Baugh- Cable, A History of
the English language, third edition, London ; New York : Routledge, 1991, c1978, p.58
Latin loan in English
Give a precise idea of loans derived from Latin or caused to mediation romance is
probably impossible. They cover almost all the semantic fields, although, in fact, are
the privileged ones who have to deal with activities and phenomena of culture,
society, religion and civic life. Here are some examples of the loan in relation to the
most significant semantic areas:
1. Abbot "Abate"; from Lat. ecclesiastical abbas, acc. abbatem
2. Altar "Altare"; from lat. altar
3. Cross "Croce"; from lat. crux (gen. CRUC-is).
4. Psalm "Salmo"; old from Lat. Psalmus, spread with the knowledge of the sacred
Terms related to trade
1. Cheap "Economico"; from lat . cauponari < adj. caupo
2. Market "Mercato" ; from lat . mercatus > lat. volg
3. Sack "Sacco " ; from lat . saccus.
4 . Toll " Pedaggio, Tributo " ; from lat . volg . tolōneum ( customs office )
Food, cooking, culinary arts
1. Butter “Burro”; from lat . būtyrum
2 . Can "Contenitore per cibo”; from lat . cane
3 . Kitchen "Cucina" ; from lat . coquina
4 . Mint " Menta " ; from lat . mentha
5. Pot " Vaso " ; from lat. Medieval pottus , perhaps variant of POTUS ( calice)
Plants and crops
1. Cherry"Ciliegia"; The lat. Volg. Ceresia derived from lat. Cerasus
2. Pear "Pero"; from lat. pirus> ags. pears.
3. Peach "Pesca"; the lat. volg. persica (the Latins knew the culture of the peach
tree, native to eastern Asia, the Persians)
Architecture and building
1.Pile "Big pile tip"; from lat. pilum
2. Pitch "Cumulo"; from lat. pix.
3. Plaster "Malta"; from lat. Medieval plastrum.
4. Street "Strada"; from lat. volg. Strata
5. Wall. "Muro"; from lat. Vallum
We have observed so far are some examples of loans divided by area or semantic
fields. For brevity we do not examine other areas:
1. justice and administration: court, reign, marry, nation;
2. nobility, social classes: prince, noble, mistress;
3. war,cavalry: honour, defend, battle, army;
4. home, social life : lamp, chair, card, entertain;
5. zodiac signs : scorpio, virgo, cancer, capricornus, aries, pisces, leo, sagittarius;
6. culture, literature, art:figure, medicine, colur, paper.
List of Latin words and phrases in English
Although limited to a few areas, it should be noted that, in English there are a lot of
Latin words and phrases. The most popular are: a posteriori, a priori, ad infinitum,
carpe diem, casus belli, de facto, de jure, et cetera, ex parte, habitat, in medias res,
ipse dixit, lingua franca, memento, non plus ultra, pax, post partum, pro forma, sine
die, sine qua non, sui generis, cum laude, tabula rasa.
Word with Greek’s origin
The Greek language has also contributed to English vocabulary.
Since the living Greek and English languages were not in direct contact until modern
times, borrowings were necessarily indirect, coming either through Latin, or Ancient
Greek texts. Some Greek words were borrowed into Latin and its descendants, the
Romance languages. Their phonetic and orthographic form has sometimes changed
considerably. For instance, place was borrowed both by Old English and by French
from Latin platea, itself borrowed from Greek πλατεία (ὁ δός) 'broad (street)'; the
Italian piazza and Spanish plaza have the same origin, and have been borrowed into
English in parallel. A large group of early borrowings, again transmitted first through
Latin, then through various vernaculars, comes from Christian vocabulary:
1. bishop < ἐ πίσκοπος (epískopos 'overseer');
2. priest < πρεσβύτερος (presbýteros 'elder');
3. church < κυριακόν (kyriakón).
Some words were borrowed in essentially their original meaning, often
transmitted through classical Latin: physics, iambic, eta, necromancy.
But by far the largest Greek contribution to English vocabulary is the huge
number of scientific, medical, and technical neologisms that have been coined,
these terms are coined in all European languages.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a few learned words and phrases were introduced
using a transliteration of Ancient Greek.
1. anthem and antiphon(ἀ ντίφωνα),
2. frantic and frenetic (φρενετικός),
3. bishop and episcop(al) (ἐ πίσκοπος),
4. blame and blasphemy (βλάσφημος),
5. choir and chorus (χορός),
6. trivet and tripod (τρίπους/τρίποδ-),
7. slander and scandal (σκάνδαλον),
8. oil, olive,oleum, and elaeo- (ἔ λαιον);
9. almond and amygdala (ἀ μυγδάλη);
10. dram and drachma (δραχμή),
11. paper and papyrus (πάπυρος),
12. carat and keratin (κέρας, κέρατ-).
It is possible to recognize words of Greek origin, and give hints to their pronunciation
and inflection.In some cases, a word's spelling clearly shows its Greek origin. If it
includes ph or includes y between consonants, it is very likely Greek.
If it includes rrh, phth, or chth; or starts with hy-, ps-, pn-, or chr-; or the rarer pt-, ct-,
chth-, rh-, x-, sth-, mn-, tm-, gn- or bd-, then it is Greek.
What percentage of English words comes from Classical languages? What is the
percentage of English words derived from other languages?
About 80 percent of the entries in English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from
Latin. Over 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. In the
vocabulary of the sciences and technology, the figure rises to over 90 percent.
About 10 percent of the Latin vocabulary has found its way directly into English
without an intermediary (usually French). For a time the whole Latin lexicon became
potentially English and many words were coined on the basis of Latin precedent.
Words of Greek origin have generally entered English in one of three ways:
1) indirectly by way of Latin,
2) borrowed directly from Greek writers,
3) especially in the case of scientific terms, formed in modern times by
combining Greek elements in new ways.
The direct influence of the classical languages began with the Renaissance and has
continued ever since.
Through the study of Greek and Latin roots of English, students not only can
expand their knowledge of vocabulary but also come to understand the ways in
which the history of English language has shaped our perceptions of the world