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English has a very rich and large vocabulary, due mostly to borrowings, since through its history this language has borrowed words from different languages. According to Sheard "the actual number of native words in any of our large standard dictionaries is extremely small with the number of foreign borrowings recorded" (1970:323) . Latin is one of the languages which has contributed most to increase the English vocabulary. While some people consider that Latin has impoverished or distorted the English language, others think the opposite, that is, that "without Latin, English would have an impoverished vocabulary" and this is, precisely, what is going to be discussed in this essay.
Firstly, the present stock of the English vocabulary is examined. It is clear that "English vocabulary does not originate in one language, but is a fascinatingly hybrid conglomeration" (Hughes, 2000:9). As Stockwell comments "a couple of pages in a dictionary [...] reveals that many entries in it are historically "un-English" " (2001:19). It is observed that the historical base of the English vocabulary is Anglo-Saxon but then, other elements have been added:
There has been two further additions [â€¦]. The first is a romance element, the legacy of the conquering Norman-French [â€¦] the second element is classical, [â€¦] a more bookish, learned, abstract and technical vocabulary of Latin and Greek terms steadily accumulated by authors and scholars from late medieval times and given increasing impetus by the development of printing from the late fifteenth century (Hughes, 2000:11).
Therefore, as it can be deduced from Hughes' statement, Latin is considered a key element in the enrichment of the English vocabulary and it constitutes a distinctive stratum- "bookish, learned, abstract and technical" (Hughes, 2000:11).
But why has been Latin so influential? Latin, as McKnight comments was "an universal language'" (1923:113). It has been the language of scholarship and knowledge and also the language of the Christian church during a lot of time. It is, moreover, the mother of romance languages such us Spanish or French and it has influenced many languages throughout its history, its influence "in English [...] stronger than in any other language" (Jespersen, 1972:106). This influence is evident if some of the most important periods in the history of the language, specially the Renaissance, are examined.
In the first century some Germanic tribes inhabited Britain. "Their language contains only Indo-European and Germanic elements" (Åžekerci, 2007:152). "The words peculiar to Germanic [â€¦] have to do with ships and seafarings [â€¦] : ship, sail, keel" (Barber,103). But they also borrowed Latin words from the Romans who invaded Britain. These borrowings "have to do with war, trade, horticulture and food [â€¦] and buildings" (Barber, 2009:103) such us ' cook (Lat. Coquus)' (Jespersen, 1972:29).
But, the defining moment in the history of the English language is the settlement in Britain of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, three Germanic tribes, in the fifth century. In this period, known as Old English, the vocabulary was basically enlarged with the own material of the language. As Barber comments, "from Proto-Indo-European, the Germanic languages have inherited many ways of forming new words, especially by the use of prefixes and suffixes" (2009:128). Adjectives were formed by adding the suffixes -ig, -lÄ“ast and -ful to nouns as "Æ¿ancful `thankful´" (Barber, 2009:128), nouns were formed by adding the suffice -iÆ¿Å to adjectives and adverbs were formed by adding the suffixes -e or -licÄ“ to adjectives as "fæste" (Barber, 2009:128). Furthermore, "there were large numbers of prefixes, many of which could be added to verbs such us for- "forhergian" or ge- "gesceran" (Barber, 2009:129). Old English also used compounding to enlarge its vocabulary, for example "stæfcræft" or "tungolcræft" (Barber, 2009:129). We can see that the language need not have relied on extensive borrowing and that it did not lack the capacity for self-enrichment.
However, Old English also borrowed words from other languages due to contact with different peoples. According to Stockwell, "there are three major sources of 'outside vocabulary' in old English" (2001:31). On of these sources is, of course, Latin. But only the "3 percent of the Old English word stock comes from Latin" (Stockwell, 2001:32). It was due to the arrival of Christianity in the sixth century. "Latin was the official language of the Christian Church, and consequently, the spread of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings" (Åžekerci, 2007:152). Some of these Latin borrowings are "biscop, munuc" (Barber, 2009:129) or "priest, psalter" (McKnight, 109). But, "even in this field [Christianity] old English made considerable use of its native language material" (Barber, 2009:129). It created new words to express the Christian doctrine by means of three ways. One of this ways was the use of native affixes such us -had (-hood) which were added to foreign loanwords as for example "preosthad (priesthood), clerichad" (Jespersen, 1972:39). In other occasions, the meanings of native words were changed, so that they could express a Christian idea. For example, the day Christians celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ "easter, OE eastron, was the name of a old pagan spring festival" (Jespersen,1972:39). However, some of the words in this way created do not exist presently as they were replaced by Latin or French words, for example "powere (from prowian, 'to suffer') by martyr" (Jespersen, 1972:40). The third way of creating new words for Christian ideas was by translating a foreign word or by creating a new one using native resources. For example, " 'trinity' was rendered as prÄ«nes" or "evaggélion was rendered god-spell" (Barber, 2009:129). But not all Latin loanwords were related to Christianity. As McKnight says, "Christianity exerted and influence wider than that [â€¦] early Roman missionaries [â€¦] brought Roman culture and Roman education" (1923:109). It has to be known that monasteries were also the centre of culture and that most manuscripts were written in Latin, since it was the language of scholarship. Bede, for example, wrote "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" in Latin. So, from these period, there are also borrowings which designates names "for division of time, for utensils, for articles of wearing apparel, and particularly in names of plants and trees and beast, real and mythological" (McKnight, 1923:110). For example: "paper, school" or "polite, radish" (Stockwell, 2001:32). Although during this period there was a high contact between the two languages, there were not many Latin borrowings:
Old English did not borrow more Latin vocabulary because at that time there were no "Latin-speaking nation or community in actual intercourse with the English [â€¦] Old English language, then, was rich in possibilities, and its speakers were fortunate enough to possess a language that might [â€¦] express everything that human speech can be called upon to express (Jespersen, 1972:45-46).
Middle English was a period of very extensive borrowings. After the Norman conquest, French became the official language. It was the language of prestige and power since the ruling classes of the country spoke French. However, Latin continued to be an important language. It was not only the language of the church but also the language of the administration and the language of the law. Because of that, many Latin words were borrowed such us "alias, abacus" (Hughes, 2000:143). By observing the works of important authors of the period such us Wycliffe or Chaucer, it is possible to notice this increase of Latin borrowings. "In Early Middle English period it is estimated the lexicon consisted of 91.5 per cent native content; by later Middle English this proportion has fallen to 78.8" (Hughes 2000:144). As it can be notice from Hughes statement, although during this period there were a lot of borrowings from French and Latin and the native content was decreasing, there were still more native words in the vocabulary. According to McKnight new words were borrowed because "the language was impoverished in its literary vocabulary on account of long disuse among the cultured classes" (1923:113).
Latin words continued to be acquired in the following centuries. But it is in the Renaissance period (1450-1700), the rebirth of the classical culture in Europe, when many "new learned words" (Stockwell, 2001:41) were borrowed from Latin . This is a period of growth and expansion of the English vocabulary. "In the OED, as many as 4500 new words were recorded in English during each decade between 1500 and 1700. Two thirds of these words were creations based on already existing roots and affixes, but an impressive one-third were straight borrowings " (Stockwell, 2001:41). Most of these new words have a Latin origin. But why? Latin was a prestige language in that period. To know Latin was a synonymy of being educate. Due to the appearance of the printing press, many people had access to the books and literacy increased and as a result many classical works were translated into English. As Stockwell states "the translator often fount it easier to introduce a new word for an unfamiliar notion than to worry about coining an English equivalent" (2001:42). As this author also comments, "learned words make up the largest portion of the new Latin vocabulary. From the field of classical civilization, philosophy, religion and education, Early Modern English added words such us: contend, curriculum [â€¦] from the fields of mathematics and geometric, botany, biology, geography, medicine are: calculus, cerebellum [â€¦] a substantial number of of everyday words were also adopted [â€¦] : plus, invitation. (2001:42). Many affixes and prefixed were also borrowed form Latin: "-ence, -acy, ency" or "ante-, post, sub-" (Stockwell. 2001:42).
This increase of borrowings attracted a series of criticism known as the Inkhorn controversy. There were two opposed groups: The neologizers who "regarded the classical register as containing the embellishment of literary civilization" (Hughes, 2000:155) and the purist who considered that Latin was impoverishing the language. They "rejected foreign borrowings as being alien contaminations which were in themselves dark to native speakers" (Hughes, 2000:154). One of these purists was Sir John Cheke who translated parts of the New Testament using only native words such us "biwordes for parables" (McKnight, 1923:115). But, despite the rejections of the purists, Latin borrowings entered in the language.
Even in this period, English made use of its own material to enlarge its vocabulary. Words were created through three methods: One of these methods is affixation which created words using affixes as -ness, -er (to create nouns), -ed, -y (to create adjectives), -ly (to create adverbs), -wise, -ize (to create verbs), un (added to all kinds of words). Some examples that can be seen in Barber work's are: "bawdiness", "feeler", "batty", "bawdily", "anathematize" and "uncivility" (2009:193). Other way to create new words was compounding, "the combination of two or three free morphemes [such us] sheep-brand, waterdock" (Barber, 2009:193). The last way to create new words was by conversion, that is, by deriving new words from others such us "to bayonet, to gossip [which were derived from nouns]" (Barber, 2009:193). According to Barber, "it is probable that more words were produced in this way than were borrowed" (2009:193).
Moreover, some important authors in the history of the English Literature have also contribute to enrich and to enlarge the English language by coining new words, often with Latin sources. William Shakespeare, with 256 words according to the OED, is one of the most prolific.
Although in later periods more borrowings entered in the language, "the conscious efforts at enriching the English Language by words imported from the classical languages have not been repeated in later times" (McKnight, 1923:116).
As it can be seen, Latin is a key element in the enrichment of the English language due to its enormous contribution. But, it can be also observed that the language has also employed its own resources to coin new words even when the influence of Latin was at its height. It is impossible to know what would have happened if Latin have not flooded the English language. I do not think that it can be said categorically that "without Latin, English would be a impoverished language", although it is impossible to imagine English without the stylistic variety that Latin makes possible. So, what we can say without any doubt is that without Latin, English would be a very different language, a more Germanic one.
Word Count: 2081