The Significance of Latin Borrowings in the Modern English Language and Its Practical Interest | Статья в сборнике международной научной конференции


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III международная научная конференция «Филология и лингвистика в современном обществе» (Москва, ноябрь 2014)

Дата публикации: 07.11.2014

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Бахурова Е. П. The Significance of Latin Borrowings in the Modern English Language and Its Practical Interest [Текст] // Филология и лингвистика в современном обществе: материалы III Междунар. науч. конф. (г. Москва, ноябрь 2014 г.). — М.: Буки-Веди, 2014. — С. 43-50. — URL (дата обращения: 25.06.2018).


Ключевые слова: borrowings, Latin borrowings in English, native word stock, borrowed word units, the process of assimilation, periods of borrowing, loan-words, the word stock.


Each language is considered to be a social phenomenon. Therefore, it is always at the stage of development. As any phenomenon, the language does not stay unchanged for a considerable period of time, it can widen its stock by borrowing word units from other languages. In order to understand the contemporary language state, its grammatical forms, phonetic system and its lexical structure, each language phenomenon is considered to be a result of lengthy historical development and a number of changes and transformations.

The subject matter of my scientific article is to analyze the notion of Latin borrowings in the English language and prove how essential this issue is. One of the practical objectives of the paper is to review and study a number of words of Latin origin in the English word stock due to the Etymological Dictionary [4] and, with the help of the examples enlisted, in that way, confirm the topic’s significance in the modern linguistics.

In studying Modern English we regard the language as fixed in time and describe each linguistic level — phonetics, grammar and lexis — synchronically, taking no account of the origin of present-day features or their tendencies to change. The synchronic approach can be contrasted to the diachronic. When considered diachronically, every linguistic fact is interpreted as a stage or step in the never-ending evolution of language. In practice, however, the contrast between diachronic and synchronic study is not so marked as in the theory: we commonly resort to history to explain current phenomena in Modern English.

Firstly, I'd like to stress, that the most significant feature of the English language is considered to be its mixed character. As it was noted by Professor Smirtitskiy in his work [11, p.40–50], due to close contacts with other languages, it is believed that foreign influence is the most important factor in the history of English. Though native words constitute only 30 % of the English vocabulary, they are the most frequently used ones. The bulk of words of native origin has been preserved and consists mostly of very ancient elements: Indo-European, Germanic and West-Germanic cognates. Words of the Indo-European stock have parallels in different Indo-European languages: Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, etc.:

Let' s give the illustration with the example of the word «father»:

Table 1

Illustration of the common Indo-European word stock

fæder (Old English)

pere (French)

fadar (Gothic)

páter (Latin)

pedær (Persian)

pitr (Sanscrit)

fader (Swedish)

Vater (German)

patér (Greek)

papá (Spanish).


Words of the Common Germanic stock have cognates only in the Germanic group: in German, Norwegian, Dutch, Icelandic, etc. For example, the verb «to sing» has the following parallels:

-       singan (Old English);

-       siggwan (Gothic);

-       singen (German) [2, p.16–67]

Secondly, borrowing from other languages has been characteristic of English throughout its history. More than 2/3 of the English vocabulary are borrowings and mostly they are words of Romanic origin, especially that of Latin.

Fig. 1. The approximate borrowings percentage in English


Latin words were borrowed in all historical periods. English history is rich in different types of contacts with other countries, that is why it is very rich in borrowings. The Roman invasion, the Christianizing of Britain in the VI c. and the Middle English period — each time piece is highly informative in this way. There are quite a lot of them in medicine, chemistry, in technology, politics.


Fig. 2. The process of borrowing throughout the time line and its sources


Chart-2 Explanation:

Bede: Bǣda or Bēda (Old English); (ca.672/673–26 May 735), also known as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede (Bēda Venerābilis (Latin), an English monk at the monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth.

Chaucer: Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343–25 October 1400), known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages.

Shakespeare: William Shakespeare (26 April 1564–23 April 1616), the English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist (if ever really existed — the author).

The Internet: a global system of interconnected computer networks, carrying an extensive range of information resources and services, used for sharing information throughout the globe.

The borrowing process is gradual and includes such notion as the process of assimilation (phonetic, grammatical and lexical) — i.e. words adjust themselves to the phonetic and lexico-grammatical norms of the language. In the present article I will dwell upon the notion of assimilation of borrowings, degree of assimilation, the role of native and borrowed elements in the Modern language, influence of Latin borrowings on the English language and try to prove that this topic is significant in the context of the Modern English language.

Now it’s time to dwell upon the issues of words of native origin and borrowings. I have already mentioned that the bulk of words of native origin has been preserved and comprises about 30 % of the English vocabulary. It’s interesting to find out that almost all words of Anglo-Saxon origin belong to very important semantic groups. [9, p.50–69]. For the better illustration we can divide the notional words of Anglo-Saxon origin into such groups as denoting:

Table 2

-       parts of the body:

·                    head

·                    arm

·                    back

·                    hand, etc.

-       members of the family and closest relatives:

·                    father

·                    mother

·                    son

·                    wife, etc.

-       natural phenomena and planets

·                    snow

·                    wind

·                    star

·                    moon, etc.

-       qualities and properties:

·                    long

·                    old

·                    dark

·                    hot

·                    cold, etc.

-       common actions:

·                    to do

·                    to make

·                    to go

·                    to eat

·                    to come

·                    to hear, etc.


Most native words possess a wide range of lexical and grammatical valency. Many of them enter a number of phraseological units: for instance, the word «heel» enters the following phraseological units:

-               head over heels/heels over head — «upside down»;

·               to show a clean pair of heels — «run away»;

·               to turn on one’s heels — «turn sharply round»;

·               to be at/on/upon smb’s heels — «follow smb».;

-               to be head over heels in love with smb. — «to love smb. deeply»;

-               to cool/kick one's heels — «keep waiting in vain», etc.

Fig. 3. A phraseological unit illustrating the lexical valency


And now it’s high time we passed over to the issue of borrowings.

Due to the specific historical development of English, it has adopted many words from other languages, especially from Latin. We should bear in mind that all borrowed words undergo the process of assimilation (phonetic, grammatical, lexical), i.e. they adjust themselves to the phonetic and lexico-grammatical norms of the language. [3, p.87–102] Phonetic assimilation comprises substitution of native sounds and sound combinations for strange ones and for familiar sounds used in a position strange to the English language, as well as shift of stress.

For example, words like «honour», «reason» were accented on the same principle as «father», «mother».

Grammatical assimilation finds expression in the change of the morphological structure of the word. Usually as soon as words from other languages were introduced into English they lost their former grammatical categories and paradigms and acquired new grammatical categories by analogy with other English words, as in the following examples:


Им. спутник Com. sing. Sputnik

Род. cпутника Poss. sing. Sputnik’s

Дат. cпутнику Com. pl. Sputniks

Вин. cпутник Poss. pl. Sputniks

Тв. спутником

Предл. о спутнике

However, there are some words in Modern English that have retained for centuries their foreign inflexions. e.g. phenomenon (Latin) — phenomena; addendum (Latin) — addenda.

 And, finally, lexical assimilation includes changes in semantic structure and the formation of derivatives. [1, pp.60–77, 255–259] For instance, the word «wood» is the basis for the formation of a number of new words: wooden, woody, wooded, woodcraft, wooder, woodiness, woodcutter, woodwork and many others. Moreover, the word enters a number of idiomatic expressions (e.g. «to be out of the wood» — to come out of danger, «babes in the wood» — ingenious people, «to take to the woods» — to run away, etc.)

Fig. 4. Illustration of the lexical assimilation of borrowings


Now it’s time to say a few words about the practical part of the present article and the scientific interest the results of which it may bring to light. Through the study of the Etymological Dictionary of the English Word Stock, namely, the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology [4], I achieved the following goals that were as follows: firstly, to prove that there really was a great deal of word units borrowed from Latin through the history of the English language and, secondly, to elicit some examples and make certain conclusions.

It’s true that English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive among the world’s languages, contains an immense number of words of Latin origin. Having studied the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, I came to the conclusion that there really is a great number of words of Latin roots in the English word stock. This fact can be explained in the following way: Latin loan-words appeared in the English language throughout the time line. Let’s name the most significant stages of the process:

1. The trend began at those distant times (I c. B.C.) with the words which the West-Germanic tribes brought from the continent when they came to settle in Britain. These borrowings entered the language due to a direct intercourse and trade relations with the peoples of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes had to use Latin words in order to name new notions they had not known before.

These words mainly denote:

1.                 names of articles of clothing and household use:

For instance, such words as «a cap» — from L. L. cappa «a cape, hooded cloak», possibly shortened from capitulare — «headdress» (from L. caput «head»);

«a sock» (n.) — O.E. socc «light slipper», from L. soccus «light low-heeled shoe», variant of Gk. sykchos «a kind of shoe». Teenager slang notion «sock hop» dated back to c.1950, from notion of dancing without shoes;

«purple» — O.E. purpul, dissimilation (first recorded in Northumbrian, in Lindisfarne gospel) from purpure «purple garment», purpuren «purple», from L. purpura «purple-dyed cloak, purple dye», also «a shellfish from which purple was made», from Gk. porphyra, of Semitic origin, originally the name for the shellfish (murex) from which it was obtained.

2.                 words denoting foods:

«radish» — O.E. rædic, from L. radicem, from radix «root»;

«a lobster» — O.E. loppestre, corruption of L. locusta «lobster», literally «locust», by influence of O. E. loppe «spider», variant of lobbe. (Trilobite fossils in Worcestershire limestone quarries were known colloquially as locusts, which seems to be the generic word for «unidentified arthropod», as apple is for «foreign fruit».) Slang for «a British soldier» since 1643, originally in reference to the jointed armor of the Roundhead cuirassiers, later to the red coat;

«millet» — early XVc., from M.Fr. millet, dimension of mil «millet» from L. milium.

3.                 names of trees, plants, herbs (often cultivated for their medical properties):

«a pine» (n.) — O.E. pintreow, the first element from L. pinus, related to Gk. pitys, from *pi-, found in words for «fat, sap, pitch».

«a savory» (n.) — «a herb», probably an alteration of O. E. sæþerie, from L. satureia.

2. The second period of Latin borrowings is marked by the slightest influence of Latin due to the Romanized Celts. There was no opportunity for direct contact between Latin and Old English in England, and such Latin words as could have found their way into English would have had to come in through Celtic transmission.

For instance, names of places:

«Manchester» — Mameceastre (1086), from Mamucio (4c.), the original Celtic name, probably from *mamm «breast, breast-like hill» + O.E. ceaster — «a Roman town».

«Belgium» — 1602, from L. name of the territory occupied by the Belgæ, a Celtic tribe.

3.                  The third and the vastest borrowing period occurred after the Adoption of Christianity in the 6th century and the appearance of monasteries and churches. It resulted in a great number of church-word borrowing that entered the language. Here are some examples provided:

«an altar» — O.E., from L. altaria — «burnt offerings», but influenced by L. altus — «high».

«a candle» — O.E. candel, early church-word borrowing from L. candela — «a light, torch», from candere — «to shine». Unknown in ancient Greece, but common from early times among Romans and Etruscans. Candles on birthday cakes seem to have been originally a German custom. «To hold a candle to» originally meant «to help in a subordinate capacity».

«a deacon» — O.E. deacon, from L. diaconus, from Gk. diakonos «a servant of the church, religious official».

As the number of these words is almost five hundred, surely it seems impossible to elicit all of them in the atricle.

4. And finally, another pre-eminent group of Latin borrowings entered English with the revival of learning (XV-XVI centuries) at the Renaissance times. [6, p.70–125] Latin was drawn upon the scientific nomenclature. As at that time the language was understood by scientists all over the world, it was considered the common name-language for science. These words were mainly borrowed through books, by people who knew Latin well and tried to preserve the Latin form of the word. Here are the examples:

«an antenna» — appeared in 1646, from L. antenna — «a sail yard», the long yard that sticks up on some sails, translation of Gk. keraiai «insects’ horns». Modern use in radio, etc., is from 1902. (the plural form is «antennae»).

«a phenomenon» — 1576, «a fact, an occurrence», from L. phaenomenon, from Gk. phainomenon — «something which appears or is seen», noun use of neut. prp. of phainesthai «appear». The meaning «extraordinary occurrence» first recorded in 1771. The plural form is «phenomena». Phenomenal — meaning «smth. of the nature of a phenomenon» is from 1825. The shortened form phenom is from the baseball slang, first recorded ca.1890.

«a formula» — 1638, from L. formula — «a form, rule, method, formula», dim. of forma — «a form». Originally, «words used in a ceremony or ritual». The plural form is «formulae».

As we have seen in the stated examples these nouns preserved their original plural inflexion to this day and these forms still exist in the language. A great number of them has suffixes that clearly mark them as Latin borrowings of the time:

-                   verbs ending at –ate, -ute:

«to aggregate» — c.1400, from L. aggregatus/ aggregare — «add to», from ad- «to» + gregare — «a herd»;

«to separate» — early XVc., from L. separatus/separare, from se — «apart» + parare — «to make ready, prepare». The adjective meaning «detached, kept apart» is first recorded ca.1600, from the pp. used as an adjective. Separatism (1628) and separatist (1608) were first used in religious sense;

«to prosecute» — XVc., from L. prosecutus, pp. of prosequi — «follow after». The meaning «to bring to a court of law» is first recorded in 1579.

-        adjectives ending in –ant, -ent, -ior, -al:

«evident» — mid. XIVc., from L. evidentem (nom. evidens) — «perceptible, clear, obvious», from ex- «fully, out of» + videntem (nom. videns), prp. of videre «to see». Evidence is L. L. evidentia — «proof», originally — «distinction»;

«superior» — XIVc., from L. superior — «higher», comparative of superus — «situated above, upper», from super — «above, over»;

«cordial» — XIVc., from M. L. cordialis — «of or for the heart», from L. cor (gen. cordis) — «heart». Original sense of the notion was medicine, foods and drinks that stimulate the heart. [6, p.350–378]

The significance of Latin borrowings can be marked not only in the distant times but nowadays too. Surprisingly, but borrowings continue to appear in Modern English as well.

There are quite a lot of them, for instance:

1.                 in medicine;

«aspirin» — coined in 1899 in Germany as a trademark name, either from from Gk. a- «without» + L. spiraea, the plant in which the natural acid in the medicine is found, or a contraction of acetylierte spirsaure, the name of the acid found in the leaves of the plant.

2.                 in chemistry;

«valence» — 1884, from L. valentia — «strength, capacity», from valentem (nom. valens), prp. of valere — «be strong».

Now it’s high time we made certain conclusions, according to the investigation, carried out in the given scientific article. Comparing the amount (153 words analyzed) and strata of Latin borrowings on the English language in different historical periods, we get the following results that are best presented in the form of a table.

Table 3

The strata of borrowing

I c. B.C.-

III c. A.D.

IV c. A.D.

VI c. A.D.


XV-XVI c. A.D.

Articles of clothing

Names of places

Church nomenclature

Common vocabulary

Scientific strata

Articles of household use


Words denoting

religious notions



Words denoting foods





Names of trees, plants, herbs





Words connected with war and trade





Notions for construction and building spheres





Units of measurement and containers






Table 4

The amount of borrowed word units (according to the number of words analysed-153)


Number of Latin Borrowings

I c. B.C. — III c. A.D.


IV c. A.D.


VI c. A.D.


XII c. A.D.


XIII c. A.D.


XIV c. A.D.


XV c. A.D.


XVI c. A.D.


XVII c. A.D.




XIX c. A.D.



Thus, having considered the issue of Latin borrowings in the English language we can draw the following conclusions on the basis of the material studied above.

The role of the Latin language in Medieval Britain is clearly manifest; it was determined by such historical events as the Roman occupation of Britain, the influence of the Roman civilization, the introduction of Christianity and the Renaissance. It is no wonder that the Latin language exerted considerable influence on different aspects of English: the Old English alphabet, the growth of writing and literature. The impact of Latin on the Old English vocabulary enables us to see the spheres of Roman influence on British life.

Latin words entered the English language at different stages of the history. Chronologically they can be divided into several layers.

1.      The earliest layer comprises words, which the West-Germanic tribes brought from the continent when they came to settle in Britain. For instance, weall (wall), straet (road, street), mîl (mile). The contact with the Roman civilization began long before the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

2.      The adoption of Latin words continued in Britain after the invasion, since Britain had been under Roman occupation for almost 400 years. Later on Latin words were transmitted to them by the Romanized Celts. Early borrowings from Latin indicate the new things and concepts learned from the Romans: they pertain to war, trade, agriculture, construction and building and home life.

Words connected with tradeindicate general concepts, units of measurements and articles of trade unknown to the Teutons before they came into contact with Rome: Old English cēapian, cēap, cēapman and manZian, manZunZ, manZere (to trade, deal, trader, to trade, trading, trader) came from the Latin names for 'merchant' — caupo and mango. Units of measurement and containers were adopted with their Latin names: Old English pund (New English pound), ynce (inch) from Latin pondo and uncia.

The following words denote articles of trade and agricultural products, introduced by the Romans: O.E. win (from L. vinum), O.E. butere (from L. būtyrum), O.E. plume (from L. prunus), O.E. ciese (from L. cāseus), O.E. pipor (from L. piper), (N.E. wine, butter, plum, cheese, pepper).

A great number of words related to building, domestic life and military affairs were borrowed into the English language: O.E. cealc — N.E. chalk; O.E. pyle- N.E. pillow, etc.

3.      Among the Latin loan-words adopted in Britain there were some place-names or components of place-names used by the Celts. Latin castra in the shape caster, ceaster — «camp» formed O. E. place-names which survive today as Chester, Dorchester, Lancaster and the like (some of them with the first element coming from Celtic); L. colonia — «settlement for retired soldier» is found in Colchester and in the Latin-Celtic hybrid Lincoln; L. vicus –«villag'» appears in Norwich, Woolwich, L. portus — in Bridport and Devonport.

4.      The next period of Latin influence on the Old English vocabulary began with the introduction of Christianity in the late 6th c. Numerous Latin words which found their way into the English language during these five hundred years clearly fall into two main groups:

1.      words pertaining to religion,

2.      words connected with learning. [8, p.236–240]

The new religion introduced a large number of new conceptions which required new names. Most of them were adopted from Latin, some of the words go back to Greek prototypes: (O.E. apostol; apostle from L. apostolus from Gk. apóstolos).

We may also add to this list some other modern English words from the same source: abbot, alms, altar, angel, ark, creed, disciple, hymn, idol, martyr, noon, nun, organ, palm, pine, pope, prophet, psalm, psalter, shrine, relic, rule, temple and others.

5.      After the introduction of Christianity many monastic schools were set up in Britain. The spread of education and the Great Revival of Learning led to the wider use of Latin: teaching was conducted in Latin, or consisted of learning Latin. These conditions are reflected in a large number of borrowings connected with education, and also words of a more academic, «bookish» character. Unlike the earlier borrowings scholarly words were largely adopted through books; they were first used in O. E. translations from Latin, e.g.: (O.E. scōl; N.E. school; L. schola (Gk. skhole).

Due to this analysis we come up to the conclusion that the issue of the words borrowed from Latin is the important and significant one. As we see, Latin words were borrowed in particular historical periods and due to close contacts with the Roman civilization nowadays we have the abundance of Latin loan-words in the Modern English word stock. The significance of borrowings should not be underrated because they reflect the whole history and that very time period when they entered the English language. However, it is rather difficult to trace accurately the development and ways of assimilation of borrowings as these events are so far back in history. Nevertheless, it becomes more captivating, necessary and reasonable to analyze this very issue — Latin borrowings in the English language and understand how Roman civilization influenced English word stock as numerous traces of this influence are clearly seen even now.




1.                  Arnold I. V. The English Word. Лексикология совр.англ.яз./И. В. Арнольд. — M.: Высшая школа, 1986, p.295.

2.                  Baugh A., Cable Th. A History of the English Language./Fifth Edition. — Routledge, London, 2002, p.447.

3.                  Barber Charles, Beal Joan C., Shaw Philip A. The English Language: A Historical Introduction./Charles Barber. — Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p.322.

4.                  Barnhart, Robert K., Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology./Robert K.Barnhart. — London, Collins, 1995, p.944.

5.                  Lass R. Old English: A Historical Linguistic Companion./R.Lass. — Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p.324.

6.                  Williams J. M. Origins of the English Language: A Social and Linguistic

7.                  History./ J. M. Williams. — New York: The Free Press, 1975, p.418.

8.                  Аракин В. Д. Очерки по истории английского языка: Учеб.пособие./В.Аракин. — М.: Физматлит, 2007, p.288.

9.                  Аракин В. Д. История английского языка./Под редак. О. А. Пекиной. — М.: Физматлит, 2003, p.272.

10.              Дубенец Э. М. Лексикология современного английского языка: Modern English Lexicology./Э. М. Дубенец. — М.: «Глосса-Пресс», 2002, p.192.

11.              Секирин В. П. Заимствования в английском языке./В. П. Секирин. — Киев: Изд-во Киевского унив., 1964, p.152.

12.              Смирницкий А. И. Хрестоматия по истории английского языка с VII по XVII вв.: Серия «Классическая учебная книга»./А. И. Смирницкий. — М.: Академия, 2008, p.304.

Основные термины (генерируются автоматически): XV-XVI, английский язык, III, VII, XII-XIII, спутник.


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