The Influence of Latin to the English Language. Morphological and Lexical Features

Examination Thesis 2015 40 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1.1. Objectives
1.2. Procedures and materials
1.3. General overview


3.1. Introduction
3.2. Periods of influence
3.2.1. The Zero Period or Continental Borrowing
3.2.2. The First Period
3.2.3. The Second Wave: Christianization
3.2.4. The Third Wave: The Renaissance

4.1. Derivation
4.1.1. Prefixation
4.1.2. Suffixation
4.2. Inflection
4.3. Neoclassical compounds




1.1. Objectives

This project can be highlighted, first of all, in its basic devotion of presenting, everything in a concise way, the general context of Latin throughout time, especially in the fields of lexis and morphology, and how it influenced the lexicon and grammar of English respectively.

More precisely, it will be analyzed the main lexical and morphological features which English inherited from Latin. Therefore, several questions will rise, as what kind of Latin lexicon English took for what purpose (i.e. formal or informal registers, jargon, frequency, etc.), as well as how such tokens are used. Moreover, English, as Latin or the subsequent Romance languages, can adapt into their own linguistic systems both central lexical elements (e.g. roots, stems) and superficial or more general ones (e.g. affixes and other base formations). Related to this, it will be also attempted to present the most productive morphological process in English, as well as the considerable difficulty to categorize such processes precisely. By associating such context with the complex situation of present-day English, it will be clearly proven that such situation is not unique in English. It is unique currently indeed, yet that also happened to Latin in a variety of ways in the past. Moreover, it will be described the strong relationship between Latin and English as the clearest examples of languages which have come into contact with many other language families, as Semitic (i.e. Arabic, Hebrew, Assyrian, Phoenician…), Greek and Romance languages (chiefly French), directly stemmed from Latin.

On balance, even though all the possible attention will be paid to the Latin lexical and morphological influences in English, Latin cannot be studied in a vacuum, just as in the case of English. Therefore, it can be stated the idea of especial re-categorization of English, which, even though pertaining to a concrete language group, has been strongly linked to many other languages with the passing of time.

1.2. Procedures and materials

The bibliographical materials employed are in most cases connected. They can be divided into several types.

1. The first type of the materials has to do with the general historical and linguistic contextualization of Latin, the Roman invasion of Britain, and the social stratification. For this purpose the main material is that of Minkova & Stockwell’s English words. History and culture (2001) and the essay published by Revista digital de Humanidades Sarasuati called La Romanización. La influencia del latín en la lengua inglesa. Préstamos y calcos (2007). Additionally, other web resources have been taken into account, as a pair of articles retrieved from http://romans.etrusia.co.uk/, already cited in the first footnote.

2. Secondly, dealing with the main periods of influence, all materials which have been employed offer very detailed explanation and a great amount of examples, as Minkova & Stockwell’s work, The Oxford history of English, edited by Lynda Mugglestone in 2006. Other materials, however, have been only employed for specializing only in lexical items and examples, as John Algeo’s Index of new words with glosses (1993), and obviously, The Oxford Latin Minidictionary (bilingual) and The Oxford English Dictionary (monolingual, retrieved from http://www.oed.com/).

3. In the third place, among materials concerning morphology, it can be found relevant enough Minkova & Stockwell’s labour again, as well as Ingo Plag’s Word formation in English (2002) and definitely Quirk et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language (1985). Others, however, were much useful for their wide array of examples rather than detailed morphological explanations, as Peter Barker’s Latin in our language (1993), The Oxford English Dictionary, John Algeo’s index (1993), and Latin suffixal derivatives and their Indo-European ancestry, by Gary Miller (2006).

4. However, most of these resources did not succeed in the etymological explanations of elements presented, put into brackets. Therefore, other helpful materials have been greatly employed. Such kind of materials does not only deal with the origin of such elements, but also, in most cases, how they are used, their contexts, register (i.e. formal or informal), etc. Apart from The Oxford English Dictionary, Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/) and Gary Miller’s work were especially relevant in this field.

5. All in all, this project has been developed in a four-side way: contextualization, waves of influence (i.e. four / five periods), morphology (i.e. derivation, inflection, compounding) and etymology (i.e. directly from Latin, Greek indirectly from Latin, Latin indirectly from French, etc.). As also reflected, most materials can overlap, as they present similar contents. In any case, Latin will be considered the central part of this project. However, this does not imply, if convenient, possible variations not to be mentioned, but just the opposite.

Additionally, a system of abbreviations will be used so as to make this project more feasible and readable: CL (Classical Latin), F (French), G (Greek) L (Latin), PCL (Post-Classical Latin) and VL (Vulgar Latin).

1.2. General overview

English is living a complex situation nowadays. On the one hand, words are ceasing to be used (e.g.[1] quarter with the meaning of prison). On the other hand, such archaic forms are paving the way to new words which express new concepts, materials, phenomena, notions, etc. (e.g. the use of the term ware meaning goods has become more obsolete in comparison with its derived forms as software or hardware). Most of such language innovation comes from different languages. However, they do not have to be contemporary necessarily. In fact, although perhaps cannot be considered the majority of items nowadays, as in the past; still a considerable amount of borrowings come from classical languages, Greek and especially Latin.

Nevertheless, why is Latin so relevant? It cannot be denied that Latin has played an essential role for the formation of present-day English. As English today, Latin was also a “language of languages” in the past. It was used as a first, second language and even as a foreign language, between different countries, for diplomatic, educational, scientific, cultural, religious or simply communicative affairs. Consequently, Latin worked not only as a direct influence of its own features, but also as an indirect influence. This is to say, Latin served also as a mediator between one language (English) and other elements coming from other contemporary or ancient languages as Greek, Phoenician and even Oriental languages. Certainly, Latin was also affected by such linguistic contacts from previous time, when the Roman Empire stretched from the Middle-East to the Far West of the European continent, and from the arid African to the misty sceneries of Scotland.

Such contact among communities, countries and therefore languages made Latin possible to evolve. Accordingly, Latin disappeared as a native first language, giving thus rise to different “Latin variants” called Romance languages, which would become the indirect transmitters of the Latin language. In other words, languages as French, Spanish or Italian would become the subsequent (firstly seen as corrupted) heirs of Latin. They would not only transmit some of their features to the English language, but also those features clearly coming from Latin. Definitely, Romance languages, the Latin successors, also worked as indirect influences of Latin, their “mother source language”.

To what extent has Latin influenced English? Is it still possible to consider English a clear Germanic language? Would it have to be dealt as an exceptional language in an exceptional situation? Is such exclusive situation exclusive, or has it already taken place in Latin before? Such questions will be attempted to be clarified throughout the project, at least as far as lexis and morphology is concerned.


Seemingly, Romans were not very interested in Britain in the beginning. The vast northern and western regions of present-day Wales and Scotland (named Caledonia by Romans) were not as easily settled,[2] as they were the dwelling places of native Celtic tribes which were strongly anti-Roman. Additionally, Romans found these harsh landscapes agriculturally poor, what decreased the Roman wish for invasion.

It was not until 55 and 54 BC when the first Roman invasion of Britain took place, under the rule of the war leader Caius Julius Caesar. However, his idea was not based on a permanent occupation, but on stopping the support which Celts were giving to the Gaul tribes on the continent, fighting against Romans during the Gallic Wars (58 – 50 BC), with the aim of impeding the Roman progressing domination of their territories.

Romans did not return until 43 AD, the year when an expedition was ordered by the Emperor Claudius with the idea of expanding the Roman Empire through the British Isles and the British domination. Surprisingly enough, Romans had already taken over much of Britain in the short frame of 40 years. They were to remain for nearly 400 years under the government of the Caesars. Only the northern territories of Caledonia left unconquered. However, several attempts were made. As such lands were difficult to control, and in response to the numerous Pictish revolts, Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of Hadrian’s Wall (122 AD). Some years later, Emperor Antonine Pius managed to move forward a few miles northern, and Romans legions constructed the Antonine Wall around 142 AD. Nevertheless, it was only done in sections, and the military campaign eventually failed due to the strong resistance of the Picts. Hadrian’s Wall remained, therefore, as the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britannia.

As to the social situation is concerned, Roman life prospered further south, and cities as Londinium (London), Deva (Chester), Isca (Exeter) or Eboracum (York) gained considerable popularity and prosperity. Society was also divided into statements. On the one hand, Roman society in Britain was highly classified. At the top were those people associated with the legions, the provincial administration, the government of the towns and commerce. Native tribes, although became essentially urban into a town-based governmental system, they did not succeed to become Romanized, and Latin, even though it was the official language of administration, did not replace Brittonic languages as the mother tongue of the ordinary people.

Finally, the disintegration of the Roman Britain began to occur at the end of the fourth century. After the declaration of Emperor Honorius for cities of Britain to look to their own defense from that time on, Roman legions began to withdraw from Britain some years later, since they felt the need to secure the boundaries of the Roman Empire on the continent, constantly attacked by the Germanic tribes and the Huns.


3.1. Introduction

Differently from other languages already[3] settled down in Britannia, as Celtic, Latin was not just conceived as a language of an invading society, and then in a lower position than the Anglo-Saxon civilization, the leading authority. Instead, Latin was, since the very beginning, perceived as the language of a higher civilization from which the Anglo-Saxons had so much to learn. Therefore, the huge contributions of Latin, both directly and indirectly (i.e. Romance languages), made possible the gradation of a complete homogeneous Old English to a totally heterogeneous Modern English.

The reason why Latin cannot be thought as another foreign language lies on the huge influence which it had in comparison with other conquering societies and their languages. In terms of frequent vocabulary, around 72% of the most used lexicon at present (among the most frequent 10,000 words) can be attributed to Romance languages (mainly French) and Latin, with almost 20% of the total on its own. Consequently, as already stated, Latin language became well entrenched and strongly established, as it can be reflected on the percentages in the following chart, being much larger than any other languages with which English came into contact in the past as well, as Celtic or Norse, for instance.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1. Sources of the most frequent 10,000 words of English (Minkova & Stockwell, 2001: 53)

3.2. Periods of influence

It will be vital to classify all those Latin lexical borrowings so as to discern the type of lexicon adopted; to what register (formal or informal) such items pertains, among other aspects.

I) The Zero Period. Also called Continental Borrowing, it dates back to the time before the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain (ca. 4th and 5th centuries). In other words, such borrowings reflect the early contacts which the Germanic tribes had with Romans on the continent, and how these tribes indirectly transmitted such tokens once they occupied the isle of Britain.

Loanwords, mainly taken orally, were based on short words, easily adaptable to the highly inflected Germanic languages, concerning commercial, domestic, food, building, military and administrative matters.

Examples[4]: butter (butyrum, -i), camp (campus, -i), copper (cyprium, -i), chalk (creta, -ae), cheap (caupo, -onis), cheese (caesus, -i), cup (cuppa, -ae), dish (discus, -i), kettle (catillus, -i, diminutive of catinus, -i: food-vessel), kitchen and cook (coquina, -ae, from coquere and coquus, -i, respectively), mile (mille), mint (mentha, -ae), mong (mango, -onis), onion (unio, -onis), pepper (piper, -eris), pillow (pulvinus, -i), poppy (papaver, -eris), pound (pondus, eris), straight and street (strata, -ae), tile (tegula, -ae), wall (vallum, - i), wine (vinum, -i).

II) The First Period: taken place during the Roman domination in Britain (ca. 43 - 450 AD), this is the period when Latin became the official language of administration and the elite, but not of the ordinary people, who still kept their native languages (e.g. Celtic, Old English).

That may explain why Old English still remained homogeneous. Its lexicon revolved around 50,000 or 60,000 words, just 3% of Latin origin (i.e. around 450 Latin terms), and only a quarter of the vocabulary having survived so far. It was also confusing the fact that many words, taken also from the previous Zero Period, were considered to come from (Proto-) Indo-European roots rather than Latin. This is especially relevant for basic items, as, for example, those concerning kinship words: brother (frater, -tris), father (pater, -tris), mother (mater, -tris), etc.

In any case, Old English would find it necessary to borrow certain Latin tokens for expressing day (dies, -ei) and night (nox, - ctis), as well as military and commercial entities, among many others, as figured above.

Moreover, as the Roman Empire began to spread over the island, many places and enclosed communities were named by means of Latinate place names still existing nowadays: -caster or –c(h)ester (castra, -orum: military camp, as in Chester, Doncaster, Gloucester, Lancaster, Manchester, Leicester, Winchester, Worcester); -coln (colonia, -ae: colony, as Lincoln), -foss (fossa, -ae: ditch, as Fossbrook), Munt (mons, -ntis: mountain), Port (portus, -us: harbor, as Port Moresby), Torr (turris, -is: tower), - wich or - wick (vicus, -i: village, district, as in Greenwich, Harwich, Warwick).

III) The Second Wave: Christianization of England and Monastic culture. It started with the introduction of Christianity into Britannia in 597. The mission, carried out by St. Augustine of Canterbury, took place between the end of the VI century and the middle of the VII, when Christianity finally became the official religion of the Anglo-Saxon community. Relevant contributions during this period of influence also came from renamed scholars, being especially outstanding the Venerable Bede (ca. 673 – 735), whose work Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (i.e. Ecclesiastical History of the English People), written in Latin language, narrates, from the Roman Catholic point of view, the history of Brittania from the Anglo-Saxon arrival in the middle of the 5th century until the contemporary period of Bede’s society.[5]

1. Differently from the two previous trends, written language became the most predominant transmission code. This period is also characteristic for its great implication to the transition from a complete homogeneous Old English to an incipient heterogeneous Middle English, which would be later influenced both by the Benedictine Reform, in the late tenth century, and the Norman French conquest (1066). Both events, as a result, would contribute to the direct and indirect borrowing of Latin items for the following five centuries. The high status of Ecclesiastical Latin and its main institution, the Church, not only would influence the rest of languages within the same environment, but also would ensue to the innovation and incorporation of new Latin terms, mostly adopted from Greek or even Arabic in the late Middle Ages.

2. Many of such Latin borrowings got profoundly immersed into the native English lexicon, until becoming common words still used every day. Similarly, this is a phenomenon which occurred with French loanwords, most of them traced back to classical Greek and Latin, as well as other foreign (chiefly Oriental) languages. The French word stock reflected the leading status of the new Norman aristocracy, also in terms related to the fields of the legal -in fact, until the 1450s laws were written in Latin-, administrative, political, religious and cultural spheres.

Examples: Army (armare: to arm), council (concilium, -i, from con -: together + cal -: to call a convocation, assembly, meeting, union), empire (Imperium, -ii), mayor (PCL maior, -oris: village bailiff, feudal officer, person in authority, which is a nominalized form of CL adjective, inflected in comparative grade, maior, -oris: greater), navy (navigium, -ii: ship, voyage, from navigare: to sail).

Especially relevant in this field are the terms coming from the Latin verb statuo, -is, ere, -ui, -utum, from the third conjugation, which gave rise, first in French and later in English, to words such as state (status, - us, nominalized form the verbal stem: fact or manner of standing, stature, legal position, physical condition, circumstances, situation, arrangement, constitution, order, station in life, rank, prestige) and statute (coming from statutum, the past participle form: ordinance or decision, in legal context).

3. Furthermore, this was the period when literacy increased among the clergy. There was an enhancing interest in translating religious writings and philosophical or medical treaties, which led to certain items to gain a considerable popularity in Europe. This situation enabled that other formal and educational terms were borrowed, especially those related to literature (litteratura, -ae: use of letters, writing, system of letters), art (ars, -tis: professional or technical skill, craftsmanship), science (scientia, -ae: expert knowledge, understanding, learning, erudition), music (musica, -ae: the art and theory of music and sounds, from G μουσική: art presided over by the Muses) and medicine (medicina, -ae: art or practice of healing, administration of drugs, remedy, treatment).

Examples: Dialogue (dialogus, -i: discussion, from ancient Greek διάλογος: conversation, dialogue discussion, dispute, literary composition in the form of a conversation), cancer (cancer, -is: crab), fever (febris, -is), figure (figura, -ae, short stem of the verb fingere: to see), giant (gigas, -ntis, from G γίγaς, γίγαντ -), gloss (glossa, -ae, from Greek γλῶσσα), history (historia, -ae) , master (magister, tri, from the adverb magis denoting superiority, authority), meter (PCL meter, - tris, from G μέτρον: measure), number (numerus, -i), pain (poena, -ae: penalty, punishment), paper (PCL paperium, -i, alteration of CL papyrus, -i), paralysis (paralysis, - is, from G παράλυσις, coming from the verb παραλύειν: to loose, detach, disable, enfeeble), pen or pencil (penicillus, -i or peniculus, -i), plaster (PCL plastrum or plaustrum, -i, alternation of CL emplastrum, -i), poet (poeta, -ae, from G ποητής or ποιητής: maker, author, writer of verse, playwright and person of great skill, coming from the stem ποεῖν or ποιεῖν: to make, create, and produce; to compose, write), pumice (pumix, -cis), school (schola, -ae), scrofula (scrofula, - ae: swelling of the glands, coming from the diminutive of scrofa, -ae: breeding sow), term (terminum, -i: limit, boundary of time and place), title (titulus, -i: superscription), verse (versus, -us: line or row of writing, so named from turning to begin another line – vertere: to turn-).

4. Words related to the Christian religion were adopted in association with its physical fabric, ministers and religious matters and practices.

Examples: Abbot (abbas, -tis), alb (albus, -a, -um: white), altar (altare: rise), ark (arca, -ae: chest, box, coffer), bishop (VL (e)biscopus, -i or CL episcopus, -i, from G ἐπίσκοπος: overlooker, overseer), candle (candel(l)a, -ae, from candere: to shine), canticle (canticulum, -i, diminutive from canticum, -i: song), cycle (cyclus, -i), devil (diabolus, -i), discipline (disciplina, -ae), mass (missa, -ae, past participle missus, -a, -um, from the verb mittere: to send), minster (monisterium / monasterium, -i + fill (monachus, -i), noon (nonna, -ae), priest (presbyter, i), provost (PCL propositus, -i, from CL praepositus, - i), relic (reliquiae, -arum, plural: remains), shrine (scrinium, -i: case, chest for books and papers), shrive (scribere: write), temple (templum, -i).

5. Furthermore, articles of clothing and home were prone to be adopted.

Examples: cap (cappa, - ae), chest (cista, -ae), mat (matta, -ae, possibly from Phoenician or Hebrew), sack (saccus, -i, from G σάκκος, probably coming from Hebrew, Phoenician, Jewish, Aramaic, Syriac or Assyrian), silk (sericus, -a, -um, adjective from Seres; from G σηρικός: silken, borrowed from Σῆρες: the oriental people, perhaps the Chinese), sock (soccus, -i).

6. Lexical items related to food, the flora and fauna were also borrowed.

Examples: Aloes (aloa, -ae, from G ἀλόη), balsam (balsamum, -i), beet (beta, -ae), box (buxus, -us / -i or buxum, -i, from G πύξος), camel (camelus, -us, from G κάμηλος, stemming from Semitic origin), ceder (cedrus, -i, from G κέδρος), centaury (centaureum, -i or centaurion, -onis, from G κενταύρειον or κενταύριον, taken from κένταυρος), coriander (coriandrum, -i, from G κορίαννον), cucumber (cucumis, - eris), cypress (PCL cypressus, -i, adaptation of CL cupressus, -i, from G κυπάρισσος), doe (dam(m)a, - ae), fennel (VL fenuclum or fenoclum, -i, alteration of CL faeniculum, -i, diminutive of faenum, -i: hay), fig (ficus, -us) hellebore ((h)elleborus or (h)elleborum, -i), hyssop (hyssopus / hyssopum, -i, from G ὕσσωπος or ὕσσωπον, apparently an eastern word), lamprey (PCL lampreda, -ae, alteration of CL lampetra, -ae, compound from the verb lambere: to lick, and the noun petra, -ae: stone), laurel (laurus, -i or laurea, -ae), lentil (lenticula, - ae, diminutive of lens, - ntis), lobster (locusta, -ae), lily (lilium, -ii, from G λείριον) mallow (malva, -ae), mussel (PCL muscular, -ae, alteration of musculus, -i), myrrh (murra, murrha or myrrha, -ae, from G μύρρα, σμύρνα, ζμύρνα), oyster (ostrea, -ae or ostreum, -i, from G ὄστρεον or ὄστρειον), parsley (PCL petresilium, -i, alteration of CL petroselinum, -i), pear (pera, -ae), periwinkle (PCL pervinca, -ae , in CL vicapervica, -ae), pine (pinus, -us / -i), radish (radix, -cis), rue (ruta, -ae), savory (satureia, -ae or satreium, - ii, of unknown origin), scorpion (scorpio, -nis, extended form of scorpius, -ii, from G σκορπίος), tiger (tigris, -is, from G τίγρις, having its origin from a foreign oriental language), viper (vipera, -ae, composed by the adjective stem vivus, -a, -um: alive, living; and the verb parere: to bring forth).

7. Regarding morphology, this period was relevant for certain prefixes (e.g. de-, dis-, re-, trans-, con-) and suffixes (e.g. -age, -al, -ate, -ic, -ine, -ise or -ize, -ism, -ist, -ite, -ine, -ion, -ment, (o)ry, etc.), which started to be highly productive.

Examples: Cantor (cantor, - oris: singer, from the verb base canere or cantare: to sing), celandine (celidonia or chelidonia, - onium, from G χελιδόνιον or χελιδών: swallow), congregate or congregation (congregatio, -onis, derived from the prefix con - “together” and the verb base gregare: to collect into a flock or company, also associated to the noun grex, -gis: flock, herd), describe (descrebere: copy off, transcribe, write down, write off, sketch off in writing or painting, mark off, stemming from the root scribere: write), discuss and discute (past participle of discutere: dash to pieces, disperse, scatter, examine, investigate, explain, expound, try, interrogate, judge, debate, consider, decide; coming from the verb quatere: shake, strike), logic (logicus, -a, -um: pertaining to reasoning, from G λόγος: word, oration, reasoning), lovage (PCL levisticum, -i, probably an alteration of CL ligusticum, -i), mental (PCL mentalis, -e, second-class adjective: rational, stemming from the noun base mens, -ntis: mind), polite (politus, -a, -um, past participle or adjective coming from the verb polire: smooth, polish), record (recordari or rarely recordare: to call to mind, recollect, to testify, stemming from cor, cordis: heart), testament (testamentum, from testari: to be a witness, attest, make a will), translate (translatum, past participle from of the verb transferre, from the irregular verb fero, fers, ferro, tuli, latum: to bear, carry, bring).

8. This morphological phenomenon occurred in a double side, both with classical or Romance stems and non-Romance ones (Minkova and Stockwell, 2001: 51). More accurately speaking, the hybridization [6] of other Latin borrowings with the native English vocabulary can be reflected in the mixture of native English affixes with classical borrowed roots (e.g. over- + estimate, un- + important; prince + -ly, respect + -ful), or the other way round, which means, native English roots combined with classical bases or borrowed affixes (e.g. re- + fill, super- + man; foresee + -able, woman + -ize).

IV) The Third Wave: Vocabulary enrichment during the Renaissance.

Both the 15th and the 16th were centuries of many alterations in almost every single field. Apart from the historical, political, social and even religious changes, the linguistic one would not be an exception. It is in this century where Middle English would face the transition to an Early Modern variety, which would become Modern, and close enough to present-day English, few centuries later. If Renaissance excels in respect to the other previous ages, it could not be understood without turning to the ideology of that society, revolving around the wish to return to the classical Greek and Latin past. Both languages acquired considerable prestige in comparison to French, the dominant language since the 11th century. In fact, French, as well as the rest of the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, etc.) were conceived as a corrupted form of Latin, a conception which definitely decreased their prestige.

On the other hand, Latin and Greek became the language of prestige. Obviously, nobody spoke it as a first native language, as it was in the case of Romance languages. However, it was taught, read and used for learned discourse as a second language, especially in the fields of literature, arts, medicine, laws, culture and science. Translations into English of classical authors as Caesar, Tacitus, Cicero, Seneca, Horace, Ovid, Livy or Boethius considerably contributed to the spread of the classical conception of life and many other ideas from the Greek and Roman past. Such classical culture settled in the English society so deeply, that classical languages also played a considerable role. In this aspect, renamed authors as Chaucer, Shakespeare or Marlowe, among many others, would be also essential to understand the sense of this wave of influence. They would find it compulsory to adopt Latin items in their own literary works, which were written in their native and vernacular English language. In other terms, Greek and Latin languages were perceived as an important tool to express ideas and entities from the past which were unknown before.

1. This period was also greatly productive in morphology. Numerous Latin prefixes (e.g. ab-, ad-, ante-, co(n)-, de-, dis-, e(x)-, in-, post-, pre-, pro-, re-, sub-, super-) and suffixes (e.g. -able / -ible, -al, -ate, -ancy, -ence, -ency, -er, -ia, -ic, -(i)fy, -(at)ion, -(i)ty, -(ar)ium, -(ar)ius, -ive, -ize, -ment, -(at)or, -os, -ous, -ure, -us) from different parts of speech were nativized or even more consolidated in comparison to the previous wave of influence.

2. Further to lexis, it is vital to remark on two main phenomena. First, many classical items became quite difficult to distinguish between direct or indirect borrowings, or more accurately, whether they came directly from Latin or this was only the mediator between Greek and English. For example, it is evident that the word center stems from the Latin noun centrum, -i, yet it may have been taken from Greek κέντρον, nominalization of the same root κεντεῖν: to prick, goad, stab. Such lack of distinction still existed in many adopted French loanwords, similarly to the second period of influence. In some other cases, however, such discernment is clear enough, as in atheism, atmosphere, chaos, dogma, economy, ecstasy, drama, irony, pneumonia, scheme, syllable, all of which come mainly from Greek.

3. The second phenomenon to take into account was the hybridization of many terms. In this respect, many Latinate forms included many learned Greek bases or affixes. For instance, returning to center, it can be found containing the Greek particle ἐπι (on, upon), and thus giving rise to epicenter. In any case, written language still remained as the main code of transmission of such new classical items, most of which were chiefly used in formal, educated registers. Many others, nonetheless, became everyday words which are used in frequent vocabulary. Examples: absurdity, appropriate, assassin(ate), benefit(ial), combustible, conspicuous, exist, expensive, extinguish, harass(ment), insane, monopoly, modesty.

4. Concerning with specialized and scholarly terms, they were mainly adopted from the fields of law, theology, medicine, mathematics, geometry, botany, geography, philosophy, etc.

Examples: Custody (custodia, -ae, from the root custos, -dis: guardian, keeper), immune (second-class adjective immunis, -e: exempt from tribute or taxation, from duties or obligations, free, derived from the prefix im- and munus, -eris: bound, obligation), incarnate (incarnatus, -a, -um, adjective or past participle form of incarnare, derived from the prefix in- and the noun caro, -nis: flesh), intellect (intellectus, -us: action of recognizing or discerning, of understanding or comprehending, faculty of comprehension, understanding or agreement between two people, meaning, sense, signification, coming from the past participial stem of intellegere: to grasp mentally, understand, realize, to understand by inference, deduce, to supply mentally, to discern, recognize, to understand the value of, to appreciate, to understand the meaning of (words or languages), derived from the prefix inter- and the verb base legere: to bring together, gather, pick out, choose, catch up, catch with the eye, read), limbo (ablative singular of limbus, -i: edge, border; in Christian Latin, a region on the border of Hell), nerve or the adjective nervous (nervus, -i), notary (notarius, -ii), pulpit (pulpitum, -i: scaffold, platform, stage), recipe (recipe, 2nd singular imperative of the verb recipere: receive, used as a noun by physicians to head prescriptions), rosary (rosarium, -i: rose bed, rose garden, derived from the noun base rosa, -ae and the suffix –arium), script (scriptus, -a, -um, adjective or past participle form of scribere: write), secular (second-class adjective saecularis, -e, from the noun base seclum or saeculum, -i: generation, age, in Christianity ‘the world’), summary (summarium, -ii, from the stem summa, -ae), testify or testimony (testificari or testimonium, -ii respectively: to bear witness, proclaim, from the noun stem testis, -is: witness), ulcer (ulcus, -eris neuter, probably taken from G ἕλκος).

5. The following 17th, 18th and 19th centuries can be considered either as another part of the third wave of influence or as another (fourth) separate period of influence. In any case, these are the centuries of science, technology and philosophy development. New inventions, findings and breakthroughs needed a name or title. Thereby, scholars came back to Latin for such purpose, since they still conceived Latin and Greek languages as the language of culture and education. However, differently from the other trends, words borrowed during these three centuries were taken integrally from Latin. In other words, they did not adapt to the rules of English, not at least as far as spelling[7] is concerned. Examples: alumna, alga, antenna, area, arena, dilemma, diploma, formula, larva, nebula, vertebra; alumnus, apparatus, bacillus, cactus, calculus, campus, chorus, circus, focus, fungus, nucleus, radius, stimulus, syllabus, virus; album, aquarium, bacterium, cerebellum, chrysanthemum, curriculum, erratum, museum, pendulum, referendum, stratum, symposium, ultimatum; appendix, codex, index, matrix; lens; corpus, genus; inertia; species, series.

6. As a result, such situational contact of different languages at the same time would give rise to the so-called stratification of English with Latin words. The existence of different words for familiar paradigms paved the way to a Middle and Early Modern English to become closer to the current Modern English in aspects such as richness in vocabulary, synonymy, antonymy, and many other points.

Distinctions in stratification normally follow the contrast of physical and abstract entities, formal and informal registers, jargon or argot, etc. Generally speaking, bases influenced by Latin tend to be polysyllabic, differently from native English or Germanic ones, usually monosyllabic or disyllabic at the most.

Some of the most outstanding examples can be found in: heart (physical, non-classical origin), cordial (abstract, taken from Latin cors, cordis), and also cardiac, coming from the Latin adjective cardiacus, -a, -um (borrowed from the adjective Greek καρδιακός and the noun καρδία: heart).

Other distinctive nuances, mainly related to formality and informality, use of jargon, etc. can be noticed between ask (non-classical), question (French borrowing) and interrogate (interrogare); rise (non-classical), mount (from French) and ascend (ascendere); leech (non-classical) and physician (PCL physicianus, -i: natural scientist); fast (non-classical), firm (from French) and secure (securus, -a, -um: free from fears or anxieties, untroubled, undisturbed, peaceful, affording ground for confidence, sure, negligent, nonchalant, free from danger, safe, immune, trustworthy); fear (non-classical), terror (from French), trepidation (trepidation, -onis, nominalization of the verb trepidare: to hurry, bustle, be agitated or alarmed); holy (non-classical) and sacred or consecrated (consectratus, -a, -um, past participial or adjective form of the verb c onsecrare: to dedicate, devote as sacred, deify, etc., derived from the prefix con - and the verb base sacrare: to make sacred, dedicate, stemming simultaneously from sacer, -cra, -crum); time (non-classical), age (from French) and epoch (PCL epocha, -ae, from Greek ἐποχή: stoppage, station, position (of a planet), fixed point of time, simultaneously coming from the verb base ἐπέχειν: to arrest, stop, take up a position, derivation of the prefix ἐπί and the verb ἔχειν: to hold).


Linguistically speaking, vocabulary was not the only legacy left by Romans in language. Grammar was also profoundly influenced, especially in the field of morphology.[8]

There are two types of morphemes which can be found in English. On the one hand, roots can be defined as the center of the word-derivational process carrying the basic meaning from which the rest of the word sense can be derived. For example, in words as remove, removable or removal, the root is mov-, coming also from the Latin verb moveo, movere, movi and motum: move. Nevertheless, roots sometimes can or cannot stand alone as independent words. Therefore, they will be called free morphemes, if they can appear independently (e.g. move) and bound, if they need to be combined with other roots or affixes. That is the case, for example, of the Latin bound root gen-, coming from the Latin noun genu, -eris (origin, lineage), which needs to be joined with an affix or root, as in genetics, genetical, genocide, etc. It is essential to mention that most bound roots in the language today are of classical origin, which were more directly or indirectly borrowed (e.g. Romance languages: French, Spanish, Italian; Greek through Latin, etc.). But generally speaking, although the different borrowings occurred cannot be considered a fixed or consistent process, most of them were taken through French (i.e. second wave of influence) or during the Renaissance (i.e. third wave of influence), in the transition of a homogenous Old English to a heterogeneous Middle and Early Modern English. In fact, as indicated, classical bound roots were adapted into English affected by the derivation process, such as segment, cordial, etc.

Affixes, on the other hand, are dependent (i.e. they cannot form word by themselves), so they have to be added on to a stem. Furthermore, their meanings are quite open and not as specific as roots. Compared with the total number of roots, which is very large (thousands, still even being an open-class category), the number of affixes is relatively small (few hundreds maximum). Affixes in English can be either attached to the front of the stem (prefixes: re-, ex-) or to the end of it (suffixes: -ate, -ify, -ion, etc.). Whatsoever, can be considered, by definition, as past bound morphemes which lost their independence.

The most clear-cut examples are Latin and Greek numerals, which were free forms in both classical languages (e.g. tres, octoanguli -), yet became affixes in other languages, as in English (e.g. tri- / oct - + agonal). Therefore, it can be proven that the process whereby a free root is converted into a bound root or affix is completely normal and common. On the contrary, it is strange to find bound roots becoming free. Nonetheless, despite unusual, it is possible. In fact, there has been a recent language trend, still in flux, whereby affixes are detached from other stems and are provided the status of roots. That is the case of the term contra, firstly used in 1981, stemming from counterrevolutionary (Minkova & Stockwell, 2001: 62).[9]

4.1. Derivation

According to Ingo Plag (2002: 18 – 23), derivation is the morphological process which encodes lexical meaning. It is not syntactically relevant, since derivation does not imply any grammatical variation. In other words, derivation not only may involve changes in the part of speech, but also may enable that the meaning of a word is the sum of the meaning of its parts, being in that case semantic transparency, or that the meaning of the derived form cannot be inferred on the basis of its constituent morphemes, considered in this case semantic opacity. Latinate derived bases tend to be polysyllabic and generally are useful for formal and educated contexts and registers. Therefore, depending on the affix position, as well as the meaning nuances to which those affixes belong to, they can be classified into:

4.1.1. Prefixation: Affixes come before the stem to which they are attached. Prefixes do not change the part of speech in English, but only modify the meaning of the stem to which they are enclosed, classified as:

i. Counting or quantitative prefixes:

MULTI-, it comes from the Latin first-class adjective multus, -a, -um, with the meaning of “many”. It is quite usual to find it written with a hyphen. Examples: multifaceted, multiform, multi-lateral, multi-purpose, multivalent.

OMNI-, it is taken from the Latin second-class adjective omnis, -e, meaning “all”. Examples: omnidirectional, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.

PLURI-, it has its origin from the Latin noun plus, -ris, meaning “more”. Examples: pluricellular, pluridimensional, plurilingual, pluriliteral, plurisyllabic.

Numeral prefixes: Included within quantitative category, they express concrete amounts of the item to which they are determining. However, some scholars may also consider numeral affixes as bound roots (Minkova & Stockwell, 2001: 64).

UNI-, stemming from the Latin numeral unus, -a, -um, it means “one”. Examples: unidirectional, unilateral, unisex, univalve, univocal.

BI-, it is also a Latin prefix denoting two or twice (bis). Examples: bicycle, bifocal, bifurcation, bilateral, bilingual, biped, biplane.

TRI-, it corresponds to the Latin numeral tres, -ia (three). However, it occurs also in Greek τρια [10]. Examples: tricycle, trimester, trinity, trinomial, tripartite, tripod.

QUADRI-, it corresponds to the Latin numeral quattuor (four). Examples: quadrangle, quadriceps, quadriplegic, quadrilateral.

SEPT-, coming from the Latin numeral septem, it means “seven”. Examples: September, septuagenarian.


[1] Mainly inspired from Mugglestone, L. (2006: 1 – 7).

[2] Main references taken from Minkova & Stockwell (2001: 28 – 30) and Wake, H. (2006).

[3] Main references taken from Minkova & Stockwell (2001: 30 – 55) and Mugglestone, L. (2006: 61 – 177).

[4] Examples and their etymology presented in all the periods of influence were taken from Revista digital de Humanidades Sarasuati (2007), The Oxford English Dictionary (2015), retrieved from http://www.oed.com/

[5] Main ideas taken from Mugglestone, L. (2006: 34 – 44).

[6] The emerging lexicon in Middle English led to the formation of new items which etymology is combined or blended (Minkova and Stockwell, 2001: 34 – 38).

[7] There were, however, variations in the phonetic and phonological features in most of them (e.g. / ae / pronounced as / i: / or / i / as / a ɪ /.

[8] References were mainly taken from Minkova, D. & Stockwell, R. (2001: 89 – 94); Plag, I. (2002: 106 – 130); Quirk et al. (1985: 1540 – 1558)

[9] Relevant examples in morphology, as well as their explanations and etymology were mainly taken from Barker, P. (1993: 2 – 17), Gary Miller, D. (2006: 26 – 266) and The Oxford English Dictionary (retrieved from http://www.oed.com/).

[10] In other terms, Latin, having borrowed such form from Greek, might have transmitted it in a double-way: directly, as part of Latin itself; and / or indirectly, as a mediator between Greek and English.


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influence latin english language morphological lexical features



Title: The Influence of Latin to the English Language. Morphological and Lexical Features