Romance loans in English

Examination Thesis 2007 71 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1 introduction

2 Latin Loans
2.1 Older Latin Loans
2.1.1 Roman and Germanic occupation
2.1.2 Christianization
2.2 The ‛aureate terms’
2.3 18th century loans – words of innovation and discovery
2.4 The origin of the calendar terminology

3 French Loans
3.1 Pre-Conquest French loans
3.2 The Norman Conquest and its linguistic consequences

4 the Inkhorn Controversy
4.1 Hard words in English: A linguistic and social problem?
4.1.1 Genteelisms for social differentiation

5 Borrowing processes
5.1 Pronunciation of Latin words in English
5.2 Reasons for borrowing

6 Other Romance loans
6.1 Italian loans
6.2 Spanish loans
6.3 Portuguese loans

7 Conclusion


Abbreviations and symbols

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Ave Maria, gracia plena,

Thy birth has with bis blude

Fra fall mortall, originall,

Us raunsound on the rude.”

W. Dunbar (1520): “Mary's Ballad”, in: Scheler, Manfred (ed.) (1977): Der Englische Wortschatz. Erich Schmidt Verlag: Berlin.

1 introduction

Language change means linguistic evolution, which takes place over centuries. The English language from its beginnings up to the present day provides us with substantial evidence of change at all linguistic levels. One can say English is a Germanic language when considering its roots. But when regarding the actual state of the English language it can be seen that the Romance influence to which English has been exposed over the centuries is in evidence, and English can be considered as ‘highly Romanized’ language. Already in Middle English there can be found Romanesque traces in the language. The above excerpt of Dunbar ’s “Mary’s Ballad” from the 16th century shows the enormous impact of Latin on the English language to that time. During the Renaissance Latin terms were used to make literary style more perfect. Especially, but not exclusively in literature, Latin has always played an important role in the development of the English language. However not only the Latin tongue helped English to expand enormously on a lexical level but Romance languages in general have always been influencing the development of the English language and are responsible for its continuous enrichment as far as the amount of the vocabulary is concerned. Old English counts approximately 23,000 words, whereas the English vocabulary during the Middle Ages has expanded up to 60,000 words. In comparison, Modern English contains a vocabulary of more than 500,000 words. This is an enormous expansion in English lexis over the centuries. Today English is one of the word richest languages. Although the growth of the English vocabulary is also explainable by regarding inner word-formation processes the process of ‘borrowing’ plays the most important role in the history of the language. Therefore, many words are loans which have been adopted from other languages (cf. Bähr (2001): 48). Besides the Scandinavian languages, which had also a great impact on English, Romance languages have constantly been donating vocabulary. The majority of the adopted words have been integrated and adopted so far that they can hardly be recognized any longer. Apart from literary use they are also utilized in colloquial discourse. But there are loans which are predominantly used in formal or literary English, for example for stylistic purposes or to express more abstract ideas, and others which have entered also every day language. Modern English is the best example that gives evidence about the Romance influx on the lexical level. To give some idea of the amount of loan words in Modern English, an abstract of William Thackerays’ ‘Vanity Fair’ (1847) is quoted in the following, which is also used by the linguist Manfred Scheler to demonstrate Romance influence. The words written in italics are of Romance origin.

“Miss Sharp’s father was an artist, and in that quality had given lessons of drawing at Miss Pinkerton’s school. He was a clever man, a pleasant companion, a careless student, with a great propensity for running into debt, and a partiality for the tavern. When he was drunk he used to beat his wife and daughter; and the next morning, with a headache, he would rail at the world for its neglect of his genius, and abuse, with a good deal of cleverness, and sometimes with perfect reason, the fools, his brother painters”[1]

The text contains 91 words (two are names which should not be considered here) out of which 22 (24 %) are borrowed words. According to Scheler the words of Anglo-Saxon origin are predominantly words of daily use whereas the Romance loan-words have a more abstract semantic level (except lesson, painter, pleasant) (cf. Scheler (1977): 9)[2]. The fact that there are 24 % loan-words demonstrates the high number of Romance words adopted by the English language which have provoked a language change. The term loan word means ‘a word adopted from another language and completely or partially assimilated’, latter process is then called ‘borrowing’. But the terms ‘loan’ and ‘borrowing’ are not appropriate in this case because loans were neither taken away from the source language in order that there is a lack afterwards, nor are they returned to the lender language. Therefore, these terms cannot be taken literally.

However, why do languages adopt words from other languages? Borrowing processes are always a sign of contact between two or more cultures, which can be direct or through literature. The fact is that there are languages which borrow more than other ones. Languages which are spoken by people in more isolated areas or by speakers who have not so many contacts to other language communities preserve their linguistic features and do not change so easily. In the history of English the types of contacts vary very much. The greatest linguistic impact on English showed the languages of those cultures from which the English could learn something, as in the case of the Classics, viz. Latin and Greek[3]. The role of Latin was especially significant in three periods. One can differentiate between three main Latin loan categories which are outlined in the following chapter. French loans, on the other hand, have played important roles predominantly in the two periods described in chapter three. After the inkhorn-controversy as a consequence of the fashion of borrowing which is discussed in chapter four, the influx of the Italian, the Spanish and the Portuguese languages on the English language is investigated.

Since there are different opinions on the approximate determining of historical English periods, in this work I will stick to the following time division. Latter was made by F.J. Bierbaum[4] in 1883:

1) Anglo-Saxon Period (550-1066); from the invasion of the Germanic tribes up to the Norman conquest

2) Anglo-Norman Period (1066-1360); from the Norman conquest until the ordinance of Edward III, proclaiming the official use of the English Language. This period can be subdivided into:
a. Semi-Saxon Period (1066-1250)
b. Old English Period (1250-1350)

3) Middle English Period (1360-1580); this period may again be subdivided into:
a. The Age of Chaucer (1360-1450)
b. The Protestant Reformation and the Revival of Learning (1450-1580)

4) Modern English Period (1580-present)

(cf. Brandt et al.(2001): 4).

The target of this thesis is to demonstrate that English is – apart from its Germanic roots – a highly Romanized language, especially as far as the level of terminology is concerned. It is shown in which manner and how far the Romance languages have contributed to the present state of the English language. So, the question as to which vocabulary was adopted at what time, why, and from what language is addressed in particular. In addition, possible uncertainties or diversities of author opinions according to loan etymologies are discovered, compared and discussed. There is so much literature about this topic but little enough which gives a full overview about of Romance loans in English. The large volume of the latter does not allow very single loan to be mentioned here. In addition, I will deal with the consequences of the ‘borrowing fashion’ and the reactions of latter, which lead to the so called ‘Inkhorn controversy’. I fit to the events in an approximately diachronic manner including the eventual possibility that some events will overlap and I concentrate on the most important groups of loan words (Romance languages which have most influenced the development of English). But before the influx of the Romance languages on English can be investigated it should be clear what languages belong to the Romance language family and why I am concentrating only on the Latin, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese languages in this work. And why has Latin to be mentioned in a Romance loans topic? The chart below provides a structured overview about the Romance languages which can all be traced back to Latin. Latter is not a Romance but an Italic language but it is the origin of all Romance languages[5]. It has influenced the English language in an extraordinary way and it is the most important source, or the ‘mother language’ of all Romance languages. Therefore nearly all Romance loans which have been adopted from English are an indirect Latin loan. Consequently its treatment here is indispensable. In the chart below the languages marked in red are those which are treated in the following. Latter are the relevant languages which donated the highest amount of vocabulary of all Romance languages to the English language. These all belong to the Western Romance ones. In the following chart the Occitan language is called Provençal which is often used as a generic term for all Occitan dialects. Catalan and Provençal are not considered here, as well as the Eastern Romance languages, because of their small number of loan words to English. Therefore the most important Romance donor languages for English, namely Latin, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, are treated in extra chapters. With the ‘English’ language I always refer to British English. In other cases, the variety will explicitly be mentioned.

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Figure 1

(Modified chart, adapted from the picture by Bogdan Giuşcă which is under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, taken from JKleo (15.09.2006). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f7/Romance_languages.PNG. The original picture is uploaded here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Romance_languages_and_Romanian.png) (11.12.2006)

2 Latin Loans

Nearly every Romance loan word present in the English language can logically be traced back to Latin, the latter being the origin of all Romance languages. Hence, Latin is the most important donor language of all Romance languages in the history of English. Although the study of etymology is becoming more and more precise, some traces of Romance etyma are still unclear, also because of the similarity of the languages. Whether Latin loans have entered the English language on the direct way or through another language functioning as a so-called ‘host language’ is sometimes difficult to say. The time period in which loans were taken over by a language plays the most important role in the study of etymology and helps to classify words. This can also lead to a better understanding of certain historical and cultural periods of communities and their contact to other cultures. F.J. Bierbaum ’s outline of English historical stages helps to categorize three different Latin loan groups according to three time periods; the Older Latin Loans, the Later Latin Loans and the Latest Latin Loans. The Older Latin loans include the following ones:

a, loans which had already started to be adopted before the Anglo-Saxon period during Roman occupation,
b, those loans which came into the English language after the invasion and settlement of the Anglo-Saxons on the British Isles,
c, and those ones which were taken over during the time of Christianization.

There are older Latin loans which are neither direct loans, nor came into English through other languages, but had already influenced the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons before their invasion of the British Isles. These are the so-called ‘continental loans’. But all of these loans can originally be traced back to either Latin (‘Literate Latin’) or at least to the popular spoken form of Latin called ‘Vulgar Latin’.

During the Middle English period Geoffrey Chaucer and the revival of education contributed to the adoption of the Later Latin loans. Then, during the Renaissance the immense need of new words to name new concepts lead to a new borrowing fashion. Latin, especially from the time of Christianization onwards, has always played a more important role in the field of education and science, rather than in colloquial discourses of the lower classes. Loans could come into the spoken English language only through bilingual persons which used Latin terms and integrated these in their everyday language (cf. Moessner (2003): 35). Consequently, some loans became transmitted to non-literate people as well. But, there are many Latin loans which were only temporarily adopted, because of a too complicated structure, or a lack of purpose. These did not have the chance to become integrated in the language and to be accepted by a broader society.

2.1 Older Latin Loans

Basically, there are two main historical events which helped Latin words to influence the Old English language. Firstly, there are the Latin words which were brought by the Germanic tribes invading Britain and those loans which were taken over as a result of the first Roman invasion. Secondly, there is a great group of ecclesiastical loan words which were taken over during the Christianization period. In the following, these two stages are elaborated.

2.1.1 Roman and Germanic occupation

The first contact of Vulgar Latin with Anglo – Saxon Germanic took place on the continent when Roman invaders established settlements in the North. When then Angles, Saxons and Jutes sailed across the channel and invaded the British Isles in 449 AD they already brought ‘continental loans’ with them. These loans have also influenced the German language and some of them are still in use nowadays. Latin words had been taken over from various semantic fields.

Firstly, loans of the field of infrastructure were adopted, as for example:

lat. tegula > oe. tigele > mod.eng. tile

lat. vallum > oe. *weallian > mod.eng. wall

lat. strata > oe. stræt > mod.eng. street

lat. castra > oe. ceaster > mod.eng. (city name ending with different graphical and phonological developments), e.g. <Win chester >, <Don caster >, <Lei cester >, <Ex eter > (cf.Bradley (1968): 55).

Secondly, loans of the fields of trade and war, like:

lat. moneta > oe. mynet > mod.eng. money

lat. pondo > oe. pund > mod.eng. pound

lat. poena > oe. pin < mod.eng. penal -, punishment

lat. campus > oe. camp > mod.eng. camp

lat. caesar > oe. casere > mod.eng. ‘emperor’ (here, the Old English loan disappeared but was replaced by the Old French loan empereor, lat. imperator)

Further, there are the loans of the domestic field (cf. Ramisch et al. (2002:55):

lat. catillus > oe. cetil > mod.eng. kettle

lat. caseus > oe. cyse > mod.eng. cheese

lat. coquina > oe. cycene > mod.eng. kitchen

lat. planta > oe. plante > mod.eng. plant

lat. discus > oe. disc > mod.eng. dish

lat. candela > oe. candel > mod.eng. candle

lat. pisum > oe. pise > mod.eng. pea

lat. vinum > oe. win > mod.eng. wine[6]

However, Romans had already arrived in Britain in 55/54 BC, under the Emperor Julius Caesar, after the Britons helped the Gauls in the Gallic wars. Afterwards, the full invasion took place in 43 AD under the Emperor Claudius. In this period Camulodunum (Colchester) became capital of the Roman province. By the time the Germanic tribes arrived in Britain the Romans had already left because they had to support Rome which had been attacked by Germanic tribes. Nevertheless, Latin remained the official language in Britain and the Germanic came into contact with already Romanized Britain and “learned a few more Latin words from the […] people of the towns” (Bradley (1968): 55) than they had already known. Many place-names were introduced, sometimes they were taken over as the Celtic origin and then latinized as e.g. London which can be traced back to “the Old Irish lond [which] means ‘wild’ ” (McCrum et al. (1986): 60) and was adopted by the Romans and transformed into ‘Londinium’. Furthermore, Lincoln comes from the Welsh ‘llyn’ (‘pond’) plus the transformation of the Latin colonia into the ending coln and had been transformed by the Romans into Lindum Colonia (cf. McCrum et al. (1986): 60).

The linguist David Crystal points to the relatively high number of loans regarding the domestic belongings and reminds us of the positive influence of the further developed Romans on the Germanic tribes. Nevertheless, he adds that the total number of these early loans is very low, in comparison with the later loans.

The Roman army and merchants gave new names to many local objects and experiences, and introduced several fresh concepts. About half of the words were to do with plants, animals, food and drink, and household items. [...] [B]ut the total number of Latin words present in English at the very beginning of the Anglo – Saxon period is not large – less than 200. (Crystal (1995): 8).

2.1.2 Christianization

One of these “fresh concepts”[7] which were brought to the British Isles was ‘Christianity’. It was in 597 AD when St Augustine, after being chosen by Pope Gregory, carried out his mission. His task was to convert the Anglo-Saxons (cf. Crystal (1995):10). He and his fellows brought a huge Latin vocabulary to the British Isles. In particular, Alfred the Great of Wessex supported the sciences and education. It was during his reign that Bede’ s ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ was translated into Old English and, additionally, a huge number of Old English works of literature were produced. Bede wrote as much about the “collision of Old English and Latin as it does about the spread of God’s word” (Mc Crum et al. (1986): 64). Hence, there must have been an enormous impact on the linguistic situation, or better to say rather a “cultural revolution”[8] because in combination with new words a new life style had also been established. Churches and monasteries were built and education was provided “in a wide range of subjects”. Monk teachers taught not only religion but also “poetry, astronomy and arithmetic, […] writing in the vernacular, […] all the plastic arts, […] church music and architecture” (Mc Crum et al. (1986): 65). Therefore, the existing Old English words to express common and simple thoughts and concepts were expanded by a vocabulary to express more abstract ideas, which were also of need in consequence of education.

The importance of this cultural revolution in the story of the English language is not merely that it strengthened and enriched Old English with new words […] [but also] that it gave English the capacity to express abstract thought. (Mc Crum et al. (1986): 65).

More than 400 words had been taken over during this period. Many of them have survived to the present day (cf. (Mc Crum et al. (1986): 65). Some of these new loans are listed in the following:

vulg. lat. biscopus > oe. bisceop > mod.eng. bishop

lat. praedicare > oe. predician > mod.eng. preach

lat. discipulus > oe. (the word cniht at first assumed the meaning of discipulus in Old English) > mod.eng. disciple

lat. scrinium > oe. scrin > mod.eng. shrine

lat. missa“dismissa” > vulg.lat. *messa > oe. mæsse > mod.eng. mass

lat. monasterium > oe. mynster > mod.eng. minster

lat. nonna > oe. nunne > mod.eng. nun

vulg.lat. *monicus > oe. munuc > mod.eng. monk

→ The Vulgar Latin term monicus derived from the Literate Latin form monachus and had been adopted from the Late Greek term monakhos. This is a great example for loan words coming through the ‘host-language’ Latin, which is very often the case. Greek and Latin loans are called ‘classical loans’.

Other examples:

gr. apostolos > lat. apostolus > oe. apostol > mod.eng. apostle

gr. papas > lat. papa > oe. papa > mod.eng. pope

gr. psalterion > lat. psalterium > oe. (v) saltere, psaltere > mod.eng. psalter

Latin was the official language of the clergy. Medieval England counted some 60,000 clerics, but the rest of the population of England and Wales was about 3 million people in the 13th century (cf. Käsmann (1961): 5). Moreover, there was a great need to make concepts clearer for people who did not know Latin. Therefore, a Latin word was not adopted but was sometimes translated into the Old English mother tongue. Here, one can talk about the linguistic process of loan-translation[9], the new word for which is called a ‘calque’. In this way, a Latin word was translated into English by using existing words, as for example, gospel, a calque of the original Greek word evangelion (‘good news’) (see below). But not only calques were produced also Old English words were provided with new meaning. Here, one can talk about Semantic-Loans. Augustine took, for example, already existing Anglo – Saxon pagan words and applied them to religious concepts. Example: lat. dominus > ae. drihten, with the meaning of ‘chief' which was, after Christianisation, the Anglo-Saxon name for God (cf. Scheler (1977): 40).


lat. Spiritus Sanctus > oe. Halig Gast > mod.eng. Holy Ghost

lat. evangelium > oe. god-spell > mod.eng. gospel

Calques are not only found predominantly in religious context but also in the field of education, for example. The scholar Aelfric († 1020) translated grammatical terms into Old English to make them understandable for a broader audience (cf. Scheler (1977): 39). Consequently, there was a range of calques and loans with the same semantic meaning belonging to different social language varieties.


lat. vocales < calque: clypiendlīče stafas ( ‘resounding letters’)

lat. semivocales < calque: healfclypiende stafas ( ‘half resounding letters’)

lat. consonants < calque: samodswēgende stafas ( ‘together resounding letters’)

lat. diphthongus < calque: twỳfeald swēg ( ‘double sound’)

lat. syllaba < calque: stæfgefēg ( ‘letter combination’)

lat. interiectio < calque: betwuxāworpennes ( ‘a word thrown in between’)

lat. etymologia < calque: namena ordfruma ( ‘the origin of a name’).

To summarize, one can say, that Christianity had a very positive influence on the English language and changed Old English, according to Mc Crum et al., in three different ways:

(1) a large church vocabulary was introduced
(2) ideas and words from far-off countries were adopted
(3) Anglo-Saxons were encouraged to utilize their own words for new ideas (cf. Mc Crum et al. (1986): 67).

A complete list of pre-conquest Latin loan words is provided by Mary Serjeantson in 1935 where she counts 542 words, which can be divided into three groups. 184 are continental loans, 114 are words which had been borrowed on the British Isles between 450 and 650 AD, and 244 loans from the period after 650 until the Norman Conquest in 1066[10] (cf. Wollmann (1990): 63).

2.2 The ‛aureate terms’

After the Old English period the enormous impact of Latin on the English language continued but was slightly reduced. During the hundred years after the Norman Conquest, French slowly took over the status of Latin. Thereafter, until the 14th century, French has been the predominant language of influence in Britain. But nevertheless, this procedure favoured the adoption of Latin loans into the English language. Instead of borrowing the pure Latinisms[11] some words were transformed morphologically and were ‘francisized’. So, often the suffixes were replaced by French ones, which originally derived also from Latin, as for example, the derivational morphemes:-y/ -ty/ -ory/ -ous (cf. Scheler (1977): 39).


me. / mod.eng. colon-y < fr. colon-ie < lat. colon-ia


[1] ( quoted in: Scheler (1977): 9)

[2] But in my opinion, the Modern English words miss and school are of daily use as well and their meaning is not abstract, although they are Romance/ Latin loans and derive from o.fr. maistresse and lat. schola (cf. ODEE).

[3] The reasons of borrowing are discussed in more detail in chapter five.

[4] F.J. Bierbaum was a professor at a High School in Heidelberg.

[5] When in the following, it will be mentioned the Romance languages, often the Latin one is included.

[6] It should be noted that all examples of loans listed here are only a very small example for the high number of Romance vocabulary adopted by the English language.

[7] (Crystal (1995): 8)

[8] (Mc Crum et al. (1986): 65)

[9] The word ‘loan-translation’ is itself a calque of the German word ‘Lehnübersetzung’.

[10] The linguist Alfred Wollman criticises Serjeantson with regard to the categorization of Latin loans. He claims that the list seemed a bit arbitrary because of the lack of foundation (cf. Wollmann (1990): 63).

[11] The borrowing processes are treated in point 2.4.


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Romance English



Title: Romance loans in English