The Origin of English Literature

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T he En glish


o f t he lan gu a ge


Where does English come from?!3 How much did the Romans change English? !3 Why are there so many Latin words in English?!4 What about the Norman invasion?!4 How many French words have entered English?!5 How did French influence English pronunciation?!6 What about Greek?!6 Whatʼs the difference between Old and Middle English?!7 How does a word get into the OED?!8


Where does English come from? English is essentially a Germanic language. Its grammar around 30% of its lexicon (vocabulary) are Anglo-Saxon in origin. These words tend to be the most commonly used – over 70% according to most estimates. The top ten most commonly used verbs, for example, are all survivors from old English. What makes the English language unusual is its large number of ‘loanwords’ from other languages –particularly Latin, Greek and French. Loanwords are an important feature of English. They do not, however, affect the structure of the language. An English speaker may use the word ‘ballet’ but he will not say ‘dancer of ballet’ as you would in French. A few imported terms retain their original syntax. The United Nations has a secretary general while the chief officer of the English legal system is the attorney general . But these are rare exceptions. How much did the Romans change English? Very little. Perhaps surprisingly the Roman occupation of Britain did not have a major impact on the development of the English

language. Only place names like London, Bath & Chester indicate the official language of the occupiers. Why are there so many Latin words in English? It was with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 6th and 7th centuries that significant numbers of Latin words began entering the lexicon. Latin was the lingua franca or common language of the Christian world. The mass or religious service and all the main texts were conducted in...
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