of the Romance Lexical Borrowings
The English language was influenced profoundly
by Latin and French,
mainly in its vocabulary (about 72% of the Modern English words are of
Romance origin), and also in its grammar. The lexical borrowings are classified
according to well determined phonological and historical criteria into
five periods – the Zero, First, Second, Third, and Modern. Each period
shows distinctive characteristics, concerning both the Latin words adopted
and the process of assimilation undergone. Latin words have also been adopted
to English through Norman French in the Third
Period and through Modern French and Modern Italian in the
The Zero Period refers to the time before
invaded Britain. The borrowings reflect the early contacts of the Germanic
tribes with Rome on the
continent. The loans are short words, easily adaptable to the higly inflected
languages, concerning military matters, cooking, trade, and commerce.
Amongst the most important words of the Zero Period, still current in Modern
See for more
camp (L campus),
cheap (OE ceap <= L
kettle (OE cytel <= L
kitchen (OE cycene <= L
pound (OE pund <= L
wall (OE weall <= L
wine (OE win <= L
During the Roman domination in Britain
(43-449 A.D.) Latin was the official language of the
administration. The local Celtic inhabitants (see Celts)
would indeed have had to use some Latin, for official and military purposes.
The inscriptions prove that the city-dwellers, both the upper classes and
artisans, spoke the language, while the farmers would have used it at market;
it is to suppose that the Celtic language of Britain adopted a lot of Latin
words. Thus, when the Anglo-Saxons conquerred the isle, they adopted a
few Latin words from the Celts, the most important being the -chester
(-cester or -caster) (from the Latin castra encampment)
and -wick (-wich) (from the Latin vicus village)
in the place names, as found in:
See for more
Manchester, Gloucester, Lancaster;
Warwick, Greenwich etc.
Second Period (597-1066)
The Second Period concerns the christianization
of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain which followed the St.
Augustine's mission of 597. It is divided into two main sub-periods,
the Early and the Benedictine.
The Early Second Period includes words
taken by the English to describe their new religion (bishop, mass,
pope), but also household words (cap, plant) and those
relating to education (school). The amount and variety of the borrowings
show the extent of Christianity's immediate impact on seventh-century Anglo-Saxon
society. In this part of the Second Period, direct translation of Latin
terms is characteristic. Thus, the Late Latin trinitas trinity
(literally, three-ness) is the Old English þrines, and the
resurrectio is the Old English aerist, from arisan
The Benedictine Second Period began in
the late 900's (see St.
Benedict Biscop) when religious reform was under way in the English
monasteries. The words still include religious and learned vocabulary,
but are no longer related to everyday life. Antichrist, history,
and decline (the grammatical meaning) all date from this period.
Many words were not fully assimilated (cathedra, bibliothece,
and most of those that have been passed down to Modern English (cathedral,
prologue) were reintroduced in the subsequent periods.
Third Period (1066-1500)
The Third Period begins in 1066 with the
The Normans brought to England their language, Norman French, which developed
in the Middle ages from the Vulgar
Latin. For centuries French was used as official language in England
and Modern English derived from it a great part of its vocabulary. A brief
classification by semantic fields shows the importance of the French lexical
After 1200 the French of England adopted a
lot of words from the Central French dialects, especially from Francien,
that eventually also passed to English. These words were marked by the
palatalized [k] and [g] sounds in front of a, the change of the initial
w- in the Germanic words in g(u)-, and a nasalized pronunciation represented
by -aun, cf.:
state: alliance, authority,
crown, empire, emperor, power, realm, reign, sovereignty...
authority, government, parliament, statute...
forms of address: damsel,
madame, mister, mistress (Mrs.), sir, sire...
rank designation: baron,
count, duke, marquis, peer, prince, squire...
office titles: chamberlain,
chancellor, constable, marshal, mayor, minister, warden...
politics: allegiance, liberty,
public, rebel, traitor...
war: ambush, archer, army,
arms, attack, assail, battle, conquer, defeat, defense, garrison, levy,
military, navy, soldier, spy, vanquish, war...
finance: budget, exchequer,
revenue, subsidy, tally, tax, treasury...
business: bargain, change,
commerce, count, enterprise, market, merchant, pay, purchase, value...
religion: abbey, cardinal,
convent, faith, friar, image, novice, pity, savior, saint...
law: advocate, attorney,
assize, bail, bar, heir, judge, treaty...
literature: chapter, lay, parchment,
poet, preface, prose, rime, romance, story, volume...
urbanization: castle, city,
architecture: ceiling, chamber,
chimney, cloister, edifice, palace, square, tower...
art: beauty, color, figure, paint,
social status: citizen, marry,
peasant, serf, slave, subject...
human beings and body parts:
face, female, gender, lips, male, stomach, visage...
relationships: aunt, cousin, nephew,
professions: carpenter, chandler,
knighthood: chivalry, exploit,
feat, joust, pavilion, tournament, valor...
grammar: grammar, noun, language,
cooking: boil, dinner, fry,
parboil, roast, stew...
biscuit, mutton, pork, potage, prune, raisin, veal, vinegar...
furniture: carpet, chair,
curtain, cushion, lamp, lantern, table...
medicine: gout, malady, pain,
poison, remedy, surgery...
botany: cherry, date, fig,
fruit, herb, lemon, melon, olive, orange, peach, pome...
zoology: eagle, falcon, lion,
mastiff, spaniel, squirrel, terrier, tiger, quail, viper...
geography: bay, forest, mount, mountain,
important abstract terms: glory,
colors: blue, brown, vermilion,
the verbs in -ish:
establish, finish, furnish, punish etc. from the French Second
the prefixes en- (em-), mis-, sur-:
endow, empower, mischief, surveil...
the noun suffixes -son, -age, -ment:
reason, prison, season, voyage, commitment ...
the nouns in -or (-our), -ty, -ure:
color, dolor, terror... cruelty, safety... creature, nature...
the adjective suffixes -ous, -ve
etc.: hideous, brave...
and a lot of other colloquial words:
acquire, age, car, choice, common, core, cry, enter, excuse, fame, fashon,
firm, foreign, joy, obey, peace, people, please, poor, prefer, receive,
render, rich, save, scent, second, serve, sure, travel, use, view, voice,
wait etc. etc.
Modern English inherited a lot of Norman /
chain, challenge, change, charge, javelin...
avaunt, daunt, launch, taunt...
Because of French relationship to Latin, the
French words are considered along with those drawn from Latin itself (often
more learned, and first found in written language). The dual sources of
English vocabulary are well apparent today in word (French / Latin) pairs
(often with rather diverged meanings) as:
canal vs. channel,
catch vs. chase,
reward vs. regard.
A lot of triple (Norman / Francien / Latin)
correspondences may be shown also:
feat vs. fact,
frail vs. fragile,
reason vs. ration...
Modern English preserved many medieval French
words that became obsolete or were forgotten in modern French:
leal vs. loyal
real vs. royal
During the Third Period Latin words were often
introduced without orthographical adaptation, in both prose (Trevisa's
translation of De Proprietatibus Rerum) and poetry (Dunbar et al.).
The translator of the Myroure of Oure Ladye complained in the early
close, feature, fuel, remain...
"There ys many wordes in Latyn
that we have no propre Englysh accordynge therto."
Almost all of these aureate terms passed into
general use only after being reintroduced. Others still current were from
Wycliffe's Bible, and gained currency through constant use.
Modern Period (since 1500)
The Modern Period begins with the development
of Renaissance culture in England. The interest in the Classical learning
resulted in mass borrowings from Latin vocabulary. Thousands and thousands
of Latin words were introduced into English following a well established
pattern of minimal orthographic adaptation. There was a pronounced trend
to remake the words inherited from medieval French on Latin pattern, cf.
The Latin morphology was effectively adopted:
ME parfit (cf. F parfait)
=> E perfect (L perfectus).
and a lot of new words were produced from
both Romance and Germanic roots:
prefixes: ad-, ab-, co(n)-,
de(s)-, dis-, e(x)-, pre-, pro-, re- etc.
suffixes: -al, -(at)ion, -(at)or,
-er, -ment, -ure, -ic, -ive, -ize etc.
The modern Romance languages, especially French,
Italian and Spanish, had their large contribution to Modern English vocabulary:
Romance roots: computer, entertainment,
Germanic roots: atonement, remake,
French: avalanche, bigot, bizarre,
chocolate, façade, detail, equip, essay, shock, surpass, ticket...
Italian: bastion, caprice, charlatan,
design, frigate, grotto, piazza, portico, stanza, violin, volcano...
Spanish: alligator, apricot, cannibal,
corral, embargo, hurricane, potato, renegade, tomato...
Influences on English Main Page
Influences on the other Languages Main Page
page is part of Orbis Latinus