Foreign-language influences in English

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According to one study, the percentage of modern English words derived from each language group are as follows:
Latin (including words used only in scientific / medical / legal contexts): ~29%
French (or Anglo-Norman): ~29%
Germanic: ~26%
Others: ~16%

The English language descends from Old English, the West Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons. Most of its grammar, its core vocabulary and the most common words are Germanic.[1] As a statistical rule, around 70 percent of words in any text are Old English.[2][need quotation to verify]

The influence of other languages on English is mostly through loanwords.[3] English borrowed many words from Old Norse, the North Germanic language of the Vikings, and later from Norman French, the Romance language of the Normans, which descends from Latin. Estimates of native words (derived from Old English) range from 20%–33%, with the rest made up of outside borrowings; mostly from Norman/French (see Influence of French on English), but many others were later borrowed directly from Latin or Greek (see Latin influence in English). Some of the Romance words borrowed into English were themselves loanwords from other languages such as the Germanic Frankish language.

While some new words enter English as slang, most do not. Some words are adopted from other languages; some are mixtures of existing words (portmanteau words), and some are new creations made of roots from dead languages.

Word origins[edit]

A computerized survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd ed.) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973)[4] that estimated the origin of English words as follows:

A survey by Joseph M. Williams in Origins of the English Language of 10,000 words taken from several thousand business letters gave this set of statistics:[5]

  • French (langue d'oïl): 41%
  • "Native" English: 33%
  • Latin: 15%
  • Old Norse: 5%
  • Dutch: 1%
  • Other: 5%[6]

Languages influencing the English language[edit]

Here is a list of the most common foreign language influences in English, where other languages have influenced or contributed words to English.


Celtic words are almost absent, except for dialectal words, such as the Yan Tan Tethera system of counting sheep. However, hypotheses have been made that English syntax was influenced by Celtic languages, such as the system of continuous tenses was a cliché of similar Celtic phrasal structures. This is controversial, as the system has clear native English and other Germanic developments.


The French contributed legal, military, technological, and political terminology. Their language also contributed common words, such as the names of meats: veal, mutton, beef, pork, and how food was prepared: boil, broil, fry, roast, and stew; as well as words related to the nobility: prince, duke, marquess, viscount, baron, and their feminine equivalents.[7]: 254–258  Nearly 30 percent of English words (in an 80,000 word dictionary) are of French origin.


Most words in English that are derived from Latin are scientific and technical words, medical terminology, academic terminology, and legal terminology.


English words derived from Greek include scientific and medical terminology (for instance -phobias and -ologies), Christian theological terminology.


Castle, cauldron, kennel, catch, cater are among Norman words introduced into English. The Norman language also introduced (or reinforced) words of Norse origin such as mug.


There are many ways through which Dutch words have entered the English language: via trade and navigation, such as skipper (from schipper), freebooter (from vrijbuiter), keelhauling (from kielhalen); via painting, such as landscape (from landschap), easel (from ezel), still life (from stilleven); warfare, such as forlorn hope (from verloren hoop), beleaguer (from beleger), to bicker (from bicken); via civil engineering, such as dam, polder, dune (from duin); via the New Netherland settlements in North America, such as cookie (from koekie), boss from baas, Santa Claus (from Sinterklaas); via Dutch/Afrikaans speakers with English speakers in South Africa, such as wildebeest, apartheid, boer; via French words of Dutch/Flemish origin that have subsequently been adopted into English, such as boulevard (from bolwerk), mannequin (from manneken), buoy (from boei).[8]


Words from Iberian Romance languages (aficionado, albino, alligator, cargo, cigar, embargo, guitar, jade, mesa, paella, platinum, plaza, renegade, rodeo, salsa, savvy, sierra, siesta, tilde, tornado, vanilla etc.). Words relating to warfare and tactics, for instance flotilla, and guerrilla; or related to science and culture. Words originated in Amerindian civilizations (Cariban: cannibal, hurricane; Mescalero: apache; Nahuatl: tomato, coyote, chocolate; Quechua: Jerky, potato; Taíno: tobacco),


Words relating to some music, piano, fortissimo. Or Italian culture, such as piazza, pizza, gondola, balcony, fascism. The English word umbrella comes from Italian ombrello.[citation needed]

Indian languages[edit]

Words relating to culture, originating from the colonial era. e.g., atoll, avatar, bandana, bangles, buddy, bungalow, calico, candy, cashmere, chit, cot, curry, cushy, dinghy, guru, juggernaut, jungle, karma, khaki, lacquer, lilac, loot, mandarin, mantra, polo, pyjamas, shampoo, thug, tiffin, verandah.


English is a Germanic language. As a result, many words are distantly related to German. Most German words relating to World War I and World War II found their way into the English language, words such as Blitzkrieg, Anschluss, Führer, and Lebensraum; food terms, such as bratwurst, hamburger and frankfurter; words related to psychology and philosophy, such a gestalt, Übermensch, zeitgeist, and realpolitik. From German origin are also: wanderlust, schadenfreude, kaputt, kindergarten, autobahn, rucksack.

Old Norse[edit]

Words of Old Norse origin have entered English primarily from the contact between Old Norse and Old English during colonisation of eastern and northern England between the mid 9th to the 11th centuries (see also Danelaw). Many of these words are part of English core vocabulary, such as they, egg, sky or knife.

Hebrew and Yiddish[edit]

Words used in religious contexts, like Sabbath, kosher, hallelujah, amen, and jubilee or words that have become slang like schmuck, shmooze, nosh, oy vey, and schmutz.


Trade items such as borax, coffee, cotton, hashish, henna, mohair, muslin, saffron; Islamic religious terms such as jihad, Assassin, hadith, and sharia; scientific vocabulary borrowed into Latin in the 12th and 13th centuries (alcohol, alkali, algebra, azimuth, zenith, cipher, nadir); plants or plant products originating in tropical Asia and introduced to medieval Europe through Arabic intermediation (camphor, jasmine, lacquer, lemon, orange, sugar); Middle Eastern and Maghrebi cuisine words (couscous, falafel, hummus, kebab, tahini).


Cardinal numbering in English follows two models, Germanic and Italic. The basic numbers are zero through ten. The numbers eleven through nineteen follow native Germanic style, as do twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety.

Standard English, especially in very conservative formal contexts, continued to use native Germanic style as late as World War I for intermediate numbers greater than 20, viz., "one-and-twenty," "five-and-thirty," "seven-and-ninety," and so on. But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the Latin tradition of counting as "twenty-one," "thirty-five," "ninety-seven," etc., which is easier to say and was already common in non-standard regional dialects, gradually replaced the traditional Germanic style to become the dominant style by the end of nineteenth century.


Linguistic purism in the English language is the belief that words of native origin should be used instead of foreign-derived ones (which are mainly Romance, Latin and Greek). "Native" can mean "Anglo-Saxon" or it can be widened to include all Germanic words. In its mild form, it merely means using existing native words instead of foreign-derived ones (such as using "begin" instead of "commence"). In its more extreme form, it involves reviving native words that are no longer widely used (such as "ettle" for "intend") and/or coining new words from Germanic roots (such as word stock for vocabulary). This dates at least to the inkhorn term debate of the 16th and 17th century, where some authors rejected the foreign influence, and has continued to this day, being most prominent in Plain English advocacy to avoid Latinate terms if a simple native alternative exists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Denning, Keith (2007). English Vocabulary Elements. Oxford University Press. p. 34.
  2. ^ Fennell, Barbara 1998. A history of English. A sociolinguistic approach. Oxford: Blackwell.[page needed]
  3. ^ McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, 2008, pp. 89–136.
  4. ^ Finkenstaedt, Thomas; Dieter Wolff (1973). Ordered profusion; studies in dictionaries and the English lexicon. C. Winter. ISBN 3-533-02253-6.
  5. ^ Williams, Joseph M. (1975). Joseph M. Willams, Origins of the English Language at. ISBN 0029344700.
  6. ^ Origins
  7. ^ Algeo, John (2010). The Origins and Development of the English Language (PDF) (6th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth. ISBN 978-1-4282-3145-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-12. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  8. ^ Williams, Joseph M (1986). Origins of the English Language. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0029344700. Retrieved 8 June 2017.

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