Foreign language influences in English

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According to one research, 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: ~29%
Germanic: ~26%
Others: ~16%

While many words enter English as slang, not all do. 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: e.g. thanatopsis. No matter the origin, though, words rarely, if ever, are immediately accepted into the English language. 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, English syntax was influenced by Celtic languages, starting from the Middle English; for example, the system of continuous tenses (absent in other Germanic languages) was a cliché of similar Celtic phrasal structures.
  • French legal, military, and political terminology; words for the meat of an animal; noble words; words referring to food — e.g., au gratin. Nearly 30% of English words (in an 80,000 word dictionary) may be of French origin.
  • Greek words: scientific and medical terminology (for instance -phobias and -ologies), Christian theological terminology.
  • Norman words: 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.
  • Italian - 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.
  • Indian - words relating to culture, originating from the colonial era. Many of these words are of Persian origin rather than Hindi because Persian was the official language of the Mughal courts. e.g.: pyjamas, bungalow, verandah, jungle, curry, shampoo, khaki.
  • Arabic - Trade items such as borax, coffee, cotton, hashish, henna, mohair, muslin, saffron; Islamic religious terms such as jihad and hadith; scientific vocabulary borrowed into Latin in the 12th and 13th centuries (alcohol, alkali, algebra, azimuth, 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 cusine words (couscous, falafel, hummus, kebab, tahini). See also: List of English words of Arabic origin.


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. 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.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Pyles, T. & J. Algeo (1993). The Origins and Development of the English Language. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers.

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