Latin and English

‘Do you know that more than half of the words in the English dictionary are Latin, and that you are speaking more or less Latin every day? How has this come about? In the year 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England with an army of Normans. The Normans spoke French—which, you remember, is descended from Latin—and spread their language to a considerable extent over England, and so Norman-French played an important part in the formation of English and forms a large proportion of our vocabulary. Furthermore, great numbers of almost pure Latin words have been brought into English through the writings of scholars, and every new scientific discovery is marked by the addition of new terms of Latin derivation. Hence, while the simpler and commoner words of our mother tongue are Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Saxon forms the staple of our colloquial language, yet in the realms of literature, and especially in poetry, words of Latin derivation are very abundant. Also in the learned professions, as in law, medicine, and engineering, a knowledge of Latin is necessary for the successful interpretation of technical and scientific terms.’

– D’Ooge. B.L. 1909. Latin For Beginners Boston, Massachusetts, United States: The Athenaeum Press, Ginn and Company (1911) p. 3

2 thoughts on “Latin and English

  1. The Sumerians comprised the first civilization established in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), known as the “cradle of civilization”, and continued as a theocratic communal government for four thousand years, until they were ultimately conquered by the Akkadians, a Semitic group who first settled Northern Mesopotamia, peacefully, then, as their numbers and strength grew, conquered all of the Mesopotamian valley. Within a hundred years, the Sumerian language had nearly disappeared, remaining in its pure form only in the religious ceremonies of the conquered Sumerians.

    Egyptian is now a language spoken only by worshippers of the Coptic religion in Egypt, having been replaced first by Greek, following Alexander’s conquest, and finally, by Arabic, upon the rise of Islam.

    Conquerors take their language with them, as did the Romans into Britain, which doubtless greatly facilitated the acceptance of Latin-based French after 1066, when Harold Godwinson, King of England, left the Battle of Hastings on his shield, with a Norman arrow in his eye.

    But much like English, whose Germanic-based Anglo-Saxon remains with us in words that are still in use, rife with letter-combinations that were pronounced in Chaucer’s time, but have fallen mute today (who pronounces the “gh” in slaughter?), so too, the Sumerian language invaded the Semitic Akkadian – sometimes the conquerors are themselves conquered from within.

    The Latin language, though spread through warfare and bloodshed, made communication possible throughout the known world among people who otherwise spoke a myriad of unrelated tongues. Veni, vidi, vici.

    Pax vobiscum —

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