The Influence of Latin on the EModE Lexicon

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

14 Pages, Grade: 13 Punkte (1-)



1. Introduction

2. The Role of Latin during the EModE period

3. Latin as lingua franca of Science

4. Borrowings and Loanwords from Latin

5. Anglicization and Word Formation

6. Inkhorn Terms

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

List of Abbreviations:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

During its history, Britain came into contact with various tribes and peoples such as the Anglo-Saxon settlers who brought their Germanic dialects to the island in the OE period and the Roman missionaries and the French-speaking Norman conquerors who invaded Britain in the ME period. Due to these influences, the language spoken in Britain strong- ly depended on these external contexts which shaped the language and its lexicon in a significant way.

While in the ME period, the languages in use in England were English, French and Latin, thus creating a Triglossia in England, the initially important status of French and the number of French borrowings gradually declined over the next centuries.

Although the adjacent EModE period only spanned two centuries, due to exten- sive borrowing from other languages, the English lexicon experienced its largest growth and enrichment in history while instead of French, the main language for loanwords now was Latin. The reasons for this development are various and are set out and analyzed in the following term-paper which aims at analyzing the influence of Latin on the EModE lexicon.

Thus, the term-paper commences giving an overview of the role of the Latin language in England by focusing on essential events such as the Reformation and the Renaissance, followed by a short elaboration on the importance of Latin as a language of science in the EModE period.

Since the influence of Latin led to a significant change of the English lexicon in this period, the following passages deal with the practice of borrowing words originating in Latin and with the formation of new words and the consequences for the English lan- guage by connecting chosen statements and explanations of secondary literature to own research on the OED.

Having provided a brief summary of the major findings, the term-pater terminates with providing an outlook on further possibilities for research.

2. The Role of Latin during the Early Modern English Period

In the ME period, three languages were spoken in England and a distinct hierarchy could be identified with the use of the corresponding language. Thus, French was the language of the ruling class and the royal court and Latin was used in theology, law and administration, while the English language remained the language of the ordinary population and was largely used as spoken medium.

As Nevalainen states, after the decline of French at the end of the ME period, the status of the English language was raised considerably, while Latin continued to be used as the main language of the Catholic Church as well as in the fields of administration and law (2006: 29). On the one hand, Latin was promoted and strengthened by the Renaissance, which spanned the EModE-period and was characterized by the rediscovery and renewal of the Classics. Thus, Greek and in particular Latin gained strong im- portance and prestige, especially in higher education and scientific disciplines.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, due to radical and far reaching religious, social and political changes during the EMod-period, Latin progressively lost its dominating position while English became prevalent as a language to an increasing extent and re- gained its position as written medium. One key incident in this process was the Reformation, which changed the language of the church from Latin into English (Nevalainen 2006: 39). The EModE-period was characterized by an increased antipathy towards the Catholic Church, which led to a significant decrease of its power in England. At this point, Barber/Beal/Shaw emphasize the fact that the majority of the people averting the Catholic Church and getting attracted by Protestantism were of “humble origin and lacked classical education” (2009: 186), consequently, they were not able to read and understand Latin, which substantiated the need for and reinforced the use of the vernacu- lar in the new English church. This introduction of English in church service led to the need for Bible translations, since most Bibles typically existed only in Latin. The most influential English Bible in that period, the King James Bible, was printed in 1611; due to the printing press Caxton introduced into England in 1476, the English Bible was dis- tributed extensively in the country, consolidating and enhancing the prestige of written English, thus giving it the “status and acceptability” (Singh 2005: 142) that had for centuries been reserved for Latin whilst accelerating the changeover from Latin to English in Church.

In contrast to Nevalainen, who focuses on the Reformation as a fundamental reason for the decline of Latin and the rise of English, Singh puts an additional emphasis on the growing national identity as well as on the increasing confidence and literacy of the middle classes. The increasingly developing national feeling of England as a nation led to greater pride in English and the desire that it should serve as the English’s nation language (Singh 2005: 146). The proliferating sense of national identity was accompanied by the growing confidence of the middle classes from the 16th century onwards; but not only their position enhanced, also did their literacy.

Since the major part of these social classes maximally had a rudimentary knowledge of Latin, an increasing demand for books and papers in their native tongue English arose. According to Singh, this strongly growing publication and distribution of written material in English led to the acceptance of English not only being the new language of the church, but also “a language for all and every purpose” (2005: 146).

Having gained credence and established as a language of the church as well as in written communication while the general importance of Latin significantly decreased, a discussion developed whether the “relatively untried and untested written English” (2005: 144) was an acceptable and adequate language for scholarship and science or whether Latin should remain the language of science as it has been for centuries.

3. Latin as the lingua franca of Science

Although English gained acceptance and prevailed as a written and spoken language in nearly every field of life, both formal and official, the language of science and higher education preponderantly remained Latin; accordingly, most scientific works were still written in Latin.

Reasons for this reality were the Renaissance and the mentioned resurgence of classical philosophical ideas and the renewal of the Classics which helped Greek and especially Latin to enforce new importance and enhanced their prestige. Moreover, fields such as science, medicine and law had been dominated and carried out in Latin for centuries, although only educated people were able to understand it. To illustrate the status of this language, one can refer to Nevalainen who described Latin as the “lingua franca of […] science and scholarship” (2006: 54).

Due to the fact that Latin is a dead language and the prolonged period in which it dominated science, the language had fixed structures and was unchanging, well ordered and marked by “copiousness” (Görlach 1991: 36). Hence, it possessed a distinct ad- vantage in comparison to English which was characterized by its lack of specific vocab- ulary and terminology and by constantly changing features due to linguistic instability. Furthermore, as Görlach states, one crucial deficit of English in contrast to Latin, is that it was “unsupported by any respectable ancient literary tradition” (1991: 36). For these reasons, even though English was established in major fields of every- day life, it was frequently, particularly at the end of the 16th century, criticized as being “vulgar” (Jucker 2011: 43) and unsuitable for scientific purposes. To illustrate this con- troversy, Nevalainen comments on the Royal Society which was founded in 1660: Albeit this learned society promoted the use of English, it advocated and supported the “one- form-one meaning principle” (2006: 54) Latin terminology provided. This opinion was favored by a great number of scientists and scholars of that period such as Isaac Newton and Sir Francis Bacon who wrote their greatest works in Latin (Jucker 2011: 43). Notwithstanding this initial adherence to Latin as the lingua franca of intellectu- al subject matters, the native speech progressively succeeded Latin as medium of academic and scientific discourse. This development was accompanied by numerous problems, since the translation from Latin into English generally caused complications, revealing the English language’s lack of copiousness and of appropriate technical terminology. In order to close these gaps in the English language and to make it suitable for scientific purposes, innumerable Latin words were borrowed into English, a process Singh characterizes as “elaboration of vocabulary resources” arising from an increasing “elaboration of function” (2005: 145).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


The Influence of Latin on the EModE Lexicon
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
Early Modern English
13 Punkte (1-)
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ISBN (Book)
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Englisch, English, Latin, Latein, EModE, Early Modern English, Inkhorn Term, Inkhorn, Loanword, Borrowing, Renaissance, Reformation, Sprachwissenschaft, Frühneuenglisch, Wortschatz, Lexicon, Linguistik, Linguistics
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Anne Volkmer (Author), 2012, The Influence of Latin on the EModE Lexicon, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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