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            Anglo Saxon                             Normans introduced a...
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The Origins of English Words


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The role of French, Latin and Greek words in the evolution of the English language. You can find linked texts and activities here: Brief introduction to this fascinating topic, ideal for teachers to use in English language classes. See or more fun facts about the English language.

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The Origins of English Words

  1. 1. WHERE DO ENGLISH WORDS COME FROM? Anglo Saxon Normans introduced a legal system with its own vocabulary: words like jury The grammar and key vocabulary of and verdict. In a sense this was a English comes from Anglo Saxon further expansion of the influence of making English essentially a Germanic Latin, as what became know as Anglo- language. Around 30% of the words Norman had Latin roots. Sometimes we use in English are Anglo Saxon in the new anglo-norman words existed origin and they tend to be the most alongside existing anglo-saxon ones: commonly used – over 70% according beef and cow for example. to most estimates. The top ten most Though the Norman dialect commonly used verbs, for example, declined, French remained the are all survivors from old English. language of court and learning. It had What makes the English language a prestige which is still present today. unusual is that its lexicon (vocabulary) borrows heavily from other languages – Greek particularly Latin, Greek and French The frequency of Greek terms in English can again be traced back to the Latin importance of Latin. Medieval scholars Perhaps surprisingly the Roman learned Greek vocabulary by studying occupation of Britain had little initial Latin texts. impact on the development of the Words with a Greek origin are English language. Only place names particularly common in medicine, like London, Bath & Chester indicate science and education. Words with a - the official language of the occupiers. phy or –gy suffix typically have Greek It was with the arrival of Christian roots: geography, demography and missionaries in the 6th and 7th centuries etymology, for example that significant numbers of Latin words About 5% of commonly English began entering the lexicon. Latin was words have a direct Greek origin but the lingua franca or common around 25% come via Latin. language of the Christian world, with the mass or service being conducted in Latin. Other religious words like abbot, altar, apostle & candle gradually came into common use. French The invasion of the Normans in 1066 greatly increased the number of ‘foreign’ words in common use. The KIERAN MCGOVERN HTTP://ENGLISHLANGUAGE.ESLREADING.ORG/