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Thread: Ignorance of English Language Origins

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    Ignorance of English Language Origins

    In a conversation with average Southern Americans today, we were talking about the origins of English. One girl said Latin is the base of the English Language. I corrected her that German is. Then she said that she took 5 years of "stems" class, whatever that is, and that is what she was taught. I piped in and said it actually comes from the language called Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. Then she said that Anglo-Saxon is a people, and I had to just give up. I've actually heard this a few times before. I wonder if people over in England think Latin is the root of their language? I just can't believe what people think nowadays. The language itself seems to be headed downhill in general, especially here in America. Has anyone else ever heard this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    In a conversation with average Southern Americans today, we were talking about the origins of English. One girl said Latin is the base of the English Language. I corrected her that German is. Then she said that she took 5 years of "stems" class, whatever that is, and that is what she was taught. I piped in and said it actually comes from the language called Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. Then she said that Anglo-Saxon is a people, and it went into a dead end. I've actually heard this a few times before. I wonder if people over in England think Latin is the root of their language? I just can't believe what people think nowadays. The language itself seems to be headed downhill in general, especially here in America. Has anyone else ever heard this?
    What she means by "stems" is probably this:

    About 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin. Over 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. In the vocabulary of the sciences and technology, the figure rises to over 90 percent. About 10 percent of the Latin vocabulary has found its way directly into English without an intermediary (usually French). For a time the whole Latin lexicon became potentially English and many words were coined on the basis of Latin precedent. Words of Greek origin have generally entered English in one of three ways: 1) indirectly by way of Latin, 2) borrowed directly from Greek writers, or 3) especially in the case of scientific terms, formed in modern times by combining Greek elements in new ways. The direct influence of the classical languages began with the Renaissance and has continued ever since. Even today, Latin and Greek roots are the chief source for English words in science and technology.
    </B>is 90, the most common score. The median (middle) score is 84.
    Latin spawned Italian, French, and Spanish; with roughly 98% of the terms in those lexicons being cognate to the parent language.

    Going by strict percentages, and taking into account the essentially one-way linguistic influence (Latin --> English), we will, sooner or later, have to acknowledge English as a latinate cognate that was once upon a time sister to the Germanic tounges; but is now little more than a 2nd cousin.
    "...The moral man is a lower species than the immoral, a weaker species; indeed - he is a type in regard to morality, but not a type in himself; a copy...the measure of his value lies outside him. ... I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage; I do not account the evil and painful character of existence a reproach to it, but hope rather that it will one day be more evil and painful than hitherto..." (Nietzsche)

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    Thanks for the stats. The number of Latin et al. words borrowed are almost incomparable to other Germanic languages. Maybe the reason it got me worked up was the fact that it's Germanic roots are being forgotten (even though very little of it is Germanic any more.)

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    Like i said in the past.......themost latinised amongst the Germanic group. The less difficult to learn for a Romance people for sure.

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    I have come across this before - even in one of my friends who is very intelligent and has studied Latin. It took me a while to convince him that English really is a Germanic language, but thankfully he now accepts that I am right.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    In a conversation with average Southern Americans today, we were talking about the origins of English. One girl said Latin is the base of the English Language.
    A lot of people think that. I think it stems ultimately from the early modern philosophy that Latin was somehow superior to other languages.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    I corrected her that German is.
    That's not at all accurate, though. German is a modern language. English is not derived from German. English and German are both modern-day daughters grown from the same root. A lot of Germans like to act like their language is the pure source of Germanic languages, yet in many ways, theirs is the most altered by foreign influence in the whole group.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    Then she said that she took 5 years of "stems" class,
    Sounds like either botany or ornamental horticulture to me. Possibly a culinary course. Or maybe she was just BSing you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    Then she said that Anglo-Saxon is a people,
    Sure. Like Norwegian. Or German. Those are peoples, too — and languages.



    Quote Originally Posted by SuuT View Post
    What she means by "stems" is probably this:

    About 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin. Over 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. In the vocabulary of the sciences and technology, the figure rises to over 90 percent.
    You've got to be careful with numbers like these. What are we counting here, after all? We're counting linguistic types. But types don't all have equal influence on the sounds of a language. After all, how frequently do you hear a word like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanocon iosis compared to word like do? I bet you hear do scores of times every day, maybe scores of times every hour. Yet I bet for many, this is the first time encountering a that first monstrosity of a word. So is one of these words more representative of the language? Yes! Yet in data like these, the two words are treated as though they were equal. That's a distortion of reality.

    If instead of counting types, they were counting tokens (actual occurrences of words), they would find that the percentage of Germanic words in modern English is well over fifty. In many cases in our day-to-day speech, it's quite a bit over ninety. There was a recent BBC report on that; it was discussed on Skadi, but I don't know how to get it now.

    Quote Originally Posted by SuuT View Post
    About 10 percent of the Latin vocabulary has found its way directly into English without an intermediary (usually French).
    Oh, now that's just flat nonsense. The overwhelming majority of the Latinate types in English are taken directly from Latin. French has had very little influence on the English lexicon in terms of types. Only in terms of tokens has French had any significant influence on the English lexicon.

    Quote Originally Posted by SuuT View Post
    Latin spawned Italian, French, and Spanish; with roughly 98% of the terms in those lexicons being cognate to the parent language.

    Going by strict percentages, and taking into account the essentially one-way linguistic influence (Latin --> English), we will, sooner or later, have to acknowledge English as a latinate cognate that was once upon a time sister to the Germanic tounges; but is now little more than a 2nd cousin.
    This is riddled with inaccuracy.

    First, it's impossible for a daughter language to be cognate with its own parent. Italian, French, and Spanish (as well as Portuguese and Romanian) are daughters of Latin (or of Romance, depending on how you view it); they cannot be cognate with it.

    Second, basing linguistic typology on percentages of types in the lexicon is about as sophomoric as you can get. Lexical evidence is the least important for language typology. Far more important are morphology, syntax, and phonology, probably in that order. That's because these elements of the language are far less volatile than the lexicon, which is highly susceptible to borrowings. Our morphology, syntax, and phonology are thoroughly Germanic. In fact, in terms of morphology, English is the best preserver of the morphological functions of the fifteenth rune as attested in the runic inscriptions; in our syntax, we do a far better job of preserving the traditional preterites than most of our fellow Germanics (particularly the strong preterites, which are far less well preserved in the Scandinavian languages); and in terms of phonology, English is one of the few Germanic languages that has not undergone the Romance-caused loss of the utterly Germanic interdental fricatives. But even when considering lexical evidence, the best evidence to consider is in the closed classes — prepositions, conjunctions, articles, pronouns, demonstratives, and so forth. And the closed classes in English are all very close to 100% Germanic. There's no way English can be anything but Germanic.

    Third, you're not even beginning to consider the differential in the size of the English lexicon compared to that of other Germanic languages. Our lexicon is far and away the largest of any IE language in Europe. Sure, we have many types of Latinate origin. But we have many many more types than any other Germanic language. We didn't drop our Germanic words when we added most of our Latinate ones — we simply added. So we can still be just as Germanic in our diction as any other Germanic language is.

    Fourth, you suggest that English could cease to be cognate with the other Germanic languages. That's absurd. If it is cognate, it is cognate. End of story. A cognatic relationship is one in which two languages are descended from a common parent. That's it. No amount of borrowing can ever make a language alter its cognatic relationships. By the same token, English can never share a cognatic relationship with any Romance language. At best, it can utterly cloud the cognatic relationships in question, as has occurrred with many of the aboriginal languages of Australia. It usually takes at least 10,000 years or so for that kind of areal influence to occur. The various Germanic languages became distinct languages around 1000 ago. Give it 9,000 years and sure, we might not be able to see that English and German are daughters of the same parent. But for now, the relationship is obvious to any but the most pedestrian observer.



    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    Thanks for the stats. The number of Latin et al. words borrowed are almost incomparable to other Germanic languages.
    Do you have stats on those? I am often amazed at how frequently we use a Germanic word where other Germanic languages use a Latinate one. A quick example is write/schreiben/skrive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drakkar View Post
    Maybe the reason it got me worked up was the fact that it's Germanic roots are being forgotten (even though very little of it is Germanic any more.)
    Well, like I said, close to ninety percent of what you hear all day every day when you listen to English is Germanic. I don't think that's very little at all.



    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    Like i said in the past.......themost latinised amongst the Germanic group.
    In what way is English the most Latinized. In lexical types? Maybe. Compare actual numbers of Germanic types in the various languages (rather than percentages), and see what you get. In lexical tokens? Maybe, but I doubt it. If so, the difference would likely not be statistically significant. Do you have data on the lexical tokens in the various lanaguges?

    Or maybe in some real aspect of the language, since language is a whole lot more than lexicography. In phonology, perhaps? No. I think High German is. At the least, their phonological inventory has unquestionably undergone the most innovation. In morphology? Not in the least. Our morphology is pretty conservative for northern languages in the Germanic family. In syntax? I'll admit there were some concerted efforts by 18th-century pedants to Latinize our morphology. Churchill had that right: that is the sort of nonsense up with which no one should put. The syntax of regular spoken English is not Latinized really at all. It's fairly innovative in one or two areas, but that innovation is internally motivated.

    In exactly what way is English the most Latinized of the Germanic languages. I've already pointed out the problem with basing such whimsical notions on percentages of lexical types. Do you have any other evidence to support your claim?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    The less difficult to learn for a Romance people for sure.
    How many Germanic languages have you tried to learn? German and English are the two most widely taught. German (and I'm talking about the southern variety, High German, which is the one they force you to learn) is a whole lot tougher than English. Try Norwegian — it's nice and easy, just like English is. Sure, you can't lean on Latinate borrowings to get you through, but that's better anyway. Romance speakers who rely on Latinate borrowing in English often end up making mistakes like this one I saw just the other day:

    "We strongly discourage such people from joining and accommodating themselves in the forums"

    That's great in Spanish. It's pitiful in English.

    The Latinate vocabulary in English tricks native speakers of Romance languages into thinking they can speak English. They often end up sounding like books, at best, or making mistakes like that earlier one at worst, until they get over the deception and realize that English is not a Romance language and can't be learned like one. I see it from Romance posters on internet fora all the time.

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    Yeah I have noticed the same thing, France, Italy etc are portrayed as 'high culture' and German culture is regarded as crude and low class, I am not sure how much this is related to the world wars, the norman conquest, or other sources.

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    Mother language to most European languages is Indo-European.

    She had several daughters, amongst whom Sanskrit, which gave rise to many languages spoken in India today. Another daughter is Latin, which gave rise to the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Rumanian). Greek comes from another daughter, the Celtic languages from yet another and the Eastern European languages from yet again another.

    The Germanic languages are from yet another daughter. They can be divided into East, West and North. East Germanic is extinct: Gothic was the last representative of this group. It is the oldest form of written Germanic and thus still studied by students of Germanic languages today.The North Germanic languages are what we usually call the Scandinavian languages. (Finnish and Hungarian form a little language group that has nothing to do with Indo-European!)

    The West Germanic branch finally "begat" Old High German which in time delivered German, English, Dutch and Frisian.

    Because of all sorts of political influences, English has become highly latinised. Most of these words came into English after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The upper classes started speaking French, the lower classes kept speaking English. In the course of three hundred years or so the two slowly grew together to form a hybrid language: Middle English, basically Germanic of course, but with lots of French words (indirect from Latin) and some slight influence on the grammar.

    The Scandinavians had a lot more influence on the grammar, actually. In Old English word order was by no means as important as it is today, because of the inflections. In Scandinavian languages word order is more important, because they have fewer inflections. After the Viking raids and Vikings settling in England, the language lost many of its inflections. So the Vikings too had quite a bit of influence on English as it is spoken today

    You could say that German, English, Dutch and Frisians are brothers and sisters, the Scandinavian languages are their half-brothers and sisters. French and the other Romance languages are more like cousins.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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    English is a Germanic language developed from the Germanic dialects of the Angles and Saxons which is still the root for the most important words like personal pronouns and other grammar. Grammar is almost entirely Germanic and that is,along with phonetic, what counts most for classifying a language. That the majority of the words have a Romance origin doesn't matter. It's the same way in German but to a lesser degree (60%).

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