Latin in the English Language

(The Importance of Latin in the English Language)

The basic importance of Latin in the English language can hardly be exaggerated. It is safe to say that more than half the words we use in our daily talk come to us from or through latin, and the spelling of these words and their accurate use is immeasurably helped by the knowledge of their origins.

Public speakers, radio-commentators, newspapermen, writer of advertising and all men or women who go to the public with the spoken or written word know that exact meanings and shades of meaning and the proper use and correct spelling of English are absolutely essential to them.

For hundreds of years after the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin was used throughout Europe as the language of education and knowledge

European scholars wrote their works in Latin and educated men corresponded in it with other educated men of their own or different nationalities.

As late as the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, Francis Bacon wrote his scientific works in Latin, although he was one of the most accurate and precise writers of English which England had ever produced. In fact, the writing of works in Latin in order to secure an international audience continued up into the eighteenth century.

The fact that Latin was the language of the educated accounts for the fact that practically any term we use connected with knowledge or any of the arts, religion, or education, is of Latin origin.

The terse primitive words in English, referring to the home, the family, or the farm are mostly from the Anglo-Saxon, but even here there is an important Latin influence.

We must remember that the Romans were in Britain for nearly 400 years and left a strong impression on the local speech, so that the Anglo Saxons, when they arrived, picked up and incorporated a great many Latin words into their own language.

Take such an every day Anglo-Saxon-sounding word as plum. This comes from the Anglo-Saxon pluma; but pluma is merely an Anglo-Saxon mispronunciation of the Latin pruna, "plum"; which, by the way, comes to us also, through the French, in the form of prune.

Or, again, take the familiar word bishop. It derives from the Anglo-Saxon biscop; but biscop in its turn is only an amputated form of the Latin episcopus, "overseer", and when we want to form an adjective from bishop we have to go straight to the Latin for episcopal. Instances of this sort might be cited indefinitely.

French also had a great impact on English vocabulary

Not only did Latin come into English directly and through the medium of Anglo-Saxon, but it also came via a copious stream through French.

When William the Conqueror defeated the English at Senlac in 1066 and established a Norman aristocracy in England, French became the language of the court and the landed proprietors and of the upper classes in general, and French is itself a language of almost pure Latin origin.

Above all, it must not be forgotten that Latin was the language of the churchmen and of the services of the Church from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries.

As a result of this continued impression of Latin from so many directions, the English language is simply saturated with it.

In fact, it is a fair statement that without some knowledge of the Latin elements in English no one can be certain of the accuracy of his spelling or of the correctness of his use of the less simple words of English.