| | | | | | | | | | ³ | | | | | | ij | | | | | ̲ | ' | | | | ' | | | | | ˳ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | 㳿 | | | Գ | Գ | Գ | Գ | ճ |

Borrowings from Celtic

234.There are very few Celtic loan-words in the OE vocabulary, for there must have been little intermixture between the Germanic settlers and the Celtic inBritain. Though in some parts of the island the Celts population was not exterminated during the WG invasion, linguistic evidence of Celtic influence is meager. Obviously there was little that the newcomers could learn from the subjugated Celts. Abundant borrowing from Celtic is to be found only in place-names. The OE kingdoms Kent, Deira and Bernicia derive their names from the names of Celtic tribes. The name of York, the Downs and perhaps London have been traced to Celtic sources (Celtic dūn meant 'hill'). Various Celtic designations of 'river' and 'water' were understood by the Germanic invaders as proper names: Ouse, Exe, Esk, Usk, Avon, Evan go back to Celtic amhuin 'river', uisge 'water'; Thames, Stour, Dover also come from Celtic. Some elements frequently occurring in Celtic place-names can help to identify them: -comb 'deep valley' in Batcombe, Duncombe, Winchcombe; -torr 'high rock' in Torr, Torcross; -llan 'church' in Llandaff, Llanelly; -pill 'creek' in Pylle, Huntspill. Many place-names with Celtic elements are hybrids; the Celtic component, combined with a Latin or a Germanic component, make a compound place-name; e.g.

Celtic plus Latin Celtic plus Germanic
Man-chester York-shire
Win-chester Corn-wall[24]
Glou-cester Salis-bury
Wor-cester Lich-field
Devon-port Devon-shire
Lan-caster Canter-bury

235.Outside of place-names Celtic borrowings in OE were very few: no more than a dozen. Examples of common nouns are: OE binn (NE bin 'crib'), cradol (NE cradle), bratt 'cloak', dun (NE dun Mark coloured'), dūn 'hill', crass (NE cross), probably through Celtic from the L crux. A few words must have entered OE from Celtic due to the activities of Irish missionaries in spreading Christianity, e.g. OE ancor 'hermit', drӯ'magician', cursian (NE curse). In later ages some of the Celtic borrowings have died out or have survived only in dialects, e.g. loch dial, 'lake', coomb dial. 'vallev'.

Latin Influence on the Old English Vocabulary

236. The role of the Latin language in Medieval Britain is clearly manifest; it was determined by such historical events as the Roman occupation of Britain, the influence of the Roman civilisation and the introduction of Christianity. It is no wonder that the Latin language exerted considerable influence on different aspects of English: the OE alphabet, the growth of writing and literature. The impact of Latin on the OE vocabulary enables us to see the spheres of Roman influence on the life in Britain.

237. Latin words entered the English language at different stages of OE history. Chronologically they can be divided into several layers.

The earliest layer comprises words which the WG tribes brought from the continent when they came to settle in Britain. Contact with the Roman civilisation began a long time before the Anglo-Saxon invasion (see 91).

The adoption of Latin words continued in Britain after the invasion, since Britain had been under Roman occupation for almost 400 years. Though the Romans left Britain before the settlement of the West Teutons, Latin words could be transmitted to them by the Romanised Celts.

Early OE borrowings from Latin indicate the new things and concepts which the Teutons had learnt from the Romans; as seen from the examples below they pertain to war, trade, agriculture, building and home life.

238. Words connected with trade indicate general concepts, units of measurements and articles of trade unknown to the Teutons before they came into contact with Rome: OE cēapian, cēap, cēapman and manʒion, manʒunʒ, manʒere ('to trade', 'deal', 'trader', 'to trade', 'trading', 'trader') came from the Latin names for 'merchant' caupo and mango.

Evidently, the words were soon assimilated by the language as they yielded many derivatives.

Units of measurement and containers were adopted with their Latin names: OE pund (NE pound),OE ynce (NE inch)from L pondo and uncia, OE mynet, mynetian ('coin', 'to coin'), OE flasce, ciest (NE flask, chest).

The following words denote articles of trade and agricultural products, introduced by the Romans: OE win (from L vinum), OE butere (from L būtӯrum), OE plume (from L prunus),OE ciese (from L cāseus), OE pipor (from L. piper), (NE wine, butter, plum, cheese, pepper).

Roman contribution to building can be perceived in words like OE cealc, tiʒele, coper (NE chalk, tile, copper). A group of words relating to domestic life is exemplified by OE cytel, disc, cuppe, pyle (NE kettle, dish, cup, pillow),etc.

Borrowings pertaining to military affairs are OE mil (NE mile)from L millia passuum, which meant a thousand steps made to measure the distance; OE weall (NE wall)from L vallum, a wall of fortifications erected in the Roman provinces; OE strǣt from Latin strata via, a "paved road" (these "paved roads" were laid to connect Roman military camps and colonies in Britain; the meaning of the word changed when houses began to be built along these roads, hence NE street); to this group of words belong also OE pit 'javelin', OE pytt (NE pile, pit).

There is every reason to suppose that words of the latter group could be borrowed in Britain, for they look as direct traces of the Roman occupation (even though some of these words also occur in the continental Germanic tongues, cf. G Straβle).

239. Among the Latin loan-words adopted in Britain were some place-names or components of place-names used by the Celts. L castra in the shape cosier, ceaster 'camp' formed OE place-names which survive' today as Chester, Dorchester, Lancaster and the like (some of them with the first element coming from Celtic); L colonia 'settlement for retired soldiers' is found in Colchester and in the Latin-Celtic hybrid Lincoln; L vicus 'village' appears in Norwich, Woolwich, L portus in Bridport and Devonport (see also the examples in 234). Place-names made of Latin and Germanic components are: Portsmouth, Greenport, Greenwich and many others.

240. It should be noted that the distinction of two layers of early Latin borrowings is problematic, lor it is next to impossible to assign precise dates to events so far back in history. Nevertheless, it seems more reasonable to assume that the earlier, continental layer of loan words was more numerous than the layer made in Britain. In the first place, most OE words quoted above have parallels in other OG languages, which is easily accounted for if the borrowings were made by the Teutons before their migrations. At that time transference of loan-words from tribe to tribe was easy, even if they were first adopted by one tribe. Secondly, we ought to recall that the relations between the Germanic conquerors and the subjugated Britons in Britain could hardly be favourable for extensive borrowing.

241. The third period of Latin influence on the OE vocabulary began with the introduction of Christianity in the late 6th c. and lasted to the end of OE.

Numerous Latin words which found their way into the English language during these five hundred years clearly fall into two main groups: (1) words pertaining to religion, (2) words connected with learning. The rest are miscellaneous words denoting various objects and concepts which the English learned from Latin books and from closer acquaintance with Roman culture. The total number of Latin loan-words in OE exceeds five hundred, this third layer accounting for over four hundred words.

242. The new religion introduced a large number of new conceptions which required new names; most of them were adopted from Latin, some of the words go back to Greek prototypes:

OE apostol NE apostle from L apostolus from Gr apóstolos
  antefn   anthem   antiphōna   antiphona
  biscop   bishop   eptscopus   episcopes
  candel   candle   candēla    
  clerec   clerk   clēricus   klerikós
  dēofol   devil   diabolus   diábolos
  mæsse   mass   missa    
  mynster   minster   monastērium    
  munuc   monk   monachus   monachcs

To this list we may add many more modern English words from the same source: abbot, alms, altar, angel, ark, creed, disciple, hymn, idol, martyr, noon, nun, organ, palm, pine ('torment'), pope, prophet, psalm, psalter, shrine, relic, rule, temple and others.

243. After the introduction of Christianity many monastic schools were set up in Britain. The spread of education led to the wider use of Latin: teaching was conducted in Latin, or consisted of learning Latin. The written forms of OE developed in translations of Latin texts. These conditions are reflected in a large number of borrowings connected with education, and also words of a more academic, "bookish" character. Unlike the earlier borrowings scholarly words were largely adopted through books; they were first used in OE translations from Latin, e.g.;

OE scōl NE school L schola (Gr skhole)
  scōlere   scholar   scholāris
  māʒister   master, 'teacher'   magister
  fers   verse   versus
  dihtan   'compose'   dictare

Other modern descendants of this group are: accent, grammar, meter, gloss, notary, decline.

244. A great variety of miscellaneous borrowings came from Latin probably because they indicated new objects and new ideas, introduced into English life together with their Latin names by those who had a fair command of Latin: monks, priests, school-masters. Some of these scholarly words became part of everyday vocabulary. They belong to different semantic spheres: names of trees and plants elm, lily, plant, pine; names of illnesses and words pertaining to medical treatment cancer, fever, paralysis, plaster; names of animals camel, elephant, tiger; names of clothes and household articles cap, mat, sack, sock; names of foods beet, caul, oyster, radish; miscellaneous words crisp, fan, place, spend, turn.

245. The Latin impact on the OE vocabulary was not restricted to borrowing of words. There were also other aspects of influence. The most important of them is the appearance of the so-called "translation-loans" words and phrases created on the pattern of Latin words as their literal translations. The earliest instances of translation-loans are names of the days of the week found not only in OE but also in other Old (and modern) Germanic languages:

OE Mōnan-dæʒ (Monday)'day of the moon', L Lunae dies;

Tiwes-dæʒ (Tuesday)May of Tiw' L Martis dies (Tiw a Teutonic God corresponding to Roman Mars).

The procedure was to substitute the name of the corresponding Germanic god for the god of the Romans. Other translation-loans of the type were OE ʒōdspell (NE gospel)'good tidings', L euangelium; OE priness (lit. 'three-ness'), NE Trinity.

In late OE, many new terms were coined from native elements according to Latin models as translation-loans: OE eorpbiʒenʒa 'inhabitant of the earth' (L terricola); OE ʒoldsmip (NE goldsmith)'worker in gold' (L aurifex); OE tunʒolcræft 'astronomy', lit. 'the knowledge of stars' (L astronomos).

Some grammatical terms in Ælfric's GRAMMAR are of the same origin: OE dǣlnimend 'participle', lit. 'taker of parts' (L participiutn); OE nemniʒendlic (L Nominatious), OE wreʒendlic 'Accusative', lit. 'accusing, denouncing' (L Accusativus). This way of replenishing the vocabulary may be regarded as a sort of resistance to foreign influence: instead of adopting a foreign word, an equivalent was produced from native resources in accordance with the structure of the term.

246. Another question which arises in considering borrowings from a foreign language is the extent of their assimilation. Most Latin loanwords were treated in OE texts like native words, which means that they were already completely assimilated.

Judging by their spellings and by later phonetic changes they were naturalised as regards their sound form. Like native English words, early Latin loan-words participated in the sound changes, e.g. in disc and ciese the consonants [sk] and [k'] were palatalised and eventually changed into [ʃ] and [ʧ] (NE dish, cheese). Note that some later borrowings, e.g. scōl, scōlere did not participate in the change and [sk] was retained

Loan-words acquired English grammatical forms and were inflected like respective parts of speech, e.g. cirice, cuppe (NE church, cup). Fem. nouns were declined as n-stems: munc, dēofol (NE monk, devil), Masc. like a-stems, the verbs pinian, temprian were conjugated like weak verbs of the second class ('torture', NE temper).

Important proofs of their assimilation are to be found in word-formation. Stems of some Latin borrowings were used in derivation and word compounding, e.g. the verbs fersian 'versify', plantian (NE plant)were derived from borrowed nouns fers, plant; many derivatives were formed from the early Latin loan-words caupo, mengo (see 238); abstract nouns martyrdōm, martyrhād were built by attaching native suffixes to the loan-word martyr (NE martyrdom); compound words like ciriceʒeard (NE churchyard), mynster-hām (lit. 'monastery home'), mynster-man 'monk' were Latin-English hybrids.

The grammatical form of several loan words was misunderstood: pisum on losing -m was treated as a plural form and -s- was dropped to produce the sg: OE pese, NE pl peas, hence sg pea; in the same way Lcerasum eventually became cherries pl, cherry sg.

247.Etymological Layers of the Old English Vocabulary

Table 2

Native Words Borrowings
Common IE Common Germanic West Germanic Specifically OE Latin Celtic


  1. Assimilation of borrowings.
  2. Borrowings in NE
  3. French Borrowings
  4. Russian Borrowings
  5. Scandinavian Borrowings


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Foreign Element in the Old English Vocabulary | WORD-FORMATION IN OLD ENGLISH

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