Amadou M. Sall turned 6 today!
A fun interactive graphic from Oxford Dictionaries on various stages of borrowed words in English.
Using the date buttons at the top of the graphic, you can compare the impact that different languages have made on English over time. In the “per period” view, you can see the proportions of words coming into English from each source in 50-year slices from 1150 up to the present day.
Compare for instance how the input from German has grown and then declined again from 1800 to the present day. (The earliest period, pre-1150, is much longer than 50 years, because more precise dating of words from this early stage in the history of English is very problematic.)
One minor quibble, although I’m sure this was not the intent. While it is certainly true that English has borrowed a lot of words from Latin and French, I am a little worried that graphs like this promote the widespread confusion about whether English is a Germanic or a Romance language.
To clarify: English is a Germanic language despite having borrowed a lot of words from Romance because all of those words were added to a core base of words and grammar that’s Germanic, specifically Anglo-Saxon. This graphic does not reflect that because it represents only words that were borrowed: if English were a Romance language (for example, if it were derived from the Anglo-French spoken by the elite in the centuries after the Norman Conquest), the graphic wouldn’t show as many French/Latin sources and would instead show a lot of borrowing from Anglo-Saxon.
[Pre-Script: I totally see your point and agree with it completely. However, I have a particular rant about HEL (History of the English Language) and even though it doesn’t really fit this post, this post triggered it, so… that’s something, right? Ye Olde Dialectic Tradition? So here it goes…]
Yah yah, okay, I don’t like confusion either, but… perhaps widespread disagreement about English classification is a good thing? The idea that English is a clear-cut “Good Germanic Language” has some dissenters who would argue that it’s far more complicated than a simple family-tree model can account for. An alternative argument is that English is a Germanic language only because we a priori categorize the language of Elizabeth I & II as “the same” as the language of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. If we didn’t already know the history, a strict linguistic analysis might notput English under the Germanic umbrella, but instead as a kind of weird GalloNordic contact variety (reiterated contact lasting many centuries; a contact variety of contact varieties). English has far more borrowed words than other Germanic (or most Romance) languages and has even borrowed/replaced a good chunk of its core vocab (words like stomach, pork, large, lake). So, while I’m usually all about denouncing widespread linguistic myths, on *this myth in particular* I think maybe the confusion points to something more complicated that Standard Average Linguistics has really managed to deal with.
The very idea that there are strict demarcations between “Romance Languages” and “Germanic Languages” takes a very modern notion of nation-states and ethnolinguistic boundaries and back-applies it to a time period (c.500~1200 A.D.) where it just doesn’t make sense. There’s no good evidence that any two given Germanic tribes of the time would view themselves as more similar to each other than to any given Romance “tribe” (and there’s probably some evidence to the contrary— AngloSaxons seemed to view their fellow Germanic’s “Viking invasion” with far less familial love than they viewed the Norman conquest three centuries later). And, awkwardly, we need to remember that the vast majority of the terminology, classification, and definitions we have for Indo European (and especially Western European) historical linguistics was born of the same essentialist philosophies that stirred hearts to nationalism (and racism). So it’s not like these terms— Germanic, Romance, English, French, etc.— are neutral. They are very not neutral. So, rather than telling people that English is a Germanic Language, what if we said, well, English is a bit weird, but, y’know, maybe that’s because history is a bit weird. Lots of sex and death. People probably talked a lot during the sex and death. Voilà, English.
FWIW, Yiddish and Romanian are complicated languages to classify in a family-tree sense for very similar reasons. Some language don’t fit well into the conceptual boxes we have. Rather than cutting off the bits that stick out, why not work on making a better set of boxes?
[Apologies again for hijacking this post.]
No apologies necessary, and it’s a good point!
In the same vein, I’m fond of the Middle English Creole Hypothesis, even though the evidence that I’ve found around it is hardly conclusive. It remains an interesting framework for analysis, though. Definitely English is pretty weird among Indo-European languages in general for not having grammatical gender or a rich inflectional system, for example.
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