Etymological Composition of the English Vocabulary
As a result of their common descent the Indo-European languages have preserved many features in common both in their grammatical structures, in their phonetic systems, and in their vocabularies.
There is not the slightest doubt that the English word ‘brother’ is allied to German Bruder, Latin frater, and Russian áðàò.
The English word ‘guest’ is related to German Gast, Latin hostis, and Russian ãîñòü.
The oldest part of the English vocabulary corresponds etymologically to the oldest parts of the vocabularies of the other Indo-European languages.
The English vocabulary contains also words whose etymological equivalents are found only in Germanic languages. The English word ‘house’ has its counterparts in German Haus, Swedish hus, Danish huus, etc. But this root is not found anywhere outside the Germanic languages. Similarly, the English noun ‘finger’ is cognate with German Finger, Swedish finger, etc., and the English verb ‘drink’ with Dutch drinken, German trinken. In non-Germanic languages these words are not represented. Thus, the Germanic languages differ from other Indo-European languages with regard to some part of their vocabularies. One of the theories accounting for these (and other) innovations of the Germanic languages is the so-called substratum hypothesis.
The Germanic tribes, probably, were not the first inhabitants of Northwest Europe. They had to subjugate some aboriginal people in order to settle in those places. The usual process of language crossing followed, as a result of which the Germanic dialects borrowed many words from the speech of the subject people. Some of these borrowings proved to be most essential and became a typical feature of the Germanic vocabulary.
The vocabulary of Old English resembled the vocabularies of other Old Germanic languages with regard to the common Indo-European and specifically Germanic elements. There were very few exclusively English words like ‘clipian’ “cry”, though specifically English compounds were much more numerous, e.g. wif-man (woman), hlaford (<hlāf-weard) (lord), etc.
The extent of the Old English vocabulary is estimated at about 30 thousand words – less than a tenth part of the number of words registered by modern English dictionaries. It is also estimated that about 85 per cent of the OE vocabulary has been lost and replaced over the centuries mostly by Latin and French loan-words.
Only about 450 words were borrowed from other languages during the Old English period. Most of them came from Latin. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes, together with other Germanic tribes, had been in contact with the Romans and adopted Latin words long before the invasion of Britain. Some words were introduced by Roman travelling merchants who sold the Germanic tribes wine, fruit, and other products, hence such borrowings as wine, butter, cherry, pear, cup, mint, etc.
Other Latin borrowings were connected with the fortifications built by the Romans both on the continent and on the island of Great Britain. Here belong such words as wall, port, street (road), the root ‘chester’ in the names of some English towns, e.g. Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, etc. (L. castra – a military camp).
But most Latin borrowings of the Old English period followed the introduction of Christianity in the 7th century: angel, altar, bishop, priest, candle, school, etc.
What surprises an investigator of the English vocabulary is the exceedingly small number of Celtic words borrowed from the speech of the Britons with whom the Anglo-Saxons were in contact for many centuries (cradle, down, dun, bin). But the Anglo-Saxons borrowed many Celtic place-names, such as York, Thames, Kent, Avon, Dover, etc.
Borrowings played a much greater role in Middle English than in Old English. They came mostly from two sources: Scandinavian and French.
The extent of the Scandinavian influence can be inferred from the fact that even personal pronouns were borrowed: they, them, their, she. Other borrowings are the Modern English husband, fellow, window, egg, leg, take, die, odd, sky, skin, skirt, ill, give, want, etc.
After the Norman conquest a great number of Norman French loans testify that the Normans were the rulers of the country. Here belong words denoting ranks(sovereign, prince, duke, count, baron, peer, noble), titles of respect (sir, madam), administrative words (state, government, parliament, court, reign, royal, majesty, nation, tax, etc.), legal terms (justice, judge, jury, decree, crime, verdict, prison, sentence, etc.), military terms (army, navy, defence, war, battle, victory, soldier, sergeant, captain, etc.), religious terms (religion, faith, clergy, parson, pray, preach, saint, miracle), words reflecting the life and habits of nobility (pleasure, leisure, feast, dance, fashion, jewel), French dominance in the arts and literature (art, colour, beauty, paint, music, poem, romance).
If we take into consideration not only the meanings of words but their forms as well, we have to distinguish between two varieties of French borrowings: Norman French and Parisian French. The Norman conquerors brought with them a peculiar northern dialect of French that differed in many ways from Parisian or Central French. Up to the 13th century French borrowings came mostly from Norman French. Later the majority of French loan-words came from Parisian French. It often happened that a word was borrowed twice, first from Norman French, then from Parisian French, thus forming etymological doublets, e.g. canal – channel, catch – chase, hostel – hotel.
The Renaissance period was marked by a tremendous influence of Latin and Greek upon the English vocabulary. This time they were bookish words, often scientific or technical terms, like formula, nucleus, radius, item, minimum, etc. Greek loans are even more specifically terminological. The names of most sciences are of Greek origin – mathematics, physics, botany, psychology, lexicology, etc.
English borrowed heavily from many other languages.
From Italian came a great number of words, some of them relating to the arts: volcano, granite, manifesto, carnival, macaroni, zero, violin, opera, piano, tempo, solo, studio, ballerina, etc.
From Spanish and Portuguese English adopted many words connected with the American colonies, and other spheres of life: potato, tomato, cocoa, tobacco, banana, cigar, Negro, canoe, ranch, alligator, cobra, guitar, cargo, barricade, cafeteria, etc.
Russian borrowings before the revolution include such words as sable, astrakhan, sterlet, tsar, duma, pogrom, rouble, copeck, verst, taiga, tundra, samovar, balalaika, intelligentsia. Among the words borrowed after the revolution we find leninism, bolshevik, Soviet, kolkhoz, undarnik, Stakhanovite, sputnik, lunnik, lunokhod. Besides, there are numerous translation-loans like collective farm, five-year plan, palace of culture, etc.
English has borrowed many words from almost all the languages of the globe, Dutch, German, Arabic, Hindi, etc.
Altogether about 70% of all the words to be found in an unabridged dictionary of Modern English are said to have been borrowed from other languages, especially French, Latin and Greek.