Science Publishing Hamburg - Semantic Change in the Early Modern English Period: Latin Influences on the English Language (2023)




Table of Contents



2.The Early Modern English Period
2.1Time Frame
2.3Growing Literacy

3.Latin versus English in the Early Modern English Period
3.1The Integration of Latin Loanwords
3.2The Inkhorn Controversy

4.Language Change
4.1Lexical Change
4.2Semantic Change

5.Patterns of Semantic Change due to Latin Influences on Early Modern English
5.1The Method
5.2The Oxford English Dictionary
5.3Analysis in the Field of Human Anatomy
5.3.1Backbone and Spine
5.3.2Body and Corpus
5.3.3Brain and Cerebrum
5.3.4Finger and Digitus
5.3.5Head and Caput
5.3.6Midriff and Diaphragm
5.3.7Navel and Umbilicum
5.3.8Nostril and Nare
5.3.9Throat and Fauces
5.3.10Womb and Abdomen, Intestine, Uterus, Matrix
5.3.11Interim Result
5.4Analysis of other Subjects
5.4.4Interim Result




Since I was a major of English and Latin, I chose to combine these two subjects in this paper. My great interest in the history of the English language further encouraged this decision: I was going to analyse the influences of Latin borrowings on their semantics of English equivalents with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary Online. I chose the Early Modern English period because it is a time of massive influx of Latin loanwords into the English language on several fields, such as anatomy, medicine, botany or architecture. In this way, I planned to examine several synonymous couplets belonging to different fields. However, I found out during my research that the subject of human anatomy was the one which was most affected in our time frame. This is why I concentrated on examples from this field. Concerning secondary literature, the analysis of semantic change due to Latin influences appears to be a rather unexplored issue, since I was hardly able to find works that are related to this topic. Hence, I developed my very own method of coping with the research, using various glossaries, the Ist Hhkjhfds Historical Thesaurus of English[1] and primarily the Oxford English Dictionary Online. This method will also be described in detail in this paper.

During my work I was well supported by Prof. Dr. Thomas Honegger, who always gave me valuable advice about questions concerning content and form. I am very grateful for all his help. Moreover, I want to thank my girlfriend Annabelle for having been so encouraging but also so patient with me all the time. Last but not least, I appreciate the great support of my family and my dear friends, who were simply there for me.

1. Introduction

Throughout the history of English the language was changing steadily. Not only was the English grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary being altered over the centuries but also the semantics of the lexemes. The changes in the field of semantics might have had several reasons. According to Antoine Meillet[2], a French linguist, there are basically three major causes of semantic change: changes of the socio-cultural circumstances, the linguistic context in which a word is used, or changes of the respective concept itself or of the point of view from which the concept is seen. The third and most significant factor that has a considerable impact on the semantics of words is the influence of foreign languages and, to be more precise, the influence of borrowings. Lehmann explains the phenomenon of semantic change due to the impact of borrowing in his book Historical Linguistics: an Introduction (1992: 260-61) as follows:

The third basis for semantic change, and change in the lexical component of language, Meillet found in the influence of other languages [...]. The process by which words are imported into a language is known as borrowing. It has by far the greatest effect on the lexicon of the three processes discussed by Meillet [...].

(Video) The History of English: Middle English to Early Modern English

Apart from Greek and French, Latin had a remarkable influence on English at each stage of the development of the language. As a result of the contact with Roman invaders and the Roman civilisation, for instance, and due to the Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons by Roman missionaries during the Dark Ages, a considerable number of Latin words were constantly pouring into Old English, as Baugh and Cable (cf. 2002: 70) state.[3] In Middle English times after the Norman Conquest in 1066 a huge amount of Latin words made their way into English via French predominantly in the fields of administration, religion, law, military, food, fashion, social life, art and education (cf. ibid: 155ff, 171). Finally, Latin as the prestigious, international language of scholarship still had a significant influence on Early Modern English. Thus, Nevalainen (2006: 52) points out that “Latin was the most common source for Early Modern English loan words.” However, Latin was gradually losing its massive impact on the language during these centuries, while English was gaining more and more prestige in many respects, also in the fields of scholarship.

This paper deals with semantic changes due to these Latin influences on the English language in the Early Modern English period. The aim of the following analysis is to determine potential patterns of meaning alterations of English lexemes that were caused by the influx of Latin-derived equivalents between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries. In the subsequent sections the Early Modern English period is portrayed including its historical and social-cultural backgrounds. Afterwards, the roles of Latin and English in that time will be illustrated, also considering the integration of Latin loanwords into English. In order to discuss meaning changes due to Latin influences, we will then take a closer look at language modifications in general, lexical change and the various types of semantic change by which English words might have been affected. The sections following these illustrations are going to contain the semantic analysis of exemplary synonymous pairs, each consisting of an English element and its Latin-derived equivalent, with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary Online. Pairs belonging to the subject of human anatomy are to be considered primarily, but also words of other lexical fields, such as medicine, botany and architecture, in order to determine common patterns of semantic change.

2. The Early Modern English Period

In many respects, the step from Middle English to Modern English is by far too great to take it without identifying a transitional period. This period is usually referred to as the “Early Modern English period”, which is frequently dated from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. On the one hand, Early Modern English is somewhat different from Middle English. As an example, the pronunciation changed to a great extent due to the Great Vowel Shift.[4] On the other hand, although Early Modern English looks quite familiar to us, it is in some respect still unlike Modern English in terms of orthography, syntax, morphology and semantics and, hence, worth being considered separately.

The beginning of the Early Modern English period is characterised by the introduction of the printing press to England by Caxton and, thus, by the change from handwritings to printed books, essays or pamphlets. The printing press is also seen as one reason for the growing literacy among the people of that time and for the gradual standardisation processes of written English due to the publications of grammar and spelling books. By the eighteenth century the Great Vowel Shift and the standardisation and regularisation of written English were finished to a great extent. While Latin and French were still the languages of the elite and of international scholarship in the Middle English period and at the beginning of Early Modern English times, the attitude towards the English language was changing due to several factors and, thus, English was gaining more and more prestige even in fields like sciences and theology. In addition, as a result of colonisation and the expansion of the British Empire, the English language has started to spread all over the world from then on. This is also why this time is typically regarded as the end of the Early Modern English period.

The following subsections provide a deeper insight into the period of Early Modern English. First, its time frame and its setting will be illustrated and discussed. Secondly, we will take a closer look at the growing literacy and the standardisation processes. The roles of Latin and English in that time are going to be analysed afterwards. Then, we will take into consideration how Latin loanwords were integrated into the English language, and that the influx of loanwords was thoroughly debated in the so-called “Inkhorn Controversy”.

2.1 Time Frame

The English language was changing to a great extent over the centuries. In general, its development is divided into three major stages: the Old English period, which is said to be before circa 1100, the time of Middle English, between circa 1100 and the fifteenth century, and the Modern English period, from the fifteenth century onwards. Concerning the Modern English period, many linguists, as Nevalainen (2006: 1) points out in his book An Introduction to Early Modern English, further distinguish between “Early Modern English and Late Modern English with 1700 as a dividing line.” However, there is disagreement among scholars on the exact starting and end point of the Early Modern English period, which is in the focus of this paper. Thus, this section is aimed to determine this time frame.

In The Stories of English, David Crystal (cf. 2005: 285) claims that it is hard to find a particular starting point and an exact date for the end of the Early Modern English time. He agrees with Kastovsky (cf. 2006: 256) who considers the introduction of the printing press in England in 1476 and, as a consequence of that, the growing literacy among the people as the beginning of the era. Jucker (cf. 2000: 41), van Gelderen (cf. 2006: 155) and Lass (cf. 1999: 1) largely concur with this view and regard the time around 1500 as the starting point as well.

Moreover, the linguist Nevalainen (cf. 2006: 8) determines linguistic developments, especially developments in grammar, as “conventional, but basically arbitrary cut-off points”. The verb do, for instance, was introduced as an auxiliary to negative and interrogative clauses during the Early Modern English period. Furthermore, which was replaced by who with reference to humans. The second person singular pronoun thou and constructions of multiple negations disappeared from most contexts. As Nevalainen points out, “some of these changes are shared by most varieties of English, while others have come to be associated with the rise of the standard language.” However, as the scholar admits, those linguistic developments may occur during a certain time, “[...] but need not last throughout the period, or [necessarily] form the beginning and end-points for it.” (both quotations from Nevalainen 2006: 8)

In contrast to the large concurrence with the starting point, there is no agreement on the end point of the Early Modern English time frame, which, simultaneously, marks the beginning of the Late Modern English period. In his publication “Early Modern English”, Kastovsky (cf. 2006: 256) identifies the end of the Stuart period and the accession of William of Orange to the throne in 1689 with the end of Early Middle English. Jucker (cf. 2000: 41) and van Gelderen (cf. 2006: 155) agree on the time around 1700, when “the Great Vowel Shift [was] more or less complete and the spelling relatively uniform” (van Gelderen 2006: 155). Lass (cf. 1999: 1) even regards 1776, the year of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, as the end point of the period.

For the purposes of this paper, the time from the fifteenth up to the eighteenth century will be considered as the time frame of the Early Modern English period. Thus, the introduction of the printing press by Caxton in 1476 is regarded as the approximate starting point, since this event has had huge cultural and especially linguistic impact on the centuries following it, as illustrated in the subsequent section. The eighteenth century has been chosen as the end of the period because, as has been shown above, it is difficult to determine a very precise date. Considering the topic of this paper, this rather rough time frame is regarded as appropriate enough: the long-lasting processes of semantic changes due to the influence of Latin may start in our time frame or may have started even before, last through the Early Modern English period, but may also not be finished until a certain year which someone has determined vaguely as the end of our era.

2.2 Setting

The Early Modern English period can roughly be treated as the time between the fifteenth and the eighteenth century. This includes the end of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, as Roger Lass points out in the introduction of The Cambridge History of the English Language (cf. Lass 1999: 1). These eras are, according to Kastovsky, “[...] periods of important cultural, political and intellectual upheavals” (Kastovsky 2006: 256) and, as Strang claims, also a time of “broadening horizons” with linguistic consequences as well, such as the expansion of the vocabulary through borrowing (cf. Strang 1994: 20). In addition, the English written language became standardised to a great extent in this time frame, as can be read in detail in section 2.4. Moreover, the reading population was growing more and more, which will be illustrated in section 2.3, and “[...] the vernacular was extended to practically all contexts of speech and writing [...]” (Kastovsky 2006: 256).

It seems that the Early Modern English period is a time of changes in many respects. Beginning with the consideration of the world-view of those days, which was being transformed enormously in Europe around the fifteenth century, the change was very drastic. In The Cambridge History of the English Language, Lass (1999: 1) describes the European world-view in the Middle Ages before this turning point as follows:

Fifteenth-century Europe was still essentially medieval, living in a geocentric and finite cosmos, the fixed stars bounding the universe beyond the crystalline planetary spheres. No celestial objects invisible to the naked eye were known, nor, at the other extreme, any organisms or structures smaller than the naked eye could see. In the natural world, maggots generated spontaneously from rotten meat, the heart was the seat of the emotions, and the arteries carried air.

This view of the world, however, had undergone a radical change two centuries later. The universe was considered infinite and heliocentric from then on and, hence, the earth and the man were not in the centre of it anymore. Besides, as Lass (1999: 2) states, the “sensory horizons were broadened in both directions”. Thus, “Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter, and Leeuwenhoek had seen spermatozoa” (ibid) – objects that had been either too far away or too small to be visible to the naked eye. In terms of anatomy and medicine, the circulation of the blood was discovered and demonstrated by William Harvey (cf. Lass: 1999: 2).Not only in the fields of science did massive changes happen but there were also political and cultural aspects, which are to be considered here: the Catholic Church lost much of its power and influence in England and Europe as a consequence of the Reformation and the separation of the Church of England from the Pope. This was, primarily, a result of the struggles of Henry VIII of England with Rome. Thus, liturgies were then held in English and bibles were translated from Latin and printed and published in English as well. Additionally, the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church was no longer the head of the Anglican Church and, as a consequence, replaced by the English sovereign.

Moreover, England had experienced a number of other political changes by the eighteenth century. It had been confronted with “[...] a regicide, a commonwealth, the flight of the hereditary monarch, and the accession of a foreign king who signed away much of his power” by the year 1800 (Lass 1999: 3). In the mid-seventeenth century already, the key structures of modern parliamentary democracy were basically set up and the monarchy was somehow (but not in its modern sense) ‘constitutional’.

(Video) Mod-02 Lec-10 Early Modern English

In addition, the significance of Latin in English literary works was gradually in decline: England was separated from the Roman Catholic Church by Henry VIII through a religious reformation in 1534, as already mentioned above (cf. van Gelderen 2006: 158). Thus, the Catholic Church lost its power in the country and, as a consequence, Latin lost its massive impact as well, as Singh (cf. 2005: 140) points out in her book The History of English. The introduction of the printing press to London by Caxton in 1476 and the growing literacy among the population in these centuries further increased the replacement of Latin by the English language, for example through the publications of English translations of the Bible and the productions of English dictionaries, spelling guides and grammar books. Thus, Singh states (2005: 140-144):

Their general success with the reading populace is a sure indication not only of an increasing awareness and acceptance of the language in written media but also of an increasing awareness and acceptance of a particular form of written English.

This, in the end, also led to the standardisation of written English.

Socio-economically speaking, the Early Modern English period saw migration to large cities in England; it was a time that was characterised by poverty, banishment and eviction. Moreover, the seventeenth century was marked by slavery in large scales from the African continent to the Americas, which had influences on the English language as well. The Renaissance period, fostering “scientific and scholarly inquiry and a humanistic world-view” was also a time of “freedom of ideas; for language that means freedom in creating and borrowing words”, for example from Latin (van Gelderen 2006: 155).

In linguistic terms, the English language was about to become more analytic during that epoch. The Great Vowel Shift was widely finished and spelling was, as explained further above, more or less standardised (cf. van Gelderen 2006: 155).

In the meantime, the English language had spread all over the world due to the establishment of an empire of Anglophone enclaves from the Americas to East India. Before the eighteenth century, English had almost exclusively been spoken within the territories of England, Scotland, Wales and parts of Ireland and, hence, had been “far from being a world language” (Lass 1999: 3). As a consequence of the expansion of the English language, first of all after the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, the ‘New Englishes’, such as the American, South African and Australian varieties, developed. Moreover, not only did the English language spread to other parts of the world due to the colonisation by the English, but the native languages of the colonised areas equally influenced the English language, for instance through borrowing. The renewed contact with other European languages, such as Dutch or Italian, also led to mutual borrowings, as it still does today. The most important language contact, however, was “the continuing one with Latin”, as Lass claims (cf. 1999: 3-4).

Finally, in terms of art and particularly painting, Dürer, Holbein, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau and Reynolds are only some painters of that time who are to be mentioned here. In the field of music, important musicians such as Palestrina, Monteverdi, Purcell, the Bachs, Mozart and Haydn influenced the time between the fifteenth and eighteenth century. Some Early Modern English poets were Skelton, Spenser, Milton, Dryden and Collins; prose-writers of that time in England were Sir Thomas More, Bacon, Burton, Swift and Addison; dramatists include Shakespeare, Fletcher and Sheridan, to enumerate only a few of them (cf. Lass 1999: 2).

Thomas More (1478-1535), for instance, published his Utopia in Latin in 1515 and some other humanist and dramatic literary pieces. The translations of the Iliad and Odyssey were also important works of the Early Modern English period. Shakespeare (1564-1616) steadily produced his masterpieces in the time between 1590 and 1616, also introducing a considerable number of Latin-derived words. The Fairie Qveene by Edmund Spenser (1552-1592) was published in 1596. Scientific and philosophical works that were published in the Early Modern English period – many of these still in Latin – are William Harvey’s (1578-1657) text on the discovery of the blood circulation, or the writings by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727). However, some works were already written in English such as Robert Boyle’s (1627-1691) The Sceptical Chymist or John Locke’s (1632-1704) Essay Concerning Human Understanding from 1690 (cf. van Gelderen 2006: 158-159).

As could be shown in this section, the Early Modern English period was a time of massive changes in England, Europe and the whole world. It included the waning of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. In England, in particular, it was a time of great authors and scientists, of important political and cultural changes, of innovations and inventions. Many of these factors also had linguistic consequences and, thus, influences on the English language as well.

2.3 Growing Literacy

Until the fifteenth century, literary works, especially scientific, legal and religious ones, had been written almost exclusively in Latin, the “international language of scholarship” (Barber 1997: 43). Hence, they had been aimed at a scholarly audience, which had been able to read and understand them. With the introduction of the printing press to England, however, the reading population was growing more and more. According to the book A History of the English Language by van Gelderen (cf. 2006: 158), 20,000 titles were published in English between 1476 and 1640. This also suggests that the English language found increasing favour with the reading public in that time, which was also caused by nationalism emerging among the people in the country (cf. Barber 1997: 45). This will be explained in further detail in the third section of this paper on the roles of Latin and English. As an example, the Bible was translated into English and its publication was made possible “[a]fter Henry VIII [had] managed to lessen the power of the Pope in the 1530s” (van Gelderen 2006: 158). This Bible was the so-called Coverdale’s Great Bible, which was followed by the publication of the authorised version of the King James Bible in 1611, again a translation into English.

In 1565, the Iliad and the Odyssey were translated and published in English as well. Additionally, Shakespeare began to write English works from 1590 onwards. All of these works prove both an increasing demand for literature in the people’s mother tongue and a growing reading public. Similarly, Jucker (2000: 45) claims in his writing History of English and English Historical Linguistics that “literacy levels improved considerably,” which resulted in the demand for more and more books and, at the same time, in the huge demand for learning in the Early Modern English period. As a consequence, educational facilities were on the increase, too: schools and universities were founded and, thus, teaching materials (in English) were required (cf. Singh 2005: 143). The establishment of the new “petty school”, where writing and reading was in English as well, further contributed to the increase in literacy among the people (cf. Barber 1997: 45). Moreover, according to Jucker (cf. 2000: 45), the improvement of postal services in the 16th and 17th century influenced written communication and, thus, enhanced literacy to a great extent, too.

Besides, this increase led to the development of new genres and text types, which was also triggered by the introduction of the printing press. Thus, publishing texts was not solely the privilege of the Church any longer (cf. Jucker 2000: 46). In the early fifteenth century, for instance, a first form of mass media was introduced: pamphlets. They were “cheap and fast to produce” and they were “published in reaction to the events of the day”, comparable to a newspaper today (Jucker 2000: 46). A second genre was the drama, which was gaining more and more popularity and which was becoming more elaborate. Before that time the plays had been performed on market places or in front of churches. In the era of Shakespeare and Marlowe, as Jucker states, dramas were, however, performed by professional actors.

In scientific writings Latin was dominant in the late fourteenth century and was still preferred by many scholars during the Early Modern English period. Handbooks in Latin, for example of the medical type, became the genre of scientific writing. These handbooks could also be written in dialogue form like real conversations, for example between a master and a student. At the end of our period, however, “English had asserted itself as the language of science.” (Jucker 2000: 47).

Finally, the first English newspaper was published in 1620. Other text types, which were developing in those days and which are just to be mentioned briefly at this point, are written observations and experiments as well as court records as representations of spoken words (cf. Jucker 2000: 48-49).

Thanks to new technologies, novel ideas, scientific progress, the growing literacy and the increase of genres and text types written in Latin but gradually more often in English as well, the Early Modern English period has become known as a time of “great lexical enrichment” and of a very fast growing English vocabulary. Gaps had had to be filled, concepts named and new words invented or borrowed from French and especially from Latin until “[...] English asserted its place as the language for all communicative purposes.” (Jucker 2000: 50)

(Video) Early Modern Voice and the Representation of Racial Difference

2.4 Standardisation

Old and Middle English orthography and grammar might appear to be rather arbitrary to speakers of Modern English. The spelling of words differed from writer to writer and may even have differed in works by one and the same author. There were no English dictionaries or grammars yet, which would have contributed to the standardisation process and, thus, which could have regulated and fixed the language. However, in the Early Modern English period English was gaining more and more prestige and was becoming increasingly eloquent (Jucker 2000: 44). As illustrated in section 2.2, important works were then written in English, the vocabulary was expanded, for example due to borrowing and compounding, and devices of classical rhetoric were used to adorn literary pieces (Barber 1997: 52). The English language was simply in need of being fixed and regulated.

As explained above, the attitudes towards English were changing at that time. Due to the new “linguistic awareness” in the Early Modern English period, the standardisation processes began (cf. Crystal 2005: 286). Additionally, Lass (cf. 1999: 8) points out that there was a general desire in late Renaissance and Enlightenment England for “linguistic ‘normalisation’ and ‘stabilisation’.” As a consequence, the first English grammars, spelling guides and dictionaries were produced and published, even faster and in huge amounts now that the printing press had been introduced. They were cheaper and, hence, affordable for a great number of people, which also led to the demand for learning and the growth of the reading population (Lass 1999: 6). Thus, dictionaries and grammars could be spread all over the country and expedited the standardisation of written English: the orthography was further regulated with the emergence of the ‘one word: one spelling’ principle; the punctuation was stabilised to some extent as well (cf. Lass 1999: 10). “For a long time,” Lass explains, “public writing was much more bound by these developing conventions than private writing [...], but they gradually penetrated the private sphere as well.” (ibid)

Concerning spelling conventions, some basic changes have been illustrated by Roger Lass (cf. 1999: 10-11), which will be explained briefly in the following paragraph. As an example, the use of the consonants <u> and <v> was regulated. Before this time <v> had been used word-initially and <u> within words regardless of whether a writer meant a vowel or a consonant (for example vpon, ouerspread from Spenser). From Early Modern English times onwards, the modern, unambiguous way of using these letters became standard. Similarly, the use of double consonants, which was still rather arbitrary in Middle English times, became standardised, too: from then on a double consonant usually indicated, as it is today, that a vowel preceding it is short in quality. A double consonant as mere typographic decoration was abolished (for example Spenser’s mortall). Word-final <-e> was dropped in that time (cf. Spenser taile) as well.

As could be shown in this section, the English language was on its way to become the language as we know it today. The Early Modern English period can, hence, be regarded as the precursor of Modern English. The language was standardised and regularised in terms of orthography and grammar, which was also due to the introduction of the printing press, the growing literacy connected to that, and the publications of the first grammar books and English dictionaries. The impact of Latin and the role of English during these developments is described in the following sections

3. Latin versus English in the Early Modern English Period

The core of English, since it is a Germanic language, is of Germanic origin. This includes its vocabulary and its grammar. Nevertheless, the contact between English and other languages has influenced the English language and the respective other languages as well. Thus, Romance and particularly Latinate words have poured into English over the centuries and influenced the Old, Middle and Modern English lexicon. Latin words either have been borrowed directly or they have been filtered to some extent through another Romance language such as French or Italian. In the Dark Ages already, i.e. in the Old English period, words were taken over from Latin due to the contact between the Germanic tribes and the Romans (cf. van Gelderen 2006: 73). In Middle English times after the Norman Conquest in 1066, the English vocabulary was enriched by borrowing lexemes basically from French or from Latin via French (cf. Nevalainen 1999: 365). Besides, Latin as a direct donor of loanwords still had great influence on the English language in the Early Modern English period from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The role of Latin in these very centuries is going to be portrayed in the following paragraphs.

At the beginning of the period, according to Singh (2005: 139), English was only “secondary in status to Latin”, at least in the fields of scholarship. As the “lingua franca” of the international scholars in those days, the language was considered prestigious, whereas English was usually described as ‘vulgar’ and ‘barbarous’ (cf. Jucker, 1999: 43). Although English was the “official language of the chancery, the office of the royal scribes”, and although it was already used in official and formal situations, it still did not have enough prestige “[...] to be used in all fields of knowledge”, as Jucker (ibid) points out. It lacked precise words and was not fixed and, hence, unstable and changing. On the contrary, Latin as a dead language owned exactly these properties and was fixed, stable and unchanging. As a result, it was still used at universities, grammar schools and in scholarship. Scientific and philosophical works were, thus, typically written in Latin, such as the writings by the statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon, the physician William Harvey, the mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton as well as the astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei (cf. Jucker 2000: 43).

Latin as well as French, as David Crystal (2005: 288) explains, were associated with “high style, scholarship, and rhetorical excellence. English was not.” However, English was gaining more and more prestige since it was gradually becoming an eloquent language: important works were translated from Latin and other languages into English and, as a consequence, the Early Modern English vocabulary expanded rapidly by borrowing new lexemes, as Jucker (cf. 2000: 43) claims. Thus, the language was steadily improving “[...] by adopting the properties of French and Latin [...] such as their vocabulary, balanced sentence construction, and features of rhetoric” (Crystal 2005: 288). This is why the number of Latin loanwords was on rapid increase during the fifteenth century and “in the sixteenth century they [the loanwords] became so numerous along with words from Greek, that the character of the English lexicon was permanently altered.” (ibid) These linguistic developments mirror a shift of cultural and cognitive values in the course of the cultural, historical and socio-economic changes in England, which were portrayed in detail in section 2.2.

Depending on the epoch of the Renaissance (approximately from 1500 to 1650), marked by the “new interest in the classical languages” (Jucker 2000: 42), borrowing from Latin and Greek was virtually promoted. Even words from Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch were also pouring into Early Modern English during that time. With the help of the Chronological English Dictionary it is possible to illustrate the influx of loanwords from particular languages at a certain time. The following data by Nevalainen is meant to serve as a rough basis to demonstrate the different sources of new words recorded for 1604 (the year when Robert Cawdrey’s hard-word dictionary Table Alphabeticall was published). These words have their origins in various languages. However, it is sometimes hard to determine whether a word was taken from one language or the other (for example Italian vs. Spanish, Dutch vs. German). The main sources and their frequencies can be read in (1):

(1) Sources of new lexemes first cited in 1604 taken from the CED (total amount of new words in 1604: 179):

Latin 30%

French 29%

Native Germanic 20%

Spanish 6%

Native languages of Peru 2%

Greek 1%

(Video) History of English 9: Modern English

Dutch 1%

Other languages (less than 1% each) 5%

e.g. Arabic




Etymology unknown 6%

(taken from Nevalainen 2006: 51)

As can be seen from the data in (1), the influence of Latin lexemes (also via French) is by far the greatest among all others. More than 60 per cent of the new words recorded for 1604 were taken over from French or Latin. However, it is not always easy to tell, according to Nevalainen (2006: 51), “[...] whether a word was borrowed straight from Latin or from Latin via French”, as already referred to above. In contrast, only 20 per cent derived from Germanic patterns of word-formation. Although there was a large number of Latin loanwords pouring into the language at that time the Germanic element always remained “[...] the backbone of English vocabulary even after the Early Modern English period.” (Nevalainen 2006: 51, 57)

Usually, Latin lexemes could be adopted easily in order to describe new concepts, novel perspectives, techniques and products as well as innovations and inventions as a result of the advances in technology in that era precisely. According to Crystal, Latinate words were frequently used in the fields of architecture, law, theology, education and sciences, for example in mathematics, biology, medicine or anatomy (cf. Crystal 2005: 288-289). Following Nevalainen (1999: 365) and his article “Early Modern English Lexis and Semantics”, “[m]athematics and architecture appear to reach their peaks in 1560-74, anatomy in 1610-24, and architecture, botany and general scientific terms again in 1660-74.” For scholars, the advantage of Latin words in these contexts was the fact that they were generally precise and not ambiguous, contrary to native English lexemes (Singh 2005: 162). Indeed, according to Singh (ibid), English lacked exact terms that were equivalent to Latin ones. This is why many scholars were simply forced to fill the gaps in the English language with Latinate borrowings. However, since Latin words, still used as technical terms though, were becoming increasingly unfashionable in general use at the end of the Early Modern English period, new borrowings from Latin were usually associated with technical registers (cf. Nevalainen 1999: 365).

While many scientific and philosophical writings were still published in Latin at the beginning of the Early Modern English time, the English language was gaining more and more prestige and had replaced Latin in many fields by the end of the period. As a consequence of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church, English was used in church services then and replaced Latin liturgies. Another reason for the rise of the English language is the fact that it was allowed to translate and publish bibles in English and, hence, these books have been available to a large number of people in the country from then on.

The Reformation movements were also a cause of the growing status of English. Thus, people who were active in the controversies wanted to reach as many readers as possible and published their essays in English. Protestants or those who were attracted by Protestantism frequently did not have a classical education and, as a consequence, published their pamphlets and controversial books in their mother tongue rather than in Latin, for example Sir Thomas More or John Milton (cf. Barber 2004: 176). In his book The English Language. A Historical Introduction Barber even points out that “[...] extreme Protestants, indeed, regarded Latin as a ‘Popish’ language, designed to keep ordinary people in ignorance and to maintain the power of priests.” (ibid)


[1] This is still a test project. The thesaurus is going to be included into the Oxford English Dictionary Online at the end of 2010.

[2] After Lehmann (1992: 260): Cf. Antoine Meillet, Linguistique Historique et Linguistique Générale (Paris: Champion, 1926-28) 230-71.

(Video) Medical humanism, translation and early modern prose fiction

[3] Latin “[...] was the language of a highly regarded civilization, one from which the Anglo-Saxons wanted to learn. Contact with that civilization, at first commercial and military, later religious and intellectual, extended over many centuries and was constantly renewed. It began long before the Anglo-Saxons came to England and continued throughout the Old English period.” (Baugh and Cable, 2002: 70).

[4] Basically, the Great Vowel Shift, a set of phonological changes, means the raising and/or diphthongisation of long vowels (cf. Jucker 2000: 53-54).


What factors influenced the rise of Modern English? ›

The new factors were the printing press, the rapid spread of popular education, the increased communication and means of communication, the growth of specialized knowledge, and the emergence of various forms of self-consciousness about language.

What is semantic change PDF? ›

Semantic change refers to the way in which the meaning of a word changes over long or short stretches of time. It can be internally or externally motivated . The equivalent to the paradigm in morphology is ,in semantics , the word field in which words and their meanings stand in a network of relationships .

How did Middle English change to Modern English? ›

Middle English then evolved into Modern English through the introduction of more well-documented works, printing technology, and a marked shift in vowels and standardization.

What are the types of semantic change? ›

Common types of semantic change include amelioration, pejoration, broadening, semantic narrowing, bleaching, metaphor, and metonymy. Semantic change may also occur when native speakers of another language adopt English expressions and apply them to activities or conditions in their own social and cultural environment.

What are the 3 major influences on English? ›

From the earliest stages of its development, English has come into contact with a number of foreign languages. The major influences on the English language were Latin, Scandinavian, and Norman French, each associated with distinct changes to its lexicon, pronunciation, and grammar.

What is semantics English with examples? ›

Semantics is the study of meaning in language. It can be applied to entire texts or to single words. For example, "destination" and "last stop" technically mean the same thing, but students of semantics analyze their subtle shades of meaning.

What factors lead to semantic changes? ›

Although there is no set reason for which the meanings of words change, semantic changes occur when the usage of words gradually changes as a language gets spoken generation after generation.

What was the main cause of the changes in the English language? ›

First, it changes because the needs of its speakers change. New technologies, new products, and new experiences require new words to refer to them clearly and efficiently.

What caused the English language to change? ›

Some of the main influences on the evolution of languages include: The movement of people across countries and continents, for example migration and, in previous centuries, colonisation. For example, English speakers today would probably be comfortable using the Spanish word “loco” to describe someone who is “crazy”.

How did English change in the early modern period? ›

The vocabulary of English expanded greatly during the early modern period. Writers were well aware of this and argued about it. Some were in favour of loanwords to express new concepts, especially from Latin. Others advocated the use of existing English words, or new compounds of them, for this purpose.

What is the semantic change in English? ›

Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression, semantic development, or semantic drift) is a form of language change regarding the evolution of word usage—usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage.

What are the two main areas of semantics? ›

"Based on the distinction between the meanings of words and the meanings of sentences, we can recognize two main divisions in the study of semantics: lexical semantics and phrasal semantics.

What are the two types of semantics? ›

Semantics is the study of meaning. There are two types of meaning: conceptual meaning and associative meaning.

What is the greatest influence of Latin upon Old English? ›

The greatest influence of Latin upon Old English was occasioned by the conversion of Britain to Roman Christianity beginning in 597.

What are the two major influences on Old English? ›

Old English developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or Ingvaeonic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

How did Latin affect Old English literature? ›

The greatest influence of Latin upon Old English was occasioned by the introduction of Christianity into Britain in 597. The new faith was far from new in the island, but this date marks the beginning of a systematic attempt on the part of Rome to convert the inhabitants and make England a Christian country.

What are 3 influences that can change a language? ›

Traditional theories of historical linguistics identify three main types of change: systematic change in the pronunciation of phonemes, or sound change; borrowing, in which features of a language or dialect are altered as a result of influence from another language or dialect; and analogical change, in which the shape ...

How much influence does Latin have on English? ›

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.

What are four ways the English language changes? ›

Types of Language Change

Generation by generation, pronunciations evolve, new words are borrowed or invented, the meaning of old words drifts, and morphology develops or decays.

What are the 7 types of semantics? ›

Linguistic meaning can be broken into seven types: conceptual, connotative, collocative, social, affective, reflected and thematic.

What is semantics in English language? ›

1. the branch of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and the principles that govern the relationship between sentences or words and their meanings. 2. the study of the relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent. 3.

Why is semantics important in language? ›

The aim of semantics is to discover why meaning is more complex than simply the words formed in a sentence. Semantics will ask questions such as: “why is the structure of a sentence important to the meaning of the sentence?

Why is semantics important for English language learners? ›

Semantics aims to determine meanings and explain relationships between patterns of language and what is referred to. "In dealing with meaning, a distinction is generally made between grammatical meaning, which is treated in the grammar, and referential meaning, which is treated in the lexicon," Lehmann writes.

What are the three basic semantic challenges for English learners? ›

Common semantic groups are: Synonyms, which are words that have similar meanings. Antonyms, which are words that have the opposite meaning. Homographs are words that have the same form but different meanings.

What are the semantic features of English? ›

Semantic features are theoretical units of meaning-holding components which are used for representing word meaning. These features play a vital role in determining the kind of lexical relation which exists between words in a language.

Why was Modern English able to spread so quickly? ›

The printing press made it possible for almost anyone to buy a book. It helped spread education and the English language. Slowly, during the fifteen hundreds English became the modern language we would recognize.

What were the major events that led to the rise of the English language in the thirteenth century? ›

The arrival of the Romans and various Germanic groups, the introduction of Christianity to Britain, the invasions of the Vikings and the Normans, and the Black Plague all played a role in the history of English language.

What are some factors that influence their English language acquisition? ›

9 Factors that Influence Language Learning for Kids
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  • Support at Home. Is another language spoken at the child's home? ...
  • Prior Linguistic Knowledge. ...
  • Learning Environment. ...
  • Teaching Strategies. ...
  • Comprehensible Input. ...
  • Student Personality. ...
  • Age.

Who had the most influence on the English language? ›

The Influence of French and Latin

This gave English more than 2,000 new words. Thereafter, the Norman Invasion led by William the Conqueror in 1066 made a substantial impact on English. It broke down the ways of the Old English system as the French brought their heritage and language with them.

What are the two main factors that made English a common language? ›

Today English is used as a world common language. And this status of English is primarily the result of two main factors. The first is the expansion of British Empire between the 17th and 19th century. The second is the emergence of the United States of America as the World economic power in the 20th century.

What are the four factors influencing language use? ›

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Feb 2, 2019

What language did Jesus speak? ›

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Through trade, invasions and conquest, the Aramaic language had spread far afield by the 7th century B.C., and would become the lingua franca in much of the Middle East.

How did English evolve from Latin? ›

English developed in Britain more than 1,500 years ago when Germanic tribes (mainly Angles and Saxons) invaded a Celtic-speaking land already colonized by Latin-speaking Romans. (The Germanic tribes also included Jutes, Frisians, and Franks, according to various medieval accounts.)

Which historical event had the most significant impact on the development of the English language? ›

1066—The Norman Invasion: King Harold is killed at the Battle of Hastings, and William of Normandy is crowned King of England. Over succeeding decades, Norman French becomes the language of the courts and of the upper classes; English remains the language of the majority.

Which was the most important foreign influence on English language during the Old English period? ›

Latin Influence of the Second Period: The Christianizing of Britain. The greatest influence of Latin upon Old English was occasioned by the conversion of Britain to Roman Christianity beginning in 597.

Which events had a great impact on the growth and development of the English language? ›

The Industrial Revolution and the Rise of the British Empire during the 18th, 19th and early 20th-century saw the expansion of the English language.


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