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The Classical Roots of English

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Welcome to 'Ask the Editor'. I'm Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam Webster. We all know that there are many words in English with classical roots. Roots in words from Greek and Latin. And yet English is classified as a Germanic language, a cousin to modern Dutch, and German, and the Scandinavian languages. So the question is, where do all that Greek and Latin come from? Well, to begin with, the Romans borrowed many words from Greek into Latin. So the real question is, where do the Latin in English come from? Some people might think that because the Romans occupied Britain, they left a part of their language behind. But the fact is almost all the words in English with Latin roots came from much later in our history. From after the Norman conquest in 1066. The language that the Normans spoke was a variety of Old French that was direct descendent of Latin. And some of the words they left behind show a certain piece of social and linguistic history. Words like 'trial', and 'judge', and 'jury' are French words that came at that time. Other words like 'government', and 'president', and 'senate' are also words that came in through Latin and French into English. We get a sort of snapshot or capsule of social and linguistic history by looking at these words. Think of the words for animals when they're alive, such as 'cow', and 'pig' and 'sheep'. Those are all Germanic words. But the words for the meat of those animals when they're served as food: 'pork', and 'beef' and 'mutton' are all French words. So we can see a bit of the historical social power structure from the words left by those who ruled and were served their food by others. Look for more segments of 'Ask the Editor' here at merriam-webster.com [Subtitled by Carlos Lamela]

Video Details

Duration: 1 minute and 34 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 175
Posted by: carloslamela on Nov 29, 2010

Some words of the Merriam Webster editor.

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