Latin Influences on Old English

by Albert C. Baugh & Thomas Cable
An excerpt from Foreign Influences on Old English,
a chapter from A History of the English Language, 3rd. ed. (1978)
(The fragment is reproduced on the Orbis Latinus with no commercial purpose)
56. Three Latin Influences on Old English. If the influence of Celtic upon Old English was slight, it was doubtless so because the relation of the Celt (see Celts) to the Anglo-Saxon (see Anglo-Saxons) was that of a submerged race and, as suggested above, because the Celt was not in a position to make any notable contribution to Anglo-Saxon civilization. It was quite otherwise with the second great influence exerted upon English—that of Latin—and the circumstances under which they met. Latin was not the language of a conquered people. It was the language of a higher civilization, a civilization from which the Anglo-Saxons had much 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. For several hundred years, while the Germanic tribes who later became the English were still occupying their continental homes, they had various relations with the Romans through which they acquired a considerable number of Latin words. Later when they came to England they saw the evidences of the long Roman rule in the island and learned from the Celts a few additional Latin words which had been acquired by them. And a century and a half later still, when Roman missionaries reintroduced Christianity into the island, this new cultural influence resulted in a really extensive adoption of Latin elements into the language. There were thus three distinct occasions on which borrowing from Latin occurred before the end of the Old English period, and it will be of interest to consider more in detail the character and extent of these borrowings.

57. Chronological Criteria. In order to form an accurate idea of the share which each of these three periods had in extending the resources of the English vocabulary it is first necessary to determine as closely as possible the date at which each of the borrowed words entered the language. This is naturally somewhat difficult to do, and in the case of some words impossible. But in a large number of cases it is possible to assign a word to a given period with a high degree of probability and often with certainty. It will be instructive to pause for a moment to inquire how this is done.

The evidence which can be employed is of various kinds and naturally of varying value. Most obvious is the appearance of the word in literature. If a given word occurs with fair frequency in texts such as Beowulf, or the poems of Cynewulf, such occurrence indicates that the word has had time to pass into current use and that it came into English not later than the early part of the period of Christian influence. But it does not tell us how much earlier it was known in the language, since the earliest written records in English do not go back beyond the year 700. Moreover the late appearance of a word in literature is no proof of late adoption. The word may not be the kind of word that would naturally occur very often in literary texts, and so much of Old English literature has been lost that it would be very unsafe to argue about the existence of a word on the basis of existing remains. Some words which are not found recorded before the tenth century (e.g., pîpe 'pipe', cîese 'cheese') can be assigned confidently on other grounds to the period of continental borrowing.

The character of the word sometimes gives some clue to its date. Some words are obviously learned and point to a time when the church had become well established in the island. On the other hand, the early occurrence of a word in several of the Germanic dialects points to the general circulation of the word in the Germanic territory and its probable adoption by the ancestors of the English on the continent. Testimony of this kind must of course be used with discrimination. A number of words found in Old English and in Old High German, for example, can hardly have been borrowed by either language before the Anglo-Saxons migrated to England, but are due to later independent adoption under conditions more or less parallel, brought about by the introduction of Christianity into the two areas. But it can hardly be doubted that a word like copper, which is rare in Old English, was nevertheless borrowed on the continent when we find it in no less than six Germanic languages.

Much the most conclusive evidence of the date at which a word was borrowed, however, is to be found in the phonetic form of the word. The changes which take place in the sounds of a language can often be dated with some definiteness, and the presence or absence of these changes in a borrowed word constitutes an important test of age. A full account of these changes would carry us far beyond the scope of this book, but one or two examples may serve to illustrate the principle. Thus there occurred in Old English, as in most of the Germanic languages, a change known as i-umlaut. This change affected certain accented vowels and diphthongs (ae, â, ô, û, êa, êo, and îo) when they were followed in the next syllable by an î or j. Under such circumstances ae and a became e, and ô became ê, â became ae, and û became ý. The diphthongs êa, êo, îo became îe, later î, ý. Thus *bankiz > benc (bench), *mûsiz > mýs, plural of mûs (mouse), etc. The change occurred in English in the course of the seventh century, and when we find it taking place in a word borrowed from Latin it indicates that the Latin word had been taken into English by that time. Thus Latin monêta (which became *munit in Prim. O.E.) > mynet (a coin. Mod. E. mint) and is an early borrowing. Another change (even earlier) that helps us to date a borrowed word is that known as palatal diphthongization. By this sound-change an ae or ê in early Old English was changed to a diphthong (êa and îe respectively) when preceded by certain palatal consonants (c, g [=  or initial j], sc). O.E. cîese (L. câseus, cheese), mentioned above, shows both i-umlaut and palatal diphthongization (câseus > *caesi > *cêasi > cîese). In many words evidence for date is furnished by the sound-changes of Vulgar Latin. Thus, for example, an intervocalic p (and p in the combination pr) in the late Latin of northern Gaul (seventh century) was modified to a sound approximating a v, and the fact that L. cuprum, coprum (copper) appears in O.E. as copor with the p unchanged indicates a period of borrowing prior to this change (cf. F. cuivre). Again Latin short i changed to e before A.D. 400 so that words like O.E. biscop (L. episcopus), disc (L. discus), sigel, 'brooch' (L. sigillum), etc., which do not show this change, were borrowed by the English on the continent. But enough has been said to indicate the method and to show that the distribution of the Latin words in Old English among the various periods at which borrowing took place rests not upon guesses, however shrewd, but upon definite facts and upon fairly reliable phonetic inferences.

58. Continental Borrowing (Latin Influence of the Zero Period). The first Latin words to find their way into the English language owe their adoption to the early contact between the Romans and the Germanic tribes on the continent. Several hundred Latin words found in the various Germanic dialects at an early date—some in one dialect only, others in several—testify to the extensive intercourse between the two peoples. The number of Germans living within the empire by the fourth century is estimated at several million. They are found in all ranks and classes of society, from slaves in the fields to commanders of important divisions of the Roman army. While they were scattered all over the empire, they were naturally most numerous along the northern frontier. This stretched along the Rhine and the Danube and bordered on German territory. Close to the border was Treves, in the third and fourth centuries the most flourishing city in Gaul, already boasting Christian churches, a focus of eight military roads, where all the luxury and splendor of Roman civilization were united almost under the gaze of the Teutons on the Moselle and the Rhine. Traders, German as well as Roman, came and went, while German youth returning from within the empire must have carried back glowing accounts of Roman cities and Roman life. Such intercourse between the two peoples was certain to carry words from one language to the other.

The frequency of the intercourse may naturally be expected to diminish somewhat as one recedes from the borders of the empire. Roman military operations, for example, seldom extended as far as the district occupied by the Angles or the Jutes. But after the conquest of Gaul by Caesar, Roman merchants quickly found their way into all parts of the Germanic territory, even into Scandinavia, so that the Teutons living in these remoter sections were by no means cut off from Roman influence. Moreover, intercommunication between the different Germanic tribes was frequent and made possible the transference of Latin words from one tribe to another. In any case some fifty words from the Latin can be credited with a considerable degree of probability to the ancestors of the English in their continental homes.

The adopted words naturally indicate the new conceptions which the Teutons acquired from this contact with a higher civilization. Next to agriculture the chief occupation of the Germans in the empire was war, and this experience is reflected in words like camp (battle), segn (banner), pîl (pointed stick, javelin), weall (wall), pytt (pit), straet (road, street), mîl (mile), and miltestre (courtesan). More numerous are the words connected with trade. The Teutons traded amber, furs, slaves, and probably certain raw materials for the products of Roman handicrafts, articles of utility, luxury, and adornment. The words cêap (bargain; cf. Eng., cheap, chapman) and mangian (to trade) with its derivatives mangere (monger), mangung (trade, commerce), and mangung-hûs (shop) are fundamental, while pund (pound), mydd (bushel), seam (burden, loan), and mynet (coin) are terms likely to be employed. From the last word Old English formed the words mynetian (to mint or coin) and mynetere (money-changer). One of the most important branches of Roman commerce with the Teutons was the wine trade: hence such words in English as wîn (wine), must (new wine), eced (vinegar), and flasce (flask, bottle). To this period are probably to be attributed the words cylle (L. culleus, leather bottle), cyrfette (L. curcurbita, gourd), and sester (jar, pitcher). A number of the new words relate to domestic life and designate household articles, clothing, etc.: cytel (kettle; L. catillus, catlnus), mese (table), scamol (L. scamellum, bench, stool; cf. modern shambles), teped (carpet, curtain; L. tapêtum), pyle (L. pulvînus, pillow), pilece (L. pellicia, robe of skin), and sigel (brooch, necklace; L. sigillum). Certain other words of a similar kind probably belong here although the evidence for their adoption thus early is not in every case conclusive: cycene (kitchen; L. coquîna), cuppe (L. cuppa, cup), disc (dish; L. discus), cucler (spoon; L. cocleârium), mortere (L. mortârium, a mortar, a vessel of hard material), lînen (cognate with or from L. lînum, flax), lîne (rope, line; L. lînea), and gimm (L. gemma, gem). The Teutons adopted Roman words for certain foods, such as cîese (L. câseus, cheese), spelt (wheat), pipor (pepper), senep (mustard; L. sinâpi), popig (poppy), cisten (chestnut-tree; L. castanea), cires(bêam) (cherry-tree; L. cerasus), while to this period are probably to be assigned butere (butter; L. bûtýrum), ynne(lêac) (L. ûnio, onion), plûme (plum), pise (L. pisum, pea), and minte (L. mentha, mint). Roman contributions to the building arts are evidenced by such words as cealc (chalk), copor (copper), pic (pitch), and tigele (tile), while miscellaneous words such as mûl (mule), draca (dragon), pâwa (peacock), the adjectives sicor (L. sêcûrus, safe) and calu (L. calvus, bald), segne (seine), pipe (pipe, musical instrument), cirice (church), biscop (bishop), câsere (emperor), and Saeternesdaeg (Saturday) may be mentioned. See some other examples.

In general, if we are surprised at the number of words acquired from the Romans at so early a date by the Germanic tribes that came to England, we can see nevertheless that the words were such as they would be likely to borrow and such as reflect in a very reasonable way the relations that existed between the two peoples.

59. Latin through Celtic Transmission (Latin Influence of the First Period). The circumstances responsible for the slight influence which Celtic exerted on Old English limited in like manner the Latin influence that sprang from the period of Roman occupation. From the extent to which Britain was Romanized, and the employment of Latin by certain elements in the population, one would expect a considerable number of Latin words from this period to have remained in use and to appear in the English language today. But this is not the case. It would be hardly too much to say that not five words outside of a few elements found in place-names can be really proved to owe their presence in English to the Roman occupation of Britain (see a note). It is probable that the use of Latin as a spoken language did not long survive the end of Roman rule in the island and that such vestiges as remained for a time were lost in the disorders that accompanied the Germanic invasions. There was thus no opportunity for direct contact between Latin and Old English in England, and such Latin words as could have found their way into English would have had to come in through Celtic transmission. The Celts, indeed, had adopted a considerable number of Latin words—over six hundred have been identified—but the relations between the Celts and the English were such, as we have already seen, that these words were not passed on. Among the few Latin words that the Anglo-Saxons seem likely to have acquired upon settling in England, one of the most likely, in spite of its absence from the Celtic languages, is ceaster. This word, which represents the Latin castra (camp), is a common designation in Old English for a town or enclosed community. It forms a familiar element in English place-names such as Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester, and many others. Some of these refer to sites of Roman camps, but it must not be thought that a Roman settlement underlies all the towns whose names contain this common element. The English attached it freely to the designation of any enclosed place intended for habitation, and many of the places so designated were known by quite different names in Roman times. A few other words are thought for one reason or another to belong to this period: port (harbor, gate, town) from L. portus and porta; mûnt (mountain) from L. mons, montem; torr (tower, rock) possibly from L. turns, possibly from Celtic; wîc (village) from L. vîcus. All of these words are found also as elements in place-names. It is possible that some of the Latin words which the Teutons had acquired on the continent, such as street (L. strata via), wall, wine, etc., were reinforced by the presence of the same words in Celtic. At best, however, the Latin influence of the First Period remains much the slightest of all the influences which Old English owed to contact with Roman civilization.

60. Latin Influence of the Second Period: The Christianizing of Britain. 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. According to the well-known story reported by Bede as a tradition current in his day, the mission of St. Augustine was inspired by an experience of a man who later became Pope Gregory the Great. Walking one morning in the marketplace at Rome, he came upon some fair-haired boys about to be sold as slaves and was told that they were from the island of Britain and were pagans. “'Alas! what pity,' said he, 'that the author of darkness is possessed of men of such fair countenances, and that being remarkable for such a graceful exterior, their minds should be void of inward grace?' He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation and was answered, that they were called Angles. ' Right,' said he, 'for they have an angelic face, and it is fitting that such should be co-heirs with the angels in heaven. What is the name,' proceeded he, 'of the province from which they are brought?' It was replied that the natives of that province were called Deiri. 'Truly are they de ira,' said he, 'plucked from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that province called?' They told him his name was Ælla; and he, alluding to the name, said 'Alleluia, the praise of God the Creator, must be sung in those parts.'“ The same tradition records that Gregory wished himself to undertake the mission to Britain, but could not be spared. Some years later, however, when he had become pope, he had not forgotten his former intention, and looked about for someone whom he could send at the head of a missionary band. Augustine, the person of his choice, was a man well known to him. The two had lived together in the same monastery, and Gregory knew him to be modest and devout and thought him well suited to the task assigned him. With a little company of about forty monks Augustine set out for what seemed then like the end of the earth.

It is not easy to appreciate the difficulty of the task which lay before this small band. Their problem was not so much to substitute one ritual for another as to change the philosophy of a nation. The religion which the Anglo-Saxons shared with the other Germanic tribes seems to have had but a slight hold on the people at the close of the sixth century; but their habits of mind, their ideals, and the action to which these gave rise were often in sharp contrast to the teachings of the New Testament. Germanic philosophy exalted physical courage, independence even to haughtiness, loyalty to one's family or leader that left no wrong unavenged. Christianity preached meekness and humility, patience under suffering, and said that if a man struck you on one cheek you should turn the other. Clearly it was no small task which Augustine and his forty monks faced in trying to alter the age-old mental habits of such a people. They might even have expected difficulty in obtaining a respectful hearing. But they seem to have been men of exemplary lives, appealing personality, and devotion to purpose, and owed their ultimate success as much to what they were as to what they said. Fortunately, upon their arrival in England one circumstance was in their favor. There was in the kingdom of Kent, in which they landed, a small number of Christians. But the number, though small, included no less a person than the queen. Æthelberht, the king, had sought his wife among the powerful nation of the Franks, and the princess Bertha had been given to him only on condition that she be allowed to continue undisturbed in her Christian faith. Æthelberht set up a small chapel near his palace in Kent-wara-byrig (Canterbury), and there the priest who accompanied Bertha to England conducted regular services for her and the numerous dependents whom she brought with her... Æthelberht was himself baptized within three months, and his example was followed by numbers of his subjects. By the time Augustine died seven years later, the kingdom of Kent had become wholly Christian.

The conversion of the rest of England was a gradual process. In 635 Aidan, a monk from the Scottish monastery of lona, undertook independently the conversion of Northumbria. He was a man of great sympathy and tact. With a small band of followers he journeyed from town to town, and wherever he preached he drew crowds to hear him. Within twenty years he had made all Northumbria Christian. There were periods of reversion to paganism, and some clashes between the Celtic and the Roman leaders over doctrine and authority, but England was slowly won over to the faith. It is significant that the Christian missionaries were allowed considerable freedom in their labors. There is not a single instance recorded in which any of them suffered martyrdom in the cause which they espoused. Possibly the fact that the important nation of the Franks was known to have accepted the new religion was a significant factor in rendering the English more receptive. At all events, within a hundred years of the landing of Augustine in Kent all England was permanently Christian.

61. Effects of Christianity on English Civilization. The introduction of Christianity meant the building of churches and the establishment of monasteries. Latin, the language of the services and of ecclesiastical learning, was once more heard in England. Schools were established in most of the monasteries and larger churches. Some of these became famous through their great teachers and from them trained men went out to set up other schools at other centers. The beginning of this movement was in 669, when a Greek bishop, Theodore of Tarsus, was made archbishop of Canterbury. He was accompanied by Hadrian, an African by birth, a man described by Bede as “of the greatest skill in both the Greek and Latin tongues.” They devoted considerable time and energy to teaching. “And because,” says Bede, “they were abundantly learned in sacred and profane literature, they gathered a crowd of disciples ... and together with the books of Holy Writ, they also taught the arts of poetry, astronomy, and ecclesiastical arithmetic; a testimony of which is that there are still living at this day some of their scholars, who are as well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues as in their own, in which they were born.” A decade or two later Aldhelm carried on a similar work at Malmesbury. He was a remarkable classical scholar. He had an exceptional knowledge of Latin literature, and he wrote Latin verse with ease. In the north the school at York became in time almost as famous as that of Canterbury. The two monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow were founded by Benedict Biscop, who had been with Theodore and Hadrian at Canterbury, and who on five trips to Rome brought back a rich and valuable collection of books. His most famous pupil was the Venerable Bede, a monk at Jarrow. Bede assimilated all the learning of his time. He wrote on grammar and prosody, science and chronology, and composed numerous commentaries on the books of the Old and New Testament. His most famous work is the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731), from which we have already had occasion to quote more than once and from which we derive a large part of our knowledge of the early history of England. Bede's spiritual grandchild was Alcuin, of York, whose fame as a scholar was so great that in 782 Charlemagne called him to be the head of his Palace School. In the eighth century England held the intellectual leadership of Europe, and it owed this leadership to the church. In like manner vernacular literature and the arts received a new impetus. Workers in stone and glass were brought from the continent for the improvement of church building. Rich embroidery, the illumination of manuscripts, and church music occupied others. Moreover the monasteries cultivated their land by improved methods of agriculture and made numerous contributions to domestic economy. In short, the church as the carrier of Roman civilization influenced the course of English life in many directions, and, as is to be expected, numerous traces of this influence are to be seen in the vocabulary of Old English.

62. The Earlier Influence of Christianity on the Vocabulary. From the introduction of Christianity in 597 to the close of the Old English period is a stretch of over five hundred years. During all this time Latin words must have been making their way gradually into the English language. It is likely that the first wave of religious feeling which resulted from the missionary zeal of the seventh century, and which is reflected in intense activity in church building and the establishing of monasteries during this century, was responsible also for the rapid importation of Latin words into the vocabulary. The many new conceptions which followed in the train of the .new religion would naturally demand expression and would at times find the resources of the language inadequate. But it would be a mistake to think that the enrichment of the vocabulary which now took place occurred overnight. Some words came in almost immediately, others only at the end of this period. In fact it is fairly easy to divide the Latin borrowings of the Second Period into two groups, more or less equal in size but quite different in character. The one group represents words whose phonetic form shows that they were borrowed early and whose early adoption is attested also by the fact that they had found their way into literature by the time of Alfred. The other contains words of a more learned character first recorded in the tenth and eleventh centuries and owing their introduction clearly to the religious revival that accompanied the Benedictine Reform. It will be well to consider them separately.

It is obvious that the most typical as well as the most numerous class of words introduced by the new religion would have to do with that religion and the details of its external organization. Words are generally taken over by one language from another in answer to a definite need. They are adopted because they express ideas that are new or because they are so intimately associated with an object or a concept that acceptance of the thing involves acceptance also of the word. A few words relating to Christianity such as church and bishop were, as we have seen, borrowed earlier. The Anglo-Saxons had doubtless plundered churches and come in contact with bishops before they came to England. But the great majority of words in Old English having to do with the church and its services, its physical fabric and its ministers, when not of native origin were borrowed at this time. Since most of these words have survived in only slightly altered form in Modern English, the examples may be given in their modern form. The list includes abbot, alms, altar, angel, anthem, Arian, ark, candle, canon, chalice, cleric, cowl, deacon, disciple, epistle, hymn, litany, manna, martyr, mass, minster, noon, nun, offer, organ, pall, palm, pope, priest, provost, psalm, psalter, relic, rule, shrift, shrine, shrive, stole, subdeacon, synod, temple, and tunic. Some of these were reintroduced later. But the church also exercised a profound influence on the domestic life of the people. This is seen in the adoption of many words, such as the names of articles of clothing and household use—cap, sock, silk, purple, chest, mat, sack (see more examples); words denoting foods, such as beet, caul (cabbage), lentil (O.E. lent), millet (O.E. mil), pear, radish, doe, oyster (O.E. ostre), lobster, mussel, to which we may add the noun cook (see more examples); names of trees, plants, and herbs (often cultivated for their medicinal properties), such as box, pine (see more examples), aloes, balsam, fennel, hyssop, lily, mallow, marshmallow, myrrh, rue, savory (O.E. sæþerige), and the general word plant. A certain number of words having to do with education and learning reflect another aspect of the church's influence. Such are school, master, Latin (possibly an earlier borrowing), grammatical), verse, meter, gloss, notary (a scribe). Finally we may mention a number of words too miscellaneous to admit of profitable classification, like anchor, coulter, fan (for winnowing), fever, place (cf. marketplace), spelter (asphalt), sponge, elephant, phoenix, mancus (a coin), and some more or less learned or literary words, such as calend, circle, legion, giant, consul, and talent. The words cited in these examples are mostly nouns, but Old English borrowed also a number of verbs and adjectives such as âspendan (to spend; L. expendere), bemûtian (to exchange; L. mûtâre), dihtan (to compose; L. dictâre), pinian (to torture; L. poena), pinsian (to weigh; L. pensâre), pyngan (to prick; L. pungere), sealtian (to dance; L. saltâre), temprian (to temper; L. temperâre), trifolian (to grind; L. trîtbulâre), tyrnan (to turn; L. tornâre), and crisp (L. crispus, 'curly'). But enough has been said to indicate the extent and variety of the borrowings from Latin in the early days of Christianity in England and to show how quickly the language reflected the broadened horizon which the English people owed to the church.

63. The Benedictine Reform. The flourishing state of the church which resulted in these significant additions to the English language unfortunately did not continue uninterrupted. One cause of the decline is to be attributed to the Danes, who at the end of the eighth century began their ravages upon the country. Lindisfarne was burnt in 793 and Jarrow, Bede's monastery, was plundered the following year. In the ninth century throughout Northumbria and Mercia churches and monasteries lay everywhere in ruins. By the tenth century the decline had affected the moral fiber of the church. It would seem as though once success had been attained and a reasonable degree of security, the clergy relaxed their efforts. Wealthy men had given land freely to religious foundations in the hope of laying up spiritual reserves for themselves against the life in the next world. Among the clergy poverty gave way to ease, and ease by a natural transition passed into luxury. Probably a less worthy type was drawn by these new conditions into the religious profession. We hear much complaint about immoderate feasting and drinking and vanity in dress. In the religious houses discipline became lax, services were neglected, monasteries were occupied by groups of secular priests, many of them married, immorality was flagrant. The work of education was neglected and learning decayed. By the time of Alfred things had reached such a pass that he looked upon the past as a golden age which had gone, “when the Kings who ruled obeyed God and His evangelists,” and when “the religious orders were earnest about doctrine, and learning, and all the services they owed to God”; and he lamented that the decay of learning was so great at the beginning of his reign “ that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English, or translate a letter from Latin into English, and I believe not many beyond the Humber. So few were there that I cannot remember a single one south of the Thames when I came to the kingship.” Two generations later Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham, echoed the same sentiment when he said, “Until Dunstan and Athelwold revived learning in the monastic life no English priest could either write a letter in Latin, or understand one.” It is hardly likely, therefore, that many Latin words were added to the English language during these years when religion and learning were both at such a low ebb.

But abuses when bad enough have a way of bringing about their own reformation. What is needed generally is an individual with the zeal to lead the way and the ability to set an example that inspires imitation. King Alfred had made a start. Besides restoring churches and founding monasteries, he strove for twenty years to spread education in his kingdom and foster learning. His efforts bore little fruit. But in the latter half of the tenth century three great religious leaders, imbued with the spirit of reform, arose in the church: Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 988), Athelwold, bishop of Winchester (d. 984), and Oswald, bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York (d. 992). With the sympathetic support of King Edgar these men effected a genuine revival of monasticism in England. The true conception of the monastic life was inseparable from the observance of the Benedictine Rule. Almost everywhere in England this had ceased to be adhered to. As the first step in the reform the secular clergy were turned out of the monasteries and their places filled by monks pledged to the threefold vow of chastity, obedience, and poverty. In their work of restoration the reformers received powerful support from the example of continental monasteries, notably those at Fleury and Ghent. These had recently undergone a similar reformation under the inspiring leadership of Cluny, where in 910 a community had been established on even stricter lines than those originally laid down by St. Benedict. Dunstan had spent some time at the Abbey of Blandinium at Ghent; Oswald had studied the system at Fleury; and Athelwold, although wanting to go himself, had sent a representative to Fleury for the same purpose. On the pattern of these continental houses a number of important monasteries were recreated in England, and Athelwold prepared a version of the Benedictine Rule, known as the Concordia Regularis, to bring about a general uniformity in their organization and observances. The effort toward reform extended to other divisions of the church, indeed to a general reformation of morals, and brought about something like a religious revival in the island. One of the objects of special concern in this work of rehabilitation was the improvement of education—the establishment of schools and the encouragement of learning among the monks and the clergy. The results were distinctly gratifying. By the close of the century the monasteries were once more centers of literary activity. Works in English for the popularizing of knowledge were prepared by men who thus continued the example of King Alfred, and manuscripts both in Latin and the vernacular were copied and preserved. It is significant that the four great codices in which the bulk of Old English poetry is preserved date from this period. We doubtless owe their existence to the reform movement.

64. Benedictine Reform's Influence on English. The influence of Latin upon the English language rose and fell with the fortunes of the church and the state of learning so intimately connected with it. As a result of the renewed literary activity just described, a new series of Latin importations took place. These differed somewhat from the earlier Christian borrowings in being words of a less popular kind and expressing more often ideas of a scientific and learned character. They are especially frequent in the works of Ælfric and reflect not only the theological and pedagogical nature of his writings but also his classical tastes and attainments. His literary activity and his vocabulary are equally representative of the movement. As in the earlier Christian borrowings a considerable number of words have to do with religious matters: alb, Antichrist, antiphoner, apostle, canticle, cantor, cell, chrism, cloister, collect, creed, dalmatic, demon, dirge, font, idol, nocturn, prime, prophet, sabbath, synagogue, troper. But we miss the group of words relating to everyday life characteristic of the earlier period. Literary and learned words predominate. Of the former kind are accent, brief (the verb), decline (as a term of grammar), history, paper, pumice, quatern (a quire or gathering of leaves in a book), term(inus), title. A great number of plant names are recorded in this period. Many of them are familiar only to readers of old herbals. Some of the better known includecelandine, centaury, coriander, cucumber, ginger, hellebore, lovage, periwinkle, petersili (parsley), verbena (see more examples). A few names of trees might be added, such as cedar, cypress, fig, laurel, and magdala (almond). (Most of these words were apparently bookish at this time and had to be reintroduced later from French.) Medical terms, like cancer, circulâdl (shingles), paralysis, scrofula, plaster, and words relating to the animal kingdom, like aspide (viper), camel, lamprey, scorpion, tiger, belong apparently to the same category of learned and literary borrowings. It would be possible to extend these lists considerably by including words which were taken over in their foreign form and not assimilated. Such words as epactas, corporate, confessores, columba (dove), columne, cathedra, catacumbas, apostata, apocalipsin, acolitus, absolutionem, invitatorium, unguentum, cristalla, cometa, bissexte, bibliothece, basilica, adamans, and prologus show at once by their form their foreign character. Although many of them were later reintroduced into the language, they do not constitute an integral part of the vocabulary at this time. In general the later borrowings of the Christian period come through books. An occasional word assigned to this later period may have been in use earlier, but there is nothing in the form to indicate it, and in the absence of any instance of its use in the literature before Alfred it is safer to put such borrowings in the latter part of the Old English period.

65. The Application of Native Words to New Concepts. The words which Old English borrowed in this period are only a partial indication of the extent to which the introduction of Christianity affected the lives and thoughts of the English people. The English did not always adopt a foreign word to express a new concept. Often an old word was applied to a new thing and by a slight adaptation made to express a new meaning. The Anglo-Saxons, for example, did not borrow the Latin word deus, since their own word God was a satisfactory equivalent. Likewise heaven and hell express conceptions not unknown to Anglo-Saxon paganism and are consequently English words. Patriarch was rendered literally by hêahfæder (high father), prophet by wîtega (wise one), martyr often by the native word prôwere (one who suffers pain), and saint by hâlga (holy one). Specific members of the church organization such as pope, bishop, and priest, or monk and abbot represented individuals for which the English had no equivalent and therefore borrowed the Latin terms; however they did not borrow a general word for clergy but used a native expression, ðæt gâstlice folc (the spiritual folk). The word Easter is a Germanic word taken over from a pagan festival, likewise in the spring, in honor of Eostre, the goddess of dawn. Instead of borrowing the Latin word praedicâre (to preach) the English expressed the idea with words of their own, such as læran (to teach) or bodian (to bring a message); to pray (L. precâre) was rendered by biddan (to ask) and other words of similar meaning, prayer by a word from the same root, gebed. For baptize (L. baptizâre) the English adapted a native word fullian (to consecrate) while its derivative fulluht renders the noun baptism. The latter word enters into numerous compounds, such as fulluhtbæþ (font), fulwere (baptist), fulluht-fæder (baptizer),fulluht-hâd (baptismal vow), fulluht-nama (Christian name), fulluht-stôw (baptistry), fulluht-tîd (baptism time), and others. Even so individual a feature of the Christian faith as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was expressed by the Germanic word hûsl (modern housel), while lac, the general word for sacrifice to the gods, was also sometimes applied to the Sacrifice of the Mass. The term Scriptures found its exact equivalent in the English word gewritu, and evangelium was rendered by godspell, originally meaning good tidings. Trinity (L. trinitas) was translated þrines (three-ness), the idea of God the Creator was expressed by scieppend (one who shapes or forms), fruma (creator, founder), or metod (measurer). Native words like fæder (father), dryhten (prince), wealdend (ruler), þêoden (prince), weard (waðd, protector), hlâford (lord) are frequent synonyms. Most of them are also applied to Christ, originally a Greek word and the most usual name for the Second Person of the Trinity, but Hælend (Savior) is also commonly employed. The Third Person (Spiritus Sanctus) was translated Hâlig Gâst (Holy Ghost). Latin diabolus was borrowed as dêofol (devil) but we find fêond (fiend) as a common synonym. Examples might be multiplied. Cross is rôd (rood), trêow (tree), gealga (gallows), etc.; resurrection is ærist, from ârîsan (to arise); peccatum is synn (sin), while other words like mân, firen, leahtor, wôh, and scyld, meaning 'vice', 'crime', 'fault', and the like, are commonly substituted. The Judgment Day is Doomsday. Many of these words are translations of their Latin equivalents and their vitality is attested by the fact that in a great many cases they have continued in use down to the present day. It is important to recognize that the significance of a foreign influence is not to be measured simply by the foreign words introduced but is revealed also by the extent to which it stimulates the language to independent creative effort and causes it to make full use of its native resources.

66. The Extent of the Influence. To be sure, the extent of a foreign influence is most readily seen in the number of words borrowed. As a result of the Christianizing of Britain some 450 Latin words appear in English writings before the close of the Old English period. This number does not include derivatives or proper names, which in the case of biblical names are very numerous. But about one hundred of these were purely learned or retained so much of their foreign character as hardly to be considered part of the English vocabulary. Of the 350 words that have a right to be so considered some did not make their way into general use until later—were, in fact, reintroduced later. On the other hand, a large number of them were fully accepted and thoroughly incorporated into the language. The real test of a foreign influence is the degree to which the words that it brought in were assimilated. This is not merely a question of the power to survive; it is a question of how completely the words were digested and became indistinguishable from the native word-stock, so that they could enter into compounds and be made into other parts of speech, just like native words. When, for example, the Latin noun planta comes into English as the noun plant and later is made into a verb by the addition of the infinitive ending -ian (plantian) and other inflectional elements, we may feel sure that the word has been assimilated. This happened in a number of cases as in gemartyrian (to martyr), sealmian (to play on the harp), culpian (to humiliate oneself), fersian (to versify), glêsan (to gloss), and crispian (to curl) (On this general subject see Donald W. Lee, Functional Change in Early English, Springfield, Mass., 1948). Assimilation is likewise indicated by the use of native formative suffixes such as -dôm, -hâd, -ung to make a concrete noun into an abstract (martyrdom, martyrhad, martyrung). The use of a foreign word in making compounds is evidence of the same thing. The word church enters into more than forty compounds and derivatives (church-bell, church-book, church-door, etc.). The -Latin influence of the Second Period was not only extensive but thorough and marks the real beginning of the English habit of freely incorporating foreign elements into its vocabulary.

Romance Influences on English Main Page
Romance Influences on the other Languages Main Page

Orbis Latinus Main Page

This page is part of Orbis Latinus
© Zdravko Batzarov