Топлу Азярбайъан Республикасы Президенти йанында Али
Аттестасийа Комиссийасы тяряфиндян рясми гейдиййата
алынмышдыр (Filologiya elmləri bюлмяси, №13).
Азярбайъан Республикасы Ядлиййя Назирлийи Мятбу
Azerbaijan University of Languages,
Doctor of Science, professor
English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive amongst the world’s
languages, contains an immense number of words of foreign origin. Explanations
for this should be sought in the history of the language which is closely connected
with the history of the nation speaking the language. In order to have a better
understanding of this, it will be necessary to go through a brief survey of certain
historical facts, relating to different epochs.
In the first century B.C. most of the territory known to us as Europe is
occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the inhabitants of the continent are
Germanic tribes, “barbarians” as the arrogant Romans call them. Theirs is really a
rather primitive stage of development, especially if compared with the high
civilization and refinement of Rome. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know
almost nothing about land cultivation. Their tribal languages contain only Indo-
European and Germanic elements. The latter fact is of some importance for the
purposes of our survey.
Then the event, which brings an important change, comes. After a number of
wars between the Germanic tribes and the Romans these two opposing peoples
come into peaceful contact. Trade is carried on, and the Germanic people gain
knowledge of new and useful things. The first among them are new things to eat. It
has been mentioned that Germanic cattle-breeding was on a primitive scale. Its only
products known to the Germanic tribes were meat and milk. It is from the Romans
that they learn how to make butter and cheese and, as there are naturally no words
for these foodstuffs in their tribal languages, they are to use the Latin words to name
them. It is also to the Romans that the Germanic tribes owe the knowledge of some
new fruits and vegetables of which they had no idea before, and the Latin names of
these fruits and vegetables enter their vocabularies reflecting this new knowledge.
pepper – Lat. piper
cherry – Lat. cerasum
pear – Lat. pirum
plum – Lat. prunus
pea – Lat. pisum
plant – Lat. planta
cup – Lat. cuppa
kitchen – Lat. coquina mill – Lat. molina
port – Lat. portus
wine – Lat. vinum
street – Lat. strata via
wall– Lat. vallum
priest – Lat. presbyter
nun – Lat. nonna
bishop– Lat. episcopus candle – Lat. candela
monk – Lat. monachus school – Lat. schola
scholar – Lat. scholaris magister – Lat.magister
The fact that all these borrowings occurred is in itself significant. It was cer-
new words and were thus enriched.
What was even more significant? It was that all Latin words were destined to
become the earliest group of borrowings in the future English language, which was
much later built on the basis of the Germanic tribal languages.
Which brings us to another epoch, much closer to the English language, as we
know it, both in geographical and chronological terms?
In the fifth century A.D. several of the Germanic tribes, the most numerous
amongst them being the Angels, the Saxons and the Jutes, migrated across the sea,
and now known as the English Channel to the British Isles. There they were
confronted by the Celts, the original inhabitants of the Isles. The Celts desperately
defended their lands against the invaders, but they were no match for the military-
minded Tetons and gradually yielded most of their territory. They retreated to the
North and South-West, modern Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. Through their nu-
merous contacts with the defeated Celts, the conquerors got to know and assimila-
ted a number of Celtic words in modern English, for example: “bald, down, glen,
druid, bard, and cradle”. Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were
place names, names of rivers, bills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but
the names of many parts and features of their territory remained Celtic. For instan-
ce, the names of rivers “Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Ux” originate from Celtic words
meaning “river” and “water”.
Ironically, even the name of the English capital originates from Celtic “Llyn +
dun” in which “llyn” is another Celtic word for “river” and “dun” stands for “a
fortified hill”, the meaning of the whole being “fortress on the hill over the river”.
Some Latin words entered the Anglo-Saxon languages through Celtic, among
them such widely-used words as “street” – Lat. strata via and “wall” – Lat. vallum.
The seventh century A.D. – was significant for the Christianization of Eng-
land. Latin was the official language of the Christian church, and consequently, the
spread of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings.
These no longer came from spoken Latin as they did eight centuries earlier, but
from church Latin. Also, these new Latin borrowings were very different in
meaning from the earlier ones. They mostly indicated persons, objects and ideas as-
sociated with church and religious rituals. For example, “priest” – Lat. presbyter,
“bishop” – Lat. episcopus, “monk” – Lat. monachus, “nun” – Lat. nonna, “candle”
– Lat. candela.
Additionally, there were also educational terms. It was quite natural that these
words were also Latin borrowings, for the first schools in England were church
schools, and the first teachers – priests and monks. So, the very words “school,
scholar, magister” is Latin borrowings.
From the end of the eighth century to the middle of the eleventh century Eng-
land underwent several Scandinavian invasions which inevitably left their trace on
English vocabulary. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian borrowings:
“call, take, cast, die, law, ill, loose, low, weak”, and also: husband - Sc. hus + bondi,
i.e. “inhabitant of the house”; window – Sc. vindauga, i.e. “the eye of the wind”.
Some of the words of this group are easily recognizable as Scandinavian bor-
rowings by initial “sk-” combination: “sky, skill, skin, ski, skirt”.
Certain English words changed their meanings under the influence of Scan-
dinavian words of the same root. So, in the Old English “bread” which meant “pie-
ce” acquired its modern meaning by association with the Scandinavian “brand”.
The Old English “dream” which meant “joy” assimilated the meaning of the
Scandinavian “draumr”. Confer the German “Traum” – dream and Russian
1066 year is famous by the Battle of Hastings, when the English were
defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror. It comes the eventful epoch
of the Norman Conquest. The epoch can well be called eventful not only in nation-
nal, social, political and human terms, but also in linguistic. England became a bi-
lingual country, and the impact on the English vocabulary made over this two-hun-
dred years period is immense. French words from the Norman dialect penetrated
every aspect of social life. Here is very brief list of examples of Norman-French
Everyday life was not unaffected by the powerful influence of French words.
Numerous terms of everyday life were also borrowed from French in this period,
such as: “table, saucer, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle”, etc.
When we remember the Renaissance period, it is necessary to mention that in
England as in all European countries, this period was marked by significant
developments in science, art and culture, and also by a revival of interest in the
ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and their languages. Hence, there occur-
red a considerable number of Latin and Greek borrowings. In contrast to the earliest
Latin borrowings (the first century B.C.), the Renaissance ones were rarely concrete
names. They were mostly abstract words, such as: “major, minor, filial, moderate,
intelligent, permanent, to elect, to create”. There were naturally numerous scientific
and artistic terms, such as: “datum, status, phenomenon, philosophy, method, mu-
sic”. The same is true of Greek Renaissance borrowings, such as: “atom, cycle,
ethics, and esthete”.
The Renaissance was a period of extensive cultural contacts between the
major European states. Therefore, it was only natural that new words also entered
the English vocabulary from other European languages. The most significant were
French borrowings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are
known as Parisian borrowings, such as: “regime, police, machine, ballet, matinee,
scene, bourgeois, and technique”.
Italian also contributed a considerable number of words to English, such as:
“piano, violin, opera, alarm, colonel”.
There are certain structural features which enable us to identify some words
as borrowings and even to determine the source language. Previously it was estab-
lished that the initial “sk-” usually indicates Scandinavian origin and we can also
recognize the Latin or French words by certain suffixes, prefixes or endings.
The historical survey above is far from complete. Our aim is just to give a
very general idea of the ways in which English vocabulary developed and of the
major events through which it acquired its vast modern resources.
On a straight vocabulary count, considering the high percentage of borrowed
words, one should have to classify English as a language of international origin or, at
least, a Romance one as French and Latin words obviously prevail. But here another
factor comes into play, the relative frequency of occurrence of words, and it is under
this heading that the native Anglo-Saxon heritage comes into its own. The native
element in English comprises a large number of high-frequency words like the
articles, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, auxiliaries and also words denoting
everyday objects and ideas, such as: “house, child, water, go, come, eat, good, bad”.
Furthermore, the grammatical structure is essentially Germanic having
remained unaffected by foreign influence. It is probably of some interest to mention
that at various times purists have tried to purge the English language of foreign
words, replacing them with Anglo-Saxon ones. One slogan created by these
linguistic nationalists was: “Avoid Latin derivatives; use brief, terse Anglo-Saxon
monosyllables”. The irony is that the only Anglo-Saxon word in the entire slogan is
Now let us turn to the first column of the table representing the native
element, the original stock of the English vocabulary. The column consists of three
groups, only the third being dated: the words of this group appeared in the English
vocabulary in the fifth century or later, that is, after the Germanic tribes migrated to
the British Isles. As to the Indo-European and Germanic groups, they are so old that
they cannot be dated.
It was mentioned in the historical survey that the tribal languages of the
Angels, the Saxons, the Jutes, by the time of their migration, contained only the
words of Indo-European and Germanic roots plus a certain number of the earliest
Latin borrowings. By the Indo-European elements are meant the words of roots
common to all or most languages of the Indo-European group. English words of this
group denote elementary concepts without which no human communication would
The following groups can be identified: 1. Family relations: father, mother,
brother, son, daughter; 2. Parts of the human body: head, hand, arm, finger, bone,
foot, nose, lip, heart; 3. Animals: cow, swine, goose, bear, fox, calf; 4. Plants: tree,
birch, corn, oak, fir, grass; 5. Time of day: day, night; 6. Heavenly bodies: sun, mo-
on, star; 7. Adjectives: red, green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, new, glad,
sad, old, good; 8. Numerals: from one to hundred; 9. Pronouns: personal (except
“they” which is a Scandinavian borrowing), demonstrative; 10. Verbs: be, stand, sit,
eat, know, see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink; 11. Natural phenol-
mena: rain, frost; 12. Seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer; 13. Landscape
features: sea, land; 14. Human dwellings and furniture: house, room, bench; 15.
Sea-going vessels: boat, ship.
It has mentioned that the English proper element is, in certain respects,
opposed to the first two groups. Not only can it be approximately dated, but these
words have another distinctive feature: they are specifically English having no
cognates in other languages whereas for Indo-European and Germanic words such
cognates can always be found as, for instance, for the following words of the Indo-
alone in the vocabulary system of Indo-European languages, for example: bird, boy,
girl, lord, lady, woman, daisy, always.
“Autumn” is a French borrowing. Cognates - words of the same etymological
root, of common origin of “native servant”. The explanation is simple: these words
have been borrowed by Russian from English and therefore are not cognates of their
It should be taken into consideration that the English proper element also
contains all the later formations, that is, words which were made after the fifth
century according to English word-building patterns both from native and borrowed
morphemes. For instance, the adjective “beautiful” built from the French borrowed
root and the native suffix belongs to the English proper element. It is natural that the
quantity of such words is immense.
When we think: “why are the words borrowed?”– it is necessary to unders-
tand that this question partially concerns the historical circumstances which
stimulate the borrowing process. Each time two nations come into close contact,
therefore, certain borrowings are a natural consequence. The nature of the contact
may be different. It may be wars, invasions or conquests when foreign words are in
effect imposed upon the reluctant conquered nation. There are also periods of peace
when the process of borrowing is due to trade and international cultural relations.
These latter circumstances are certainly more favorable for stimulating the
borrowing process, for during invasions and occupations the natural psychological
reaction of the oppressed nation is to reject and condemn the language of the op-
Lat. Stella -------
pressor. In this respect the linguistic heritage of the Norman Conquest seems
exceptional, especially if compared to the influence of the Mongol-Tartar Yoke on
the Russian language. The Mongol-Tartar Yoke also represented a long period of
cruel oppression, yet the imprint left by it on the Russian vocabulary is
The difference in the consequences of these evidently similar historical events
is usually explained by the divergence in the level of civilization of the two
conflicting nations. Russian civilization and also the level of its language
development at the time of the Mongol-Tartar invasion were superior to those of the
invaders. That is why the Russian language successfully resisted the influence of a
less developed language system. On the other hand, the Norman culture of the
eleventh century was certainly superior to that of the Saxons. The result was that an
immense number of French words forced their way into English vocabulary. Yet,
linguistically speaking, this seeming defeat turned into a victory. Instead of being
smashed and broken by the powerful intrusion of the foreign element, the English
language managed to preserve its essential structure and vastly enriched its
expressive resources with the new borrowings.
But all this only serves to explain the conditions which encourage the borro-
wing process. The question of why words are borrowed by one language from anot-
her is still unanswered. Sometimes it is done to fill a gap in vocabulary. When the
Saxons borrowed Latin words for “butter, plum, beet”, they did it because their own
vocabularies lacked words for these new objects. For the same reason the words
“potato” and “tomato” were borrowed by English from Spanish when these ve-
getables were first brought to England by the Spaniards.
There is also a great number of words which are borrowed for other reasons.
There may be a word or even several words which expresses some particular
concept, so that there is no gap in the vocabulary and there does not seem to be any
need for borrowing. Yet, one more word is borrowed which means “almost” - the
same, “almost”, but not exactly. It is borrowed because it represents the same
concept in some new aspect, supplies a new shade of meaning or a different emotio-
nal coloring. This type of borrowing enlarges groups of synonyms and greatly
provides to enrich the expressive resources of the vocabulary. That is how the Latin
“cordial” was added to the native “friendly”, the French “desire” – “to wish”, the
Latin “admire” and the French “adore” – “to like” and “love”.
It may be appear the question: do borrowed words change or do they remain
the same? The eminent scientist Maria Pei put the same question in a more colorful
way: “Do words when they migrate from one language into another behave as peop-
le do under similar circumstances?” or “Do they remain alien in appearance, or do
they take out citizenship papers?”
Most of them take the second way, that is, they adjust themselves to their new
environment and get adapted to the norms of the recipient language. They undergo
certain changes which gradually erase their foreign features, and, finally they are as-
similated. Sometimes the process of assimilation develops to the point when the fo-
reign origin of a word is quite unrecognizable. It is difficult to believe now that such
words as “dinner, cat, take, cup” are not English by origin. Others, though well as-
similated, still bear traces of their foreign background. Distance and development,
for instance, are identified as borrowings by their French suffixes, “skin” and “sky”
by the Scandinavian initial “sky, police, regime” by the French stress on the last
Borrowed words are adjusted in the three main areas of the new language sys-
tem: the phonetic, the grammatical and the semantic. The lasting nature of phonetic
adaptation is best shown by comparing Norman-French borrowings to later ones.
The Norman borrowings have for a long time been fully adapted to the phonetic
system of the English language: such words as “table, plate, courage, chivalry” bear
no phonetic traces of their French origin. Some of the later (Parisian) borrowings,
even the ones borrowed as early as the fifteenth century. Still sound surprisingly
French, such as: “regime, valise, matinee, café, ballet”. In these cases phonetic
adaptation is not completed.
Grammatical adaptation consists in a complete change of the former paradigm
of the borrowed word. If it is a noun, it is certain to adopt, sooner or later, a new
system of declension; if it is a verb, it will be conjugated according to the rules of
the recipient language. Yet, this is also a lasting process. The Russian noun
“пальто” was borrowed from French early in the nineteenth century and has not yet
acquired the Russian system of declension.The same can be said about such English
Renaissance borrowings as “datum - data” in plural, “phenomenon - phenomena”,
“criterion - criteria” whereas earlier Latin borrowings such as “cup, plum, street,
wall” were fully adapted to the grammatically system of the language long ago.
By semantic adaptation is meant adjustment to the system of meanings of the
vocabulary. It has been mentioned that borrowing is generally caused either by the
necessity to fill a gap in the vocabulary or by a chance to add a synonym conveying
an old concept in a new way. The process of borrowing is not always so purposeful,
logical and efficient as it might seem at first sight. Sometimes a word may be bor-
rowed “blindly”, so to speak, for no obvious reason, to find that it is not wanted
because there is no gap in the vocabulary or in the group of synonyms which it
could conveniently fill. Quite a number of such “accidental” borrowings are very
soon rejected by the vocabulary and forgotten. But there are others which manage to
take root by the process of semantic adaptation. The adjective “large”, for instance,
was borrowed from French in the meaning of “wide”. It was not actually wanted,
because it fully coincided with the English adjective “wide” without adding any
new shades or aspects to its meaning. This could have led to its rejection. “Large”
managed, to establish itself very firmly in the English vocabulary by semantic
adjustment. It entered another synonymic group with the general meaning of “big in
size”. At first it was applied to objects characterized by vast horizontal dimensions,
thus retaining a trace of its former meaning and now though still bearing some
features of that meaning, is successfully competing with big having approached it
very closely both in frequency and meaning.
The adjective “gay” was borrowed from French in several meanings at once
“noble of birth”, “bright, shining”, “multicolored”. Rather soon it shifted its ground
developing the meaning “joyful, high-spirited” in which sense it became a synonym
of the native “merry” and in some time left it far behind in frequency and range of
meaning. This change was again caused by the process of semantic adjustment:
there was no place in the vocabulary for the former meanings of “gay”, but the
group with the general meaning of “high spirits” obviously lacked certain shades
which were successfully supplied by “gay”.
The adjective “nice” was a French borrowing meaning “silly” at first. The
English change of meaning seems to have arisen with the use of the word in expres-
sions like “a nice distinction”, meaning first “a silly, hair-splitting distinction”, then
a precise one, ultimately an attractive one. The original necessity for change was
caused once more by the fact that the meaning of “foolish” was not wanted in the
vocabulary and therefore “nice” was obliged to look for a gap in another semantic
It must be mentioned that it is often the case that a word is borrowed by se-
veral languages and not just by one. Such words usually convey concepts which are
significant in the field of communication. Many of them are of Latin and Greek
origin. Most names of sciences are international, for example, philosophy, mathe-
matics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, linguistics, and lexicology. There are
also numerous terms of art in this group: music, theatre, drama, tragedy, comedy,
It is quite natural that political terms frequently occur in the international
group of borrowings, such as: politics, policy, revolution, progress, democracy,
In twentieth century scientific and technological advances brought a great
number of new international words, such as: atomic, antibiotic, radio, television,
The English language also contributed a considerable number of international
words to world languages. Among them the sports terms occupy a prominent posi-
tion, for example: football, volleyball, baseball, hockey, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf.
Fruits and foodstuffs imported from exotic countries often transport their names
too and being simultaneously imported to many countries, become international, such
as: coffee, cocoa, chocolate, Coca-Cola, banana, mango, avocado, grapefruit.
It is important to note that international words are mainly borrowings. The
outward similarity of such words as the English “son”, the German “Sohn” and the
Russian “cын” should not lead one to the quite false conclusion that they are
international words. They represent the Indo-European group of the native element
in each respective language are cognates, that is the words of the same etymological
root and not borrowings.