Linguistics Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What was the influence of Latin on the English language?  

Expert Answers info

wordprof eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write1,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

The English language, which began as a conglomeration of native tongues, was greatly influenced by the Roman conquest of the British Isles near the end of Rome’s dominance of the Western world—not only did the Roman soldiers bring Latin to the natives on the day-to-day level, but the rulers and military elite communicated in Latin.  The next influence came at the Renaissance, when Latin was the common language of the educated, especially in the universities.  (For example, an accused criminal could escape the death penalty if he could recite prayers in Latin, because education was important to the social welfare.)  By definition, the Renaissance was the rebirth of Greek and Latin philosophies imbedded in Latin texts requiring translation into the native English tongue, and many words not yet in the English language were simply borrowed directly from Latin, thus explaining the surfeit of cognates between Latin and modern English (especially roots of words).  The syntax, prefixes and suffixes, as well, were Latin-based.  Shakespeare’s hundreds of contributions to English were in large part Anglicizations of Latin words (a famous example is “incarnadine” from Macbeth).   

check Approved by eNotes Editorial