Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What is Continental Borrowing or Latin Influence of the Zero Period on Old English?

Continental borrowing is one of the earliest Latin influences on Old English language. The German tribes Anglo, Saxon and Jutes came to England and established the English language. But before they had come to England, they had contact with the Latin language. So, 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 or outside England . 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 Germanic people had immense contacts with peoples who spoke Latin. Traders, Germanic as well as Roman, came and went, while Germanic 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. 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 sixty 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 that the Germanic peoples acquired from this contact with a higher civilization. Next to agriculture the chief occupation of the Germanic tribes in the empire was war, and this experience is reflected in words like camp (battle), segn (banner), and miltestre (courtesan). More numerous are the words connected with trade. They traded amber, furs, slaves, and probably certain raw materials for the products of Roman handicrafts, articles of utility, luxury, and adornment. The words cēap (bargain; cf. Eng., cheap, chapman) and mangian (to trade) with its derivatives mangere (monger), mangung (trade, commerce), and mangunghūs (shop) are fundamental, while pund (pound), mydd (bushel), sēam (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 Germanic peoples was the wine trade: hence such words in English as wīn (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).

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.

A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.