domingo, 16 de septiembre de 2007


England is probably one of the only countries in which both Germanic and Latinate languages combined, fusing together. When the Normans conquered the Anglo-Saxons, both populations co-existed, the aristocrats speaking French and the peasants Anglo-Saxon until both languages blended.
Broadly speaking, the common English words are Germanic. "Function words", prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc. are mostly Anglo-Saxon. Things and physical actions are also mainly Anglo-Saxon. So are most swear words or four-letter words. But professional vocabulary was brought to Britain in the Renaissance by the French, strengthening the notion that Latin-originated words are an indicator of education and endowing Latinate words with a sort of "higher status".
I remember a Spanish student telling me about her experience in the US - aside from being a fast learner, she was a big hit in her class because whenever she had to say a difficult word she did not know in English she resorted to a direct translation of the word in Spanish, the result being pretty close to the "Latinate" version of the real thing. The use of these words impressed her classmates, who did not use them in every-day language.
It is often frustrating for EFL language learners to realize that the perfectly correct English they learned in the classroom barely resembles what they hear in the streets of London or New York.
The use of Latinate words in English can jar the ear. When they are densely used, they give the impression of being an attempt to sound or seem upper class or cultivated. Whilst Germanic words are often considered to connote sincerity and frankness. This doesn't mean one thing is better than the other. It means we need both.

An extract of George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" illustrates the difference between Latinate and Germanic words. The Latinate words are in bold type.

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. . .Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. . . . The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

What Orwell would have thought of the great number of Spanish words currently making their way into the every-day English language, we will never know.

2 comentarios:

Maria dijo...

That was very interesting!I think Latinate language is mumbo-jumbo no matter what your mother tongue is. We tend to mistrust what we don't understand. I guess this is why we mistrust politicians and lawyers so much.
In the 1970s The American Council of Teachers of English formed a Public Doublespeak Committee to draw attention to the use of deceptive language by public figures, and gave a George Orwell Award for honesty and clarity in public language. In the UK campaigners for plain English shredded unclear government forms outside the Houses of Parliament. President Carter signed an executive order requiring regulations to be written in plain English, though this was repealed by his successor in 1981.
In 1553, Thomas Wilson wrote "Some seeke so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers language" I believe this holds good in any language.

Patsy y Francisca dijo...

Thank you María. Nice to know someone out there actually reads us!
One of the landmarks of The Plain English Campaign in the UK is, in my opinion, the change that came about in the legal language - involving, for the first time, people outside the legal system. Aimed at making the law more comprehensible to the lay person. (though I suspect NOT being comprehensible was part of what made lawyers and solicitors feel they were the cat's whiskers - some comments in the English press said these changes would reduce the majesty of the law!!) Still a long way to go, though.
I'll be posting some examples in Spanish.

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