I am not a linguist. I do not know German nor French. The majority of English vocabulary is derived from Romance languages. Given these facts, I ask for a simple and convincing demonstration (using an example) that the "basic structure" of English is of Germanic, rather than Romantic origin.
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There is a common assumption in all the answers so far, which I think is mistaken. It is that the question has a well-definied, categorical answer, that English is either Germanic or Romance, and cannot be some mix of the two. The assumption is clearly enunciated in some of the answers, but it is present in all, even in Janus very good answer, when he speaks of an early pre-viking "stage of English", as is a language has at any time T in the past a unique and well-defined ancestor.
We should remember that language have no parent like a bacteria has one parent and a human being has two. They are complicated structure with not so-well defined boundaries which evolves over time in part by borrowing a lot form other language. Most of the time, however, it is true that it is a very good approximation of the reality to suppose that a language has a unique ancestor at a given time of the past. For instance, it is relatively safe to say that the ancestor of Modern french at time 50BC is Latin, because even if there has been much vocabulary borrowing in French since 2064 years, it is marginal and most of the vocabulary and almost all of the grammars can be traced back from Latin.
But English has a very special history. At some point, French-speaking Normans invaded England and became the ruling class of the country. Progressively their French language mixed with old English of the former inhabitants, to give a new language which will in turn evolve into modern English. Now we need to turn to facts to see if this language comes mainly from Old English with some French influence, or from French with some Old English influence, or anything in between.
Most of the facts have been recalled by Janus, but let me reiterate them here and add new ones:
So I believe it is safe to say that English has both a Romance and Germanic origin, arguably slightly more Germanic in view of the importance of the Germanic words in its basic vocabulary, and of the form if Germanic origin in its grammar (as a more precise analysis would show). Remember that it is only a convenient approximation to say that a language is "the genetic continuation" of some language of the past, sometimes a very good approximation ("Polish comes from common Slavic"), sometimes just a decent approximation ("French comes from Latin", but 10% of its basic vocabulary is of Germanic origins, and some of its grammar too, like the "passé composé"), sometimes really an over-simplification ("English comes from common Germanic").
Classification of languages is a historical thing, rather than a synchronic one. Just like genetic classification of humans—someone who marries into a new family and goes and lives with them is nonetheless still genetically related to the family they came from.
The majority of the total vocabulary in English may be borrowed rather than inherited, but the majority of the most common and basic vocabulary is inherited. This includes such things as numbers (all inherited), most pronouns (except they, which is Germanic, but not inherited), many basic non-administrative nouns (wood, name, stone, man, woman, ship, way, ox, hound, house, etc.), and many basic verbs (be, have, should, can, will, go, do, live, die, think, bear, etc.).
Much of this basic vocabulary is also among the most irregular in the language, which usually indicates it's been around much longer. Words borrowed from other languages tend to be force-fitted into the borrowing language's most regular morphology, while inherited words suffer no such restrictions.
If you go back to Old English from before the Vikings settled in England, you can clearly see a language (or several closely related languages, if you prefer) that has a high degree of resemblance to other West Germanic languages of the time, in almost every aspect. This (and the fact that this language can be reconstructed back to the common Proto-Germanic language that all Germanic languages go back to) is really the best direct indicator that English is genetically Germanic, rather than Romance. You won't find a stage of English where it is almost identical to any stage of any Romance language.
If you don't want to get into details of linguistics (which I take it you don't) the best way to see the family resemblance is to take a comparative look at English's closest linguistic relative found on mainland Europe: Frisian.
Some sample words in Frisian, English, Dutch, and German:
Frisian is of course indisputably a Germanic language, and just from the above its pretty clear both that these very basic words are all related, and that the Frisian variant looks far closer to the English than the other two.
As someone who has never learned other languages, it might be an easy mistake to think that vocabulary is all there is to a language. However, that would be wrong. There's far far more going on structurally in a language than simple word choice.
Delving into the murky waters of linguistics a bit more, we find that Germanic languages actually share a lot of pronunciation and structural features that are not found in Romance languages. Taking it further, West Germanic languages share features not found in North Germanic languages, and Anglo-Frisian languages share features not found in the other West Germanic languages. Based on all that, its fairly easy to classify English as Germanic, further as West Germanic, and further still as Anglo-Frisian.
"It's a historical thing" and "it's a genetic thing" mean the same thing, which is that it doesn't matter how French-like a language looks if its lineage traces back to Proto-Germanic. The way it happened was that people were in Britain speaking Old English, a clearly Germanic language, and then the Normans invaded and Old English was influenced by the French of the ruling class to become Middle English. When you hang out with someone who speaks another language, you're more likely to borrow their words than you are to borrow their grammar. So a side effect of English's Germanic lineage is that its grammar is more Germanic than Romance. For instance, this is why you can end a sentence in a preposition in English even though you can't in (most dialects of) French or Latin.
Of course, if you look back further, Germanic and Romance languages are themselves related as Indo-European languages, so you have to keep that in mind when looking for examples of how Romance-like English is.
It's a genetic thing, not a historic one.
Future civilizations analyzing languages in the European area would make the exact same conclusions without access to our current knowledge.
English is clearly derived from the Proto-Germanic language and it's quite obvious as it shares a LOT of similarities with other germanic languages and just about none with French.
Notice how "Ceci est" shares no similarities with either german or english.
EN: This is a dog.
DE: Das ist ein hund.
FR: Ceci est un chien.
Notice how both German and English use almost the same words, none of which look like the French words.
EN: Good Day.
DE: Guten Tag.
Notice the order of verb and reflexive pronoun (if that's how it's called)?
EN: I bought myself a pair of socks.
DE: Ich kaufte mir ein Paar Socken
FR: Je me suis acheté une paire de chaussettes.
For what is worth it is important to remember that all languages are, to one degree or another, blends of earlier languages. Some scholars have described modern English as a "creole" of old English and Norman French. Indeed some scholars have described the Romance languages of Western Europe (Italian, Spanish, French, etc.) as creoles of Latin and Gothic (Germanic). French, of course, got a second heavy Germanic blending as a result of the Franks. In the case of English, grammatically the language has been heavily influenced by French but, overall, its grammar is still somewhat more Germanic, though truthfully English grammar has morphed so much that a lot of it resembles neither French nor German. Certainly one can argue that English derives a lot more vocabulary from Latin than its Saxon roots but still the core of the language still resembles its Saxon roots more than its Latin influences (similarly one could point to the fact that Maltese has more Latin vocabulary than Arabic, but any linguist would tell you that, at its core, Maltese is Arabic).,
Well, there are a lot of answers here, but I don't see the right one. We classify languages not by similarities of any sort other than shared sound changes in their histories. We inherit this geneological model from the 19th century neogrammarians, along with the assumption that sound changes apply without exception. Then what sound changes does English share with the Romance languages that other Germanic languages do not share? To my knowledge, none at all. There is no evidence to support classifying English as a Romance language.
Perhaps a case can be made that English shares some morphology and some phonology with Romance due to a large influx of loan words, including sets of morphologically related borrowed forms. But I don't know of any phonological rule of English traceable to Romance that could plausibly be classed as an exceptionless sound change.
Maybe the clarity of this issue is hard to see because so much doubt has been cast on the neogrammarian hypothesis of exceptionless sound changes. We could discuss that, I suppose, but I don't see it as an issue, here. That's the assumption that underlies the genetic classification under discussion.
Thank you for your answer.
I would allow myself to add that one could say exactly the same about the transition from Old Frankish to French, and it doesn't impede that french still is a Romance language. The Latin importance in both languages is undeniable. English has grammatical features with other Germanic languages, so has French, and sometimes even where English took the Latin roots instead. Does that make of English a more Latin language than French? I don't think so.
There is no misinformations about how languages are classified. I am only talking about the first map that people are usually given when they start being interested in languages.
If you study linguistics, you'll see you'll also be given another map derived from the exact same classification of languages, but more precise, on which English and French appear in the same colours as influenced by both Latin and Germanic elements. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese appear in the same colours as more purely Latin and Swedish, Norwegian and Danish appear also in the same colour as more purely north germanic, for western europe. The same is true for other languages in other parts of the world.
The classifications of languages is not a precise map, but a map which gives you a first look, an idea of certain elements of a language. You've got to put the limits somewhere. The classification of languages is like a piece of wood that has not been carved yet. Through study of the languages that interest you, you can find more precisely the exact amount of influence there is. So... English? A Romance language? If you want. It is just like saying French is a Germanic language. Both are true to a certain extent. Sometimes the English language has even taken more latin influences than French and French more germanic influences, but the countrary is true too. And English has more Scandinavian influences, and Scandinavian languages are considered north germanic languages.
The everlasting discussion about English being a Romance language or French a germanic language is simply impossible to solve, because both languages and cultures of those countries are very similar and have evolved through the Roman, Germanic, and Scandinavian invasions. In both cases the germanic settlement has been the birth of the nation. The Saxons for the English and the Franks for the French. Saxon is a word of Latin origin. This is how the Romans called the region in Germany where they arrived because of the Rocks there... In modern italian, "rock" ("rocher" in french) is still said "Sasso". Frank on the other hand is a word of germanic origin meaning what it still means in modern English and French: "Frank"... That is to say "honest".
You guys, either English or French, only need to accept you are at a crossroad of culture and language.
Wether grammatically speaking or in vocabulary or in pronunciation, both English and French had to evolve through this melting of germanic and Latin influences. I'm not even evoking the moments when, both languages being still under evolution, influenced each other (The War with the Normands, the Hundred Year war, etc...)
Classifying English in the Romance category or French in the germanic category would make of English the most germanic language of the Latin group and of French the most latin language of the germanic category.
In either case it is not stupid, but as I said earlier: you've got to draw a limit at one point. It is not easy.
At least, with english, we get to have a relatively "fair" position considering that learning either Norwegian, Italian, Spanish or Swedish will remain fairly easy if I may put it that way (not that learning a language is ever easy but you know what I mean). The French find themselves classified with Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, knowing that English is the language with the most similar words to French and that the pronunciation of French is totally central germanic (German is easy to pronounce for a French), as well as certain words and grammatical elements... And they find themselves in the same category as Romanian which is a totally alien language for them to learn (much more alien than German! At least as alien as Swedish and Norwegian if not more.
So... Let's look on the bright side! lol
The most common English words, including those for "everyday" things, mostly come from German.
It's true the many, perhaps a plurality or majority of words for more advanced concepts come from Romance languages.
But with words weighted for "frequency of use," as opposed to raw numbers, English is more Germanic than Romance.
That is to say there are more Romance words than Germanic words in English, as measured by a dictionary, but measured by everyday use, Germanic words are more frequent than Romance words.
The English spoken in Alfred the Great's England was heavily influenced by the Norse marauders from Norway and Denmark. The English spoken then was Teutonic in origin but evolved into a modified version which dispensed with the elaborate case system of Teutonic languages. The disgusting 4-letter words we use today have clear Germanic origins as do any of the English words beginning with the letters 'KN....' which are Danish in origin. e.g., knife, knock, knight, knob, etc.
I just find all this discussion simply un believable... From my french speaker point of view it seems quite weird that some people here, who are maybe somehow english speakers themselves might ask themselves if their language is germanic or latin. I'm sorry, but from a romance-speaking point of view english look nowhere near being romance language at all. To us, its sounds, structure, grammar, spellings, rythms, all seem so similar to other germanic languages that this question feels as weird as asking if Italian is a germanic language. Those people really seem to have no idea of what a romance language is.
When I was a kid, before I learned English, I was unable to notice any difference between, say, Dutch, swedish German or English. All these languages were to me "those strange languages from the north"...
I realized later that English had borrowed latin-based from french much later when I learned the language at school. Before it never crossed my mind that it had some words of french-based origins into modern English for the simple reason that the very huge majority of the everday language looked so much "weird" as much as dutch and german would... And the pronouciation (and often also its spelling) of latin-based english words is so "germanized" that they are totally unrecognizable to a native romance ear.
I just have some difficulties to understand why so many English speaker on internet forum try so hard to convince themselves that English would somehow very different from other germanic languages. It seem as if it would be more valuable for their pride if english was romance... This is quite ununderstandable to me. German or dutch speakers will never do that, when their languages have also borrowed latin-based words...
The responses have been interesting despite a tendency on the part of some participants to affect a snarky tone (don't need it). Most of us who have been reading the history of English (Baugh, Cable, Pyle, Bolton, Sweet, Jespersen, Curme, and many others) know the drill: English is a Germanic language that over time borrowed about 70% of its vocabulary from Romance languages but remained resolutely Germanic in its core vocabulary and grammar. John McWhorter and others have questioned this march from Old English to Present Day English as an unbroken Germanic goose-step but I think the best narration of the motives of those linguists is found in Trudgill and Watts Histories of English where they outline the pressures on early linguists to maintain a Germanic and nationalistic and even romantic narrative for the language. Nevertheless, the original question asked for examples and others have given them even though quarrels broke out over said examples. The aforesaid book shook up my decades long assumptions about the "genetic" relationship of English (recall the uncalled for brouhaha over the word "genetic" in the Ebonics controversy). I am reading a lot of Kweyol now and it is certainly made easier by my knowledge of French, but calling it Haitian French Creole does not make it a form of French even though many charts place it as a descendant of French. All of this needs rethinking.
protected by prash♦ Mar 25 at 9:43
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