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A lot of words in European and other languages come from Latin and Greek, if English (It's an example) words come from Latin and Greek, where Latin and Greek words come from?

  • There are a lot of words in English that are recognizably similar to words of Greek and Latin. But your question doesn't seem to be about English, it seems to be about the source of the words of Greek, and of Latin. Though you might be asking how words of Greek and Latin got into English (in which case you actually need to separate Greek from Latin since the answers is slightly different, depending on original language). So please rewrite the question so that we can tell what you are actually asking. – user6726 Nov 4 '16 at 16:22
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    No, I just asked where Latin and Greek words come from. The origin of Latin and Greek words. – Sherlock Holmes Nov 4 '16 at 16:25
  • So is your question simply "Where do Latin and Greek words come from?", and this other stuff about other languages is actually irrelevant? That's simple enough to fix. – user6726 Nov 4 '16 at 16:40
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    By the way, there are lots of words in English that don't come from Latin and Greek. At the time when Latin and Greek existed, the ancestor of English was already a separate language. – ewawe Nov 4 '16 at 17:56
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    I think you should start with this video youtu.be/XTkf9bEB8RU – Alex B. Nov 4 '16 at 22:07
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This graph gives you a decent picture of the evolution of Indo-European languages:

Evolution of Indo-European Languages

The first line under Proto-Indo-European would benefit from a "Proto-" prefix, though (Proto-Indo-Iranian, Proto-Hellenic, etc.)

Derivation and borrowing are two different phenomena. Kernel English words derive from Proto-Indo-European, via Proto-Germanic, West-Germanic, Anglo-Frisian, Old English and Middle English. Words that come from Latin and Greek (or French, Old Norse, Celtic, Arabic or Nahuatl) are borrowings. You can spot the difference because the normal transformations that apply to derived words do not apply to borrowings. For instance, initial Latin /p/ corresponds to English initial /f/:

Pater - Father

Pisces - Fish

But English paternal, with an initial /p/ - which means it was borrowed from Latin, at a time when the transformation p->f was no longer taking place.

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    A few more Indo-European roots and etymologies of English words that come from them. Note the differences between borrowings and direct descent: *gen-, *sed-, *penkwe-, and *dei-. – jlawler Nov 5 '16 at 15:02
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    Just for completeness' sake, it should be noted there are a few missing branches on the second level of the tree: Anatolian, Tocharian, Armenian and Albanian. – TKR Nov 5 '16 at 16:33
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    @jlawler, may I ask the source of those excellent charts? – TKR Nov 5 '16 at 16:36
  • Thank you. I made them for my freshman etymology class. That was a while ago, but not much changes in etymology. – jlawler Nov 5 '16 at 16:54
  • @jlawler I think your charts would make a great answer to this question. – michau Nov 5 '16 at 17:52
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Latin and Greek, just like English, are Indo-European languages: they're descended from an ancestor language called Proto-Indo-European (PIE), which we know relatively little about because it was spoken before the invention of writing. Many Latin and Greek words can be traced back to PIE, though others cannot (sometimes because they're borrowings from other languages, sometimes because their etymology is unknown).

Of course, your question can be taken a step further back -- where did Proto-Indo-European come from? The answer to that is that, although many people have speculated, no one really knows, because there isn't enough evidence to work with.

(Btw, many or most common English words do not come from Latin and Greek, but directly from Proto-Indo-European.)

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    @StoneyB: I would assume the "directly" in this answer means "by direct descent," not "immediately." There is an unbroken (unless you believe the "English is a creole" hypotheses) chain of transmission between PIE and inherited English words such as "fish." – ewawe Nov 4 '16 at 17:58
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    @StoneyB I mean "directly" as opposed to "via borrowing" (which also excludes Old Norse loanwords). – TKR Nov 4 '16 at 17:59
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    @SherlockHolmes There is information but it is indirect. IE studies is a very large and active field -- see the Wikis article for a place to start. – TKR Nov 4 '16 at 18:01
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    @SherlockHolmes IE - Indo-Europen – tum_ Nov 4 '16 at 19:36
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    It must be telepathy. – fdb Nov 4 '16 at 20:31

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