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I always assumed that Latin and Greek were related due to English having so many roots from both-but they aren't, right? So why does English have so many Greek and Latin roots?

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  • I'm confused,Norman French and Latin, do they have the same origin or are they the same.
    – user9563
    Apr 12, 2015 at 17:41
  • @KameiGaundijon Norman French is one of the many languages (known as the 'Romance' languages) that descend from Latin. Standard French (the standard language of modern France) is another descendant of Latin. Does that help? Jun 20, 2015 at 12:56
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    Neither existing answer seems to mention that many Greek and Latin words entered English "inorganically", being borrowed whole by classicists and later by scientists, rather than evolving continuously over a period of time. Hence they could pick and choose and the form is often nearly intact. This happened much more with Greek words, since Latin also had the "organic" route of continuous change through Popular Latin and Old French and English. An example is phenomenon, borrowed in the 16th century. (Many languages did this, e.g. a German philosopher coined teleology). Feb 1, 2018 at 13:32
  • People in Europe in history lived with, and were educated in the two classic (European) languages Latin and Old Greek in culture. Influence of the Norman French elite and of the Church helped this even further, as languages in Brittain were less stable than on the continent (I think).
    – Joop Eggen
    Feb 1, 2018 at 15:18
  • People should be aware, that Greek in this context is actually ancient Greek. This information is usually omitted, because of the high similarity between modern and ancient Greek. Nevertheless, there are some properties of the English language that can only be explained if one studies ancient Greek (i.e. Why does the letter 'H' sound the way that the British pronounce it? [which is the correct pronunciation by the way]). Apr 11, 2019 at 18:54

2 Answers 2

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English (and most other Western-European languages) adopted many words from Latin and Greek throughout history, because especially Latin was the Lingua Franca all through Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and later.

However, English has many more words borrowed from Latin than have other Germanic languages, which it owes to the conquest of England by the Normans in the year 1066. The Normans spoke Norman French, which was still much closer to Latin than modern French, especially in spelling. From then on, French was used as the language of administration for a while, and much of this was incorporated into English even as the influence of Norman culture in England waned.

Note that, very, very long ago, in prehistoric times, the Germanic and Italic branches (the ancestor of Latin) diverged from the (supposed) proto-language called Proto-Indo-European. That's why e.g. English, Greek, Russian, Persian, Urdu, and Latin have certain things in common, although most similarities are now only apparent to the trained eye. The similarities you see between English and Latin are mostly caused by what happened after 1066.

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    One correction: the 11th Century Normans did not speak Old/Middle French, but Norman French. Norman French was a sister language to the variety that later became Middle, and eventually standard, French. Jun 15, 2013 at 2:23
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    @Cerberus: Your wording is a bit awkard where you talk about Latin branching off a reconstructed language. It really broke off an actual language. It's just that we don't know that language directly and have in modern times attempted to reconstruct it. Jun 15, 2013 at 5:50
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    @hippietrail: Umm I didn't say that? I said this: "the Germanic and Italic languages (amongst which Latin) branched off from the (reconstructed) proto-language called Proto-Indo-European." How would you have me rephrase that? I think it sounds fine?
    – Cerberus
    Jun 15, 2013 at 14:18
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    @Cerberus: I think what hippietrail is saying is that the current sentence makes it seem like the German and Italic languages descended from a reconstructed language. They didn't; we have evidence that they descended from an undocumented language; and the reconstructed "proto-language" is our best guess as to what that real language was like. Apr 12, 2015 at 18:03
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    I have to agree with hippietrail. As I read "... diverged from the (reconstructed) language ...", I thought "that sounds awkward: the reconstruction happened in the 19th to 21st centuries". Feb 17, 2016 at 9:32
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Latin and Greek are related due to both being descended from the same prehistoric ancestor language. English also shares a common prehistoric ancestor with Latin and Greek.

Most languages have a single origin (though creoles and mixed languages have two).

But the origins of a language need not be the origins of each and every word. English has borrowed words from very many languages but from French it has borrowed en masse due to the Normans, who spoke an old variety of French, invading and ruling England almost a millenium ago.

The grammar and core vocabulary of English have origins in Germanic.

Many English words have origins outside English. Many of those had their origins in Norman French.

Norman French, of course has Latin as its origin.

So it's not correct to say "English has both Latin and Greek origins". Origin means starting point and the Norman borrowing happened much later than the starting point of English, though still in a remote time from our point of view.

English has Germanic origins. Individual English words have hundreds of exotic origins from languages all over the world. A large percentage of English words have Norman French origins. Norman French had Latin origins. The majority of Norman French words had Latin origins (though there are surely words Norman French borrowed from other languages it was in contact with and passed on to English).

But of course even the Germanic and Latin languages didn't spring out of nowhere. They also had origins. They are both traced back to a common origin in Proto-Indo-European. Some linguists try to trace the origins even further back and have many hypotheses, but most linguists agree that such retracing is not possible.

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  • "The grammar and core vocabulary of English have origins in Germanic." Well it depends on what you mean by "core vocabulary". If you're just talking about Swadesh list vocabulary (which establishes language family, ergo English is Germanic), then yes, that's correct. If you're talking actual language fluency, then no, this is not correct. By the end of A2 (advanced beginner), before intermediate English, there's more Romance/Italic vocabulary in English than there is Germanic. To be fluent, you need more Romance than you do Germanic vocabulary. English is absolutely a Germanic language though Mar 19 at 2:03
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    "Core vocabulary" and "fluency" are not at all synonymous. Mar 19 at 3:04
  • I mean what are we defining as "core vocabulary" then? You're literally at majority Romance in A2 English, advanced beginner. Sure, "continue" isn't Swadesh list territory, but it's certainly a pretty critical word to English, and that's about the level of commonness you see in A2 vocabulary. Mar 19 at 4:35