How words were added

A good talking

Here is a very ordinary piece of narrative writing. There is nothing unusual about it. The words are all common and widely understood.

 

We enjoyed a dinner in the restaurant, opting for beef and vegetables as our main course. Following that, we had an excellent conversation in the visitors’ lounge. I admired the distant view of the mountains, clearly visible on the horizon. The waiter brought us coffee and biscuits. Dad read the newspaper while Mum browsed through a magazine.

 

1,000 years ago, it would have been impossible to write, read or understand this passage in English. Apart from the fact that it mentions items that did not exist in those days, it uses words that had not entered the English language. 27 of the 60 words in the passage did not come into English until after 1066. They are highlighted here:

 

We enjoyed a dinner in the restaurant, opting for beef and vegetables as our main course. Following that, we had an excellent conversation in the visitors’ lounge. I admired the distant view of the mountains, clearly visible on the horizon. The waiter brought us coffee and biscuits. Dad read the newspaper while Mum browsed through a magazine.

 

We are now jumping backwards and forwards in time. The words in blue did not exist in Anglo-Saxon.the earliest form of English. This list shows approximately when they came into English:

Ø     admire 16th century from Latin

Ø     beef 13th century from French

Ø     biscuit 14th century from French, implying ‘twice cooked’

Ø     browse 15th century from French

Ø     clear 13th century from French

Ø     coffee 16th century from Italian and Arabic

Ø     conversation 16th century from French

Ø     course 13th century from French

Ø     dad 16th century

Ø     dinner 13th century from French

Ø     distant 14th century from Latin

Ø     enjoy 14th century from French

Ø     excellent 15th century from Latin

Ø     horizon 14th century from Latin

Ø     lounge 16th century

Ø     magazine 18th century

Ø     main 13th century from Old English word meaning ‘strength’

Ø     mountain 13th century from French

Ø     mum (for mother) 19th century

Ø     newspaper 17th century

Ø     opt 19th century from French

Ø     restaurant 18th century from French

Ø     vegetable 14th century from French

Ø     view 15th century from French

Ø     visible 14th century from Latin

Ø     visitor 13th century from Latin

Ø     wait 12th century from French

If we were to translate the passage into a modern version of the English of ten centuries ago, it might look something like this:

 

We had a good meal in the eating-hall. We liked most the cow-meat and the beet. That is the food we shared. Afterward, we had a good talking in the guest-chamber. I looked at the far landscape and high hills, which were well seen on the rim of the earth. The house-knave brought us ale and small baked breadwheat loaves. Mine father... mine mother... ‘Translation’ stops here. There were no books for general reading by ordinary people, and no magazines!

 

The simple exercise shows how much influence the Norman Conquest had on our language. Up to about 1,000 years ago, English consisted largely of Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) and Norse (Scandinavian) words. It was not until some time after William the Conqueror arrived, and Norman French was eventually used by the rulers and merchants, that the vocabulary of English absorbed words such as those listed above. During the same period, scholars helped by coining words from Latin. As the centuries went by, explorers and scientists helped by adding new words for their discoveries.

We are very fortunate in having a language with a rich 1,500-year history.

 

Food in the first millennium

Now it’s time for you to do some research in your dictionaries!

q       Which of the following would be in your vocabulary 1,100 years ago?

q       When did the others come into English, and where did they come from?

q       What does this tell you about the influence of the Norman Conquest?

 

 

deer

venison

 

 

 

 

 

cow

beef

steak

 

 

 

 

sheep

mutton

lamb

 

 

 

 

hog

swine

pork

bacon

ham

 

 

chicken

poultry

chook

 

 

 

 

beet

cabbage

carrot

 

 

 

 

tea

coffee

milk

 

 

 

 

beer

ale

wine

 

 

 

When you have done as much research as you can manage, then... scroll down for answers and notes.

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How words were added. Answers and notes.

The words labelled OE (Old English) would have been in your vocabulary 1,100 years ago. That’s only half of the words in the list.

I have not tried to reproduce all the accents on the non-English or Old English words.

I have added some modern Icelandic words so that you can see how some Old Norse, originally the language of the Vikings, is still alive and well in Iceland.

I have also added some words from modern Frisian, which is spoken in parts of Denmark and the Netherlands. It is very closely related to English.

deer             OE deor beast. Related to Old High German tior wild beast, Ole Norse dyr. In modern Icelandic, dyr still means animal. In modern Frisian, dier means animal.

venison        13th century from Old French venaison from Latin venatio, hunting, from venari to hunt

cow             OE cu. Related to Old Norse kyr, Old High German kuo, Latin bos, Greek bous, Sanskrit gaus. In modern Icelandic, kyr still means cow. In modern Frisian, ko means cow.

beef             13th century from Old French boef, from Latin bos, ox.

steak            15th century from Old Norse steik, roast. Related to steikja to roast on a spit. In modern Icelandic, steik means steak. However, in modern Frisian stik means piece or lump and steak is byfstik, a piece of beef.

sheep           OE sceap. Related to Old Frisian sjep, Old Saxon scap, Old High German scaf. In modern Frisian, sheep is skiep.

mutton         13th century moton sheep, from Old French, from Medieval Latin multo¸ of Celtic origin. Your dictionary probably had notes on another use of the word not connected to sheep.

lamb            OE lamb from Germanic words. cf [compare with] modern German Lamm, Old High German and Old Norse lamb. In modern Icelandic, lamb still means lamb. In modern Frisian, lamb is laam.

hog              OE hogg. From Celtic. cf Cornish hoch.

swine           OE swin. Related to Old Norse svin, Gothic swein, Latin suinus relating to swine. In modern Icelandic, svin still means swine, pig.

pork            13th century from Old French porc, from Latin porcus pig.

bacon          12th century from Old French bacon from Old High German bahho. Related to Old Saxon baco.

ham             OE hamm. Related to Old High German hamma haunch, Old Irish cnaim bone, camm bent, Latin camur bent.

chicken        OE ciecen. Related to Old Norse kjulingr gosling, Middle Low German kuken chicken. In modern Icelandic, kjuklingur means chicken.

poultry         14th century from Old French pouletrie from pouletier poultry-dealer.

chook          20th century informal, slang, chiefly in Australia and New Zealand.

beet             OE bete from Latin beta. In modern Frisian, byt means beetroot.

cabbage       14th century from Norman French caboche head. Perhaps related to Old French boce hump, from Latin caput head.

carrot          16th century from Old French carotte, from Late Latin carota, from Greek karoton. Perhaps related to Greek kare head.

tea               17th century from Amoy dialect of Chinese t’e from ancient Chinese d’a

coffee          16th century from Italian caffe, from Turkish kahve, from Arabic qahwah, coffee, wine.

milk             OE milc. cf Old Saxon miluk, Old High German miluh, Old Norse mjolk. In modern Icelandic, milk is still mjolk. In modern Frisian it is molke.

beer             OE beor. Related to Old Norse bjorr, Old Frisian biar, Old High German biar.

ale               OE alu, ealu. Related to Old Norse ol, Old Saxon alofat. In modern Icelandic, ol is still ale.

wine            OE win from Latin vinum. Related to Greek oinos, of obscure origin.

 

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