Roots of English like a soup

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 1998, 12:00am

Irecently visited the Roman remains at the city of Bath in England. There is a hot spring at this city, with hot water bubbling out from a fault in the rocks. People have long thought of this as a magical and mystical occurrence, and the Romans built a temple at the place. They also built a public bath-house, with the baths fed by the hot water of the spring. That is how the city came to have the name 'Bath', and it is fascinating to see the same spring producing the water today.

Standing at these baths today, standing on the very stones where Roman soldiers also stood and bathed, you are reminded that England has been invaded on many occasions in its history. The Romans came from Italy in the year 43. They occupied much of the country. Some of the names of English towns remind us that they were an invading force, and needed to station their armies throughout the country to prevent rebellion.

The Romans spoke Latin. The Latin word for a camp was castra. The places where they had camps live on in the names of towns such as Chester, Winchester and Manchester. Look up these places on an atlas, and you will see just how extensive the Roman occupation was.

Just as the Romans left their mark on the English language, so too have all the other peoples who have invaded England throughout its history. The lan guage is a like a soup. Each of these invaders should added bits from their language, like adding another ingredient to the soup. And of course, when you mix in other ingredients, they all get mixed together and the soup is quite different from how it originally started out.

The first major group to dominate the British isles were a tribe called the Celts. They moved out from Central Europe and overcame the small tribes already in Britain. Their descendants and language are still strong in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Welsh is a very different language from English. However, as we have seen, the Celts did not get their own way for long and were in turn overrun by the Romans.

After the Romans left in 410, there came a succession of other invaders who all added their own ingredients to the soup. Groups of Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded from Northern Europe. They brought new additions to the language from their Germanic roots. Here are some words from the Germanic area of Holland called Frisia: ko, lam, goes, boat, dong, rein. They are all words to do with everyday life at that time. Can you think of any English equivalents? The answer is cow, lamb, goose, boat, dung and rain. You can begin to see how the language was affected by these new invaders. The names of the days of the week also come from these roots. Sun and Moon come from these Germanic language and have named Sunday and Monday. Tiu was a sky-god and war-god, and has become Tuesday. Wednesday is named after the chief of the Anglo-Saxon gods, Woden. Thunor, god of thunder gave his name to Thursday, Frig (Woden's wife) to Friday. Saturday is named after Saturn, a Roman god.

The last people to invade the country were the Normans in 1066. They came from France and brought with them both Latin and French. Latin was the language of the Church and State, and French was spoken by the rich aristocracy. Words such as disciple, shrine, nun and monk come from Latin. Other words, such as surrender, interrogate and ascend are examples from French.

A good dictionary will tell you the roots of words. Look at the abbreviations and look up their meaning. They will tell you which language the word comes from. But the soup did not stop cooking with the arrival of the Normans. You have seen that it has been subject to various influences which have all added their own ingredients.

Great writers have added new words and ways of expressing ideas. Shakespeare, for example, had a vocabulary many times greater than an ordinary person, and he invented many new words himself. Also think of all the new words that have entered the language as a result of advance in science and technology.

The word television was made up from the Greek tele, meaning distant, and the Latin visio, meaning I see. A microscope comes from the Greek micros, meaning little, and skopos, a watcher. These are relatively new words, but you can see how they have been formed from older languages. You can look up many more technological words for yourself in the dictionary to find other examples of this process at work.

Get into the habit of thinking where English words have come from. If you take in an interest in how the language has developed, then you will find learning it more interesting. And if you are interested in something, you will find you can do it more effectively.