The vocabulary of English

Although present-day English does not borrow very often from foreign languages, the vocabulary of English in the history of the language has been characterised by at times massive influence from other languages. There are three main sources for historical loans in English.


pre-Old English, loans after Christianisation, borrowings and new formations in the early modern period


late Old English


Norman and Central French, during the early and late Middle English periods respectively

Latin is the language which has continuously donated words to English from its prehistoric stage to the present-day. Often the Latin words are from Greek originally. But also there are many direct loans from Greek in particular in the spheres of science and technology. To group Latin and Greek together one speaks of classical loans in English.

CALQUES (loan translations) Before looking at loans in detail one should remark that these are not only direct borrowings but also includes what are called calques. These are new formations in a language which are attained by translating the elements of a word in a foreign language. For instance Greek sympathia comes from syn ‘with’ and pathia ‘suffering’. It was borrowed into Latin as compassio (from con ‘with’ and passio ‘suffering') and then into German as Mitleid from mit ‘with’ and Leid ‘suffering’. Another instance of a calque would be Vorhersehung ‘providence’ from providentia and Ausdruck ‘expression’ from expressio. In English the word gospel is a calque as it derives originally from good + spell which is a translation of Greek evangelion.