No language can exist in isolation. We humans are social creatures, and communication with other fellow human beings has become our second nature. Remote tribes shying away from modernity still interact with neighboring tribes and, whether against their will or not, they have to come into contact with so called “civilized” men. This inevitably influences the language, for new words need to be found to identify new things. This is all the more true in regard to larger languages, speakers of which have been in the epicenter of world history for extended periods of time.

English is classified as one of the Germanic languages, and, as such, it is closely related to German, Dutch, and Swedish. Although one can notice a certain number of common roots between words in English and any of those languages, a German or Swedish conversation or text makes little sense to a speaker of English. Why is this so? Following the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, French became the language of the ruling elite in the country because it was spoken by William the Conqueror’s court. The prevalence of the French language lasted for centuries, which made an impact on the language of the common people. An enormous number of French words were borrowed and absorbed into English. Some of them replaced old Anglo-Saxon words of  Germanic origin altogether, but in other cases words of both types exist alongside one another, often differing slightly in meaning. Compare, for instance such terms as language (borrowed from the French) and tongue (old Germanic word), or beverage and drink, or vision and sight. 

Active foreign trade, world exploration, and colonialism led to an increased interaction of English with other languages. New food products, unknown animals, a whole world of things never before seen required language forms to be expressed. Such words as chimpanzee, safari, and zebra came from various African languages. Shampoo, veranda, jungle, typhoon, shawl, pajamas, and many others were borrowed from Hindi and other languages of the Indian subcontinent. Ketchup, bamboo and caddy are loanwords from the Malay language spoken in Malaysia and Singapore. Husky, toboggan, squash and skunk were provided by languages of Native Americans.

Concurrently, England had ongoing interaction with its continental European neighbors. Through trade, war, mutual migration, and literary, artistic or scientific exchange, English became enriched with new vocabulary stemming from European languages. Cargo, cockroach, ranch and mosquito came from Spanish, while beluga, taiga and bridge (the game) entered English from the Russian language.

At times, government authorities in certain countries decided that too many loanwords were bad for their language. Occasional campaigns were held to regulate the vocabulary and to “purify” a language from foreign borrowings. The example of English (and many other languages), however, shows that it is best when a language regulates itself. Ultimately, new words enrich the language; give it a charm of its own, and make it more colorful, precise and expressive. Loanwords are a perfect way to trace back the history of a language. We at care greatly for knowledge and we encourage inquiry and research. If you have any questions about the history of English, please let us know! We are here to help.

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