English - the Weight of the Germanic Component

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Arrius, Aug 2, 2007.

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  1. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Split from here.

    Greetings again, my dear Whodunit, there are other points in your post that I find dubious, but I shall concentrate on the following:

    It depends on the native language. If it is English, he won't understand anything except for some parts of other Germanic languages.

    A few times I have out of curiosity tried a private experiment on British monoglots with written texts in French (Romance like Portuguese) and German and always found they could, for instance, work out many bits of Rousseau's "Le Contrat Social", whereas a page from Nietzsche's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was quite incomprehensible to them.
    The words Vater, Mutter, Brot, gut, See, Hand (of which only the last is easily recognisable out of context) are often cited to lull the would-be anglophone germanist into thinking he is going to be on familiar territory, but this is a cruel deception.
    Tschüß, A.:)
    P.S. I have also tried a page of Swahili on a British Army dentist of Maltese extraction, both languages being chock full of Arabic lexemes.
    Guess what - he couldn't understand a bloody word! I shall not bother to try Maltese on a Swahili-speaker.
  2. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Please tell me what you are questioning, if it is not off-topic. :)

    Are you sure that they have never learned any French before? I have never read Nietzsche's, but I wouldn't take a work of such a philosopher who is known for complex grammar and weird choice of words. ;) The result of your test is quite interesting, since there are more similar words between German and English than between French and English.

    Sorry, but I don't seem to understand that. :( Would you like to elaborate upon this topic, if it belongs in this thread?
  3. stooge1970

    stooge1970 Senior Member

    I disagree. Fewer than 1% of Modern English words are derived from Old English, even if they do account for over 60% of the words used. I know that other Germanic words have entered English through other languages (especially Old Norse), but English has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, and there are just so many words that come from Latin. Historically this has occurred in at least 3 ways: from England's time as a Roman colony, the Norman invasion (the invaders spoke a dialect of early French, so this is one reason why the vocabularies of English and French are especially close), and direct borrowings from Classical Latin. And of course English has borrowed many other words directly from Romance languages in modern times (such as "vista", "rodeo", etc).

    I've never studied French but I can often get the gists of articles because I speak English and Spanish and have also studied Latin (only for a bit). With German I'm completely lost.

    However, I would like to add that a scholarly text will be easier for an English speaker to understand than a more mundane one because traditionally the Latin-derived words in English are more formal or scientific, so to speak. There is also a large Greek influence here but that influence is also felt in Latin. Also, I think that it would be significantly harder for a monoglot to understand much of a Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian text (although not impossible) because, although Romance languages, their vocabularies are not as close to English as French's is.
  4. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    What do you mean? Are you saying that only 1% of all English words today used have cognates in Old English?

    Of course, you can always easily recognize Rodeo in German, too. Most people know what is meant by that word, but you cannot count that. Please compare these two sentences:

    I have not seen them.
    Ich habe sie nicht gesehen.
    Je ne les vu pas.

    Why is this cat so shy?
    Warum ist diese Katze so scheu?
    Pourquoi est-ce que ce chat est tant timide?

    Regardless different word order (which you would already recognize in Shakespearean English), isn't it easier to understand the German sentences than the French ones? I cannot take the test, since I can understand all of the three above, but it would be interesting to find it out with persons who don't know both German and French.

    Of course, it is easy to understand intéressant, surprise, surpasser etc. by a native English speaker who has never touched French, but these are just cognates from Latin and not original English. German has interessant, too, so, if you want to make them understand a French or German sentence, you'd choose the proper words to help them. ;)

    If you read the text in bold again, you'll know why you can understand some French. I have never really taken a course on Spanish, but I can understand most of it (written), whereas I'm sometimes lost with Norwegian (North Germanic) or Gothic (East Germanic). This is just, because it is easier to read between Romance than between Germanic languages. By the way, it would be even easier between Slavic languages, whereas Semitic languages are hardly ever mutually understandable! ;)

    You could get a forensic text in German, if you want, and I bet you'll get the same of it than of a French one. The problem is just that you already speak Spanish, which makes you understand French more easily. :)

    I would like to test it! No German could understand a text in a Romance language, if he/she doesn't already speak one.

    I see your point, but it always depends on the words. Everyday (an "pan-Germanic") words like Haus/house would seem strange in a Romance language like Portuguese, though not impossible. If it is the case for Portuguese, but no cognate can be found in any other Romance language, then it must most likely have been a borrowing. On the other hand, if a word similar to house can be found in other Indo-European languages, Latin could have lost it, which would result in the absence of it in the Romance languages.
  5. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't think it's very illuminating to compare languages based on their written forms. In some languages (like English) loanwords usually preserve their original spelling, while in others it's usually adapted. And compare the mostly phonetic spelling of Old English with that of modern English.
  6. stooge1970

    stooge1970 Senior Member

    I'm going to back off from specific numbers because I think that figure I gave just came from a memory of what my Old English professor said to me, but I meant that a very small number of words in Modern English come from Old English. (By the way, I wouldn't call them cognates because they have simply evolved). However, these words are generally used all of the time ("I" "us" "help"). Still, many more words in Modern English come from Latin or Latin-based languages.

    I don't see why you have decided that we can't count that. Anyway the point of that word was to give yet another example of how words from Latin and Romance languages have crept into English vocabulary.

    The German is totally incomprehensible to me, unless I know the English translation, and can then see where they are related. However, it might be more clear to me if I heard the German spoken. I'd just like to say that "timide" is a lot clearer to me than "scheu" because it resembles "timid" more than "scheu" resembles "shy". And that's the thing with Latin-based words in English, they are often more formal synonyms for more common Germanic words. Keep in mind that your examples include some very common English words (i.e. "I" "have" "is" "not") and I have already conceded that most of these words are of Germanic origin and thus should be somewhat related to modern German.

    I don't understand your point. Are you claiming that most of Modern English (which doesn't come from Old English) is not as "real" as the Modern English that has Germanic roots? These Latin-based words are absolutely integral to Modern English, and is the reason why French and English share a lot of the same vocabulary. Also, those words are NOT cognates from Latin, but instead are cognates from French. There is a difference. Compare: surprise (Eng), surprise (Fr), sorpresa (Sp). Clearly "surprise" comes directly from the French word and not from Classical Latin.

    I agree. However, I think this might have to do with the fact that Proto-Germanic is older than Latin (unless I'm wrong) and thus the languages have had more time to evolve. Also, Classical Latin has always been a very prestigious language with a great body of literature, and I think this might have helped keep the Romance languages more similar. The well-educated in the Roman Empire always learned and used Classical Latin.

    Correct. Slavic languages are all basically dialects of the same language. Political boundaries are not the same as linguistic boundaries. On the other hand, the many different "dialects" of spoken Arabic have been evolving on their own in different areas for quite some time.

    Trust me. I've tried, and the German is much, much harder. While I admit that Spanish certainly helps with French, I know pretty much all of the vocabulary because of English (the scientific or even just the more "formal" vocabulary is actually closer to English than to Spanish in many cases). Spanish helps with things like the definite articles and some very simple verbs, and it's a lot easier for me to decipher those words in French than it is with those words in German, even though they share a common ancestry with their English counterparts.

    I was referring to an English speaker.

    I just think your original statement

    is incorrect. Furthermore, the similar words in French are generally much more recognizable than those in German.

    I would like to concede that I don't speak German like you, but I am aware that a lot of German words do come from Latin or other Romance languages. Still, more than half of the words in Modern English are Latin or Romance-based. I doubt it's the same with German.

    Also, I'd like to point out that the English grammar is much closer to French grammar than to German grammar, despite the fact that English and German or Germanic based. English just has such a unique history and it has changed so much from its inception. I can understand 12th century Spanish a lot better than 15th century English, and I'm not a native Spanish speaker.

  7. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    On the matter of the Germanic content of English, I have just heard some interesting statistics today. I don't know how much of an English dictionary is from Romance as opposed to Germanic, and vast quantities of the words therein that are Romance we never or seldom use. But a certain computer program has been developed that automatically analyses the words it scans or records and identifies their derivation. It was found that an average novel uses about 62% words of Germanic origin i.e. derived from Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon. Whilst everyday speech reaches as high as 86% Germanic,(which also happened to be the figure for Harold Pinter's play "The Caretaker"). Even the legal speech of lawyers approaches 60%. So the core of written and spoken English is still very much Germanic, though as I have said, this does not help very much in understanding German.
    By the way I have found that a German can far more easily learn to read Old English, than an Englishman can.
  8. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I highly doubt that is true. Sorry, but I'd like to see some evidence to prove that thesis.

    Yes, I should have used "derivatives".

    That may be your impression, but that would be a surprising for me.

    I have decided that because Rodeo also appears in German. According to you, German should thus be as easily, since you immediately know what Rodeo means. ;)

    This is maybe because you are not bothered to retrace the German words:

    ich [iç] - appears in Latin, so we can forget this one
    habe ['ha:bə] - b-v are very similar and typical exponents of the first consonant shift
    sie [si:] - the German and English pronouns differ too much, except for "wir/we"
    nicht [niçt] - looks like nought/naught and not
    gesehen [gə'se:hən] - looks like yseen, which could be the Old English participle meaning "seen" (I haven't checked this)

    warum [va:'ʁʊm] - not necessarily recognizable for an English speaker
    ist [ɪst] - of IE origin (same as "ich")
    diese ['di:zə] - "d" and "th" are also common exponents of the first sound shift; so "diese" and "these" sound more than similar. ;)
    Katze ['katsə] - German "tz" and English "t" are counterparts according to the first sound shift
    so [zo:] - pan-Germanic particle that should be understand by most speakers of a Germanic language
    scheu [ʃoʏ] - except for the diphthong, "shy" and "scheu" sound quite similar

    If you do the same with French, I would be highly surprised if you could find more similarities. If you like, you can provide another English sentence in which you can declare most of the words to be of French/Latin origin. ;)

    Not at all, but I gave you the IPA transcription.

    To be honest, that was my point! What language do you speak? I mean what, not which. You usually speak everyday English, and more rarely the formal or judicial language, right? I used everyday phrases to show the similarity between German and English. Actually, I can also choose a judicial text in English and translate it into very formal German. Both languages would make use of many Latin (or Greek) words.

    What I meant was that French can be as easily understood as German by a native English speaker, if they use the same words (which could be derived from Latin or borrowed from Greek):

    I find him interesting.
    Ich finde ihn interessant.
    Je le trouve intéressant.

    The only word you should understand from the German and French sentence are interessant and intéressant, respectively. The rest (except maybe finde) should be incomprehensible for a native English monoglot. Therefore, you cannot compare the above sentences. You have to find sentence with different words for German and French, at best with no borrowings.

    I'm not sure about that. Well, I mean I know that Proto-Germanic is older than Early Latin, but not that that could be the reason for the deviant modern Germanic languages.

    Trust me that your Spanish background has MUCH more influence on the understanding of French than you think. :) I can understand much of Portuguese, and I think to be able to recognize some English or German words in it, although I only know them through Spanish or Latin. ;) Of course, coração looks like core, but I guess I would not have recognize coração without Spanish. :)

    As I mentioned before, you will not understand the difference between Den Fisch aß der Hund and der Hund aß den Fisch. You should be able to understand the latter sentence, because all words occur in English: the dog (think of: hound) ate the fish. That the former sentence means the same, is something you cannot be aware of if you have never studied German. ;)

    I know, and I was comparing with Germans. Why should German be so much different from English in understanding French?

    That might be the point! There are more Germanic than Romance words in Modern English, but the Romance ones are more easily recognizable, since they still look the original words. Compare timide/timid and shy/scheu.

    I don't have any statistics, but it depends on the register. Latin is usually used in formal or "prestigious" German, whereas only very few words of Latin are present in the colloquial language. Here the English words would prevail.

    It depends. Pronouns are usually placed before the verb, while they are after the verb in English and German. However, I agree that the German verb has always to be in second position, which is not a rule for English.

    Cool! That was exactly what I thought. :) But I couldn't come up with statistics. Thanks!
  9. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Dear Whodunit, I obtained the statistics given above from a recorded programme on BBC Radio 4, which may be accessed through the following link:
    Click on the loudspeaker icon of the title (in green), "Do you know what you are saying?", (in the second column from the left), and sit back comfortably pencil in hand. The programme is chaired by Melvin Bragg, a popularist of history and assorted intellectual ideas, and an authority on Education, very well known in Britain, and writing for various newspapers. This is not the usual kind of programme on language in which the radio presenter knows next to nothing about the subject and is just looking for amusing or sensational phenomena.;)
  10. iaf Senior Member

    Just for fun... two German examples based on some Spanish phrases.

    La influencia constante sobre la audiencia produce transformaciones sociales que no se pueden ignorar.
    Los resultados primarios se diferencian esencialmente de la hipótesis tradicional que se ha estudiado hasta el momento.

    Die konstante Influenz auf die Audienz produziert soziale Transformationen, die man nicht ignorieren kann.
    Die primären Resultate differenzieren sich essentiell von der traditionellen Hypothese, die bis zu diesem Moment studiert wurde.

    Der regelmässige Einfluss auf die Zuschauer erzeugt gesellschaftliche Wandlungen die man nicht verkennen kann.
    Die ersten Ergebnisse unterscheiden sich wesentlich von der herkömmlichen Annahme, die bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt untersucht wurde.

    I know, they are not perfect translations and they don't sound very natural, but it seemed interesting to me how in German, even when you have the Latin words, you find quite easily a Germanic one to replace it.

    I wonder if this would be possible in English too...?
  11. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    I wonder if this would be possible in English too...? iaf
    It certainly would but I prefer to try it the other way round: first everyday Germanic words then more learned Latinate or Romance ones:

    When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say, "Give pounds and crowns and guineas, but not your heart away. Give pearls away and diamonds, but keep your fancy free". But I was one-and-twenty, no use to talk to me. (A.E.Housman)

    Highfalutin' paraphrase:
    On the occasion of attaining my majority, I received a certain piece of advice from a sagacious ancient: "Surrender your liquid assets but preserve the integrity of your coronary region. Liberally distribute precious gems, but retain the liberty to act as you determine". But I had recently attained my majority, and remained totally impervious to such counsel.

    (Housman would have shot me. A.)
  12. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Iaf, that's a good idea. Let's try to count the non-Germanic words in your translation:

    regelmäßig - from regula
    Einfluss - loan translation of influxus
    ...punkt - from punctus

    By the way: I'd use vordergründig instead of erste.

    Here's my attempt at an English translation:

    The regular sway on the bystanders bring forth social transformation that one cannot shrug off.
    First findings are significantly winnowed by the handed-down guesswork that was taken stock up to this time/up to nowadays/up to today.

    Some words are not translatable into Germanic counterparts, and the English translation might not sound very good anymore. :)
  13. iaf Senior Member

    Exactly, that's what I meant! But my English is not that good to assure it. :eek:
    It's as if German kept alive (even in
    everyday language) more Germanic words, though there might be well comprehensible Latin alternatives.
    But we are still talking about vocabulary. The structures of grammar are the other important point.
  14. nightlone Senior Member

    I think the average monolingual English speaker would definitely understand more written Spanish (or any Romance language) than written German. I used to go on holidays to Spain and France before I started to learn Spanish or French and could often make some sense of notices, instructions on products, etc. On the other hand, when I've been to Holland I usually haven't been able to understand a single thing of the written language, unless it's something very obvious, and as far as I know Dutch is the closest Germanic language to English, apart from Frisian.
    What I've said above applies to all of the English speakers (monolingual ones) who I've travelled to the mentioned countries with.
  15. nightlone Senior Member

    The average monolingual English speaker who has no idea about other languages would not recognise any of those words.
    Many of the words of Latin origin in English are written almost (or) exactly the same in Romance languages and so are instantly recognisable to the English monoglot.
    That is why he would be able to make some sense of the instructions on a shampoo bottle written in French, Spanish or Portuguese... but not in German! I promise you that is true.
    As for grammar similarities, I think they are almost irrelevant when you are not able to recognise any vocabulary at all (again I'm talking about for the average English monoglot, not someone who has studied linguistics and can analyze the text to make sense of it).
  16. Erutuon Member

    English, USA
    On iaf's question - there's a page (search "old english computer glossary" on Google) that a man put together of various computer terms he constructed in Old English. (Now all we need to do is take them through the regular sound changes of actual Old English words and then put them into general use.) It would be interesting to find out if these bear any similarity to the terms in German and Icelandic. Icelandic, at least, has constructed Germanic terms instead of adopting Latin ones.
  17. Bléros Senior Member

    USA, English
    England has always had closer relations with the Romance world than the Germanic one. This is because the world of the Romance languages is larger. In mainland Europe, there's Spain, Portugal, France and Italy where as the Germanic countries (besides England) only have, well, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. Yet, words dealing with everyday life are Germanic like "sky", "wind", "mother", "foot". While, less frequent words are derived from French like "control", "appear" and "carpet". Then, there's the Latin and Greek derived words that make you look like a know-it-all like "longitude", "platitudinous" and "omniscient". Just for reference, I highlighted the Germanic-derived words in black, French derived words in blue and Latin derived words in burgundy. Ironically, Germany is Latin-based word. So, you can see that are vocabulary, for the most part sticks to its roots.
  18. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    We cannot limit this to a discussion of vocabulary, as the Germanic origins of English show up in other aspects of the language, such as grammar and pronunciation.
  19. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    If a Germanic cognate of a word in English does not occur in either German or Dutch then it is very likely to turn up in Scandinavian, the word sky mentioned above being an example of this, and the verb to cast meaning "to throw" (Norwegian kaste). The grammar and word order of Norwegian is so similar to that of English that it is no onerous task for an Englishman to learn the language. In most respects, it has gone even farther than English in shedding its Germanic inflections, and has reduced all verbs to the same form for each personal pronoun, as compared to the two in English for the present simple tense (see/sees), which are sometimes also reduced to the one form without s too, for example in the dialect of Jamaica.
  20. charlerina ballerina Member

    I am finding this topic fascinating, thank you guys for all your interesting contributions.

    I am English, have studied French to A level.
    My boyfriend of three months is Spanish and speaks only spanish.

    I have had to develop an 'emergancy espanglish' where by I studied basic Spanish grammar and a small amount of vocab.
    I have no knowledge at all about the English language, and where the words came from.
    I have found, that I have instinctively been able to find Latin based words to replace words/sentences (I assume are Germanic) in order to adapt (say them with a Spanish accent!) them for communication with my boyfriend.
    My brain on a daily basis is scanning the English language for Latin derived words to replace words which I cant easily translate in to Spanish.

    So I think yes, it must be possible in English too... which further adds to the comments early in the post... regarding the high volume of vocab in the English language.... if there is a Germanic and Latin based word for many things!!!!
  21. kelt

    kelt Senior Member

    Prague, CZ
    Czech Republic, Czech
    Isn't it as simple as that monoglot Brits are more likely to comprehend latin-based words that are written almost always in the same way as their English cognates used formally (which must have been heard). Whereas in any Germanic language the words deriving from Germanic roots are always written differently according to ortography of the language, which is not, by far, recognizable by monoglots?
  22. cynicmystic Banned

    Vancouver, CANADA
    Bermuda & Esperanto :)
    That is quite a valid point, I think.

  23. cynicmystic Banned

    Vancouver, CANADA
    Bermuda & Esperanto :)
    It is true that English is essentially a Germanic tongue with a Latin syntax rather arbitrarily imposed on it, but this doesn't, by itself, clarify why an Englishman may find it easy or difficult to get the gist from a text written in German or French.

    A significant portion of Modern English vocabulary derives from Latin via French, however, majority of those Norman French words mean different things today in Modern English than what they used to mean in French. Hence, although the Germanic words are the ones that are used the most often, it is actually the Latin based words that are used the most for expression, particularly for abstract concepts.

    To complicate things further, the English language has gone through some kind of a 'modernization' (in the sense of getting rid of case, gender, noun declensions etc), just as the Dutch language or Modern Farsi, whereas German has not gone through a similar modernization as of yet. German language still retains some of the archaic forms that used to be part of Old English. Hence, a German sentence, despite many hidden cognates may still look alien to an English speaker, and yet, French may look a lot more recognizable due to shared vocabulary.

    Another mental block that may hinder the Englishman's efforts to recognize cognates is the arbitrary and completely illogical spelling & pronunciation of the English language. Just to give you an example, the f sound in fish is written with an f, but the f sound in philosophy has the ph. As a direct result, children in English-speaking countries try to learn how to spell through memorization, and their memo skills are tested in weird competitions, such as the spelling-bee-competition, whereas children, who speak phonetically written languages do not only learn how to read at a much younger age, but also spell better. Had the German text been written phonetically, maybe the cognates would have been more visible.

    My mother tongue is Turkish, and aside from English, I have some knowledge of Italian, Spanish, and Indonesian. When I attempt to read an English text written in the 1500s, although with difficulty, I get the general picture. Shakepeare, for instance, is quite understandable with minimal assistance, whereas Beowulf is virtually incomprehensible - almost a foreign tongue in comparison to Modern English. On the other hand, when I read something written in Old Turkic from the same time period as Old English, I can understand quite a bit of it. (This is not because I am too clever for my own good:) The reason why this is possible in Turkish is because of something called vowel harmony, which, in the long-run, assures that the roots keep their morph without much change. As a result, although Old Turkic may use completely different suffixes, the roots are still the same, and perfectly recognizable. Most IE languages, on the other hand, change the morphology of the root quite a bit through declensions, conjugation, case endings etc. This factor makes it harder for speakers of related langauges to recognize cognates in each other's tongues.

    Think about the root word 'hap' in English. It means 'luck' in Old Norse. In Old English, the concept of happiness was expressed with 'blide' (blithe of Modern English), but eventually the Norse 'hap' replaced it in the form of 'happy'. The same 'hap' also appears in the word 'to happen'. In addition to that, we have the word 'hope', which sounds as if it may also have derived from 'hap', though I am not so sure of this one. Either way, it is a lot harder to see Germanic cognates in English.

    Thank you for this thread by the way. I think it is very interesting.
  24. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    At school, I was struck by some similarities of Shakespeare's English to German. More recently I noticed that Chaucer's English resembled German in many ways.

    Latin-derived words in English are often of a higher register, so a heavily Latinate English tends to sound rather pompous. The Germanic example of Housman poetry is clear and well-crafted, with words of one syllable. However, you do not get far in English with Germanic words alone, and even just using those would not make the language clear to speakers of other Germanic languages.

    I am inclined to think English would be more like Dutch if it was not for the Norman Conquest, but it still might not have been intelligible. Certainly Flemish merchants in Chaucer's time in London were perceived as being quite foreign, and Chaucer alludes to riots against them in one of the Canterbury Tales.
  25. Txiri

    Txiri Senior Member

    USA English
    Very interesting thread, I agree.

    As soon as I saw you post "hap" and "luck" together ... it clicked. Hapless, a happenstance ...
  26. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Another derivative of hap is haphazard which has the possibly unique distinction of having its first component derived from Old Norse and its second (ultimately) from Arabic!
  27. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    Shakespeare, for instance, is quite understandable with minimal assistance, whereas Beowulf is virtually incomprehensible - almost a foreign tongue in comparison to Modern English.

    In the case of Shakespeare, for native English speakers it can depend on which text is used, and the plays and poetry can be hard to fully understand without looking at accompanying glossaries or notes. I have some sympathy with a character in the American film Get Over It, who is trying to read A Midsummer Night's Dream. He comments, "I'm understanding about every other word of this s**t."

    Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are often easier for me to understand on the printed page than Shakespeare, without looking at the notes. A TV animation of several of the tales made in the late 1990s involved actors reciting in Middle English pronunciation - I found it just about comprehensible, and I was perhaps helped by knowing German. Old English is completely a foreign language compared to modern English, as foreign as German.
  28. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    As I have said in an earlier post, I have found that Germans can learn to read Old English otherwise called Anglo-Saxon much faster that the English can.
  29. granca Member

    Republica Dominicana
    England - englishbut I live in la Republica Dominicana
    Come on now most english speakers would understand the following I´m prepard to bet:
    Die Katze hat die Milch nicht getrunken.
    Der Hund will mir folgen.
    Oft kommt mein Mann nicht nach Hause.
  30. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    Very simple German, yes, though even here the will might not be understood as "wants to". I have my doubts about the last sentence, as nach might throw someone who knows no German at all.
  31. granca Member

    Republica Dominicana
    England - englishbut I live in la Republica Dominicana
    Hola Grosvenor1, as a scotsman you have a natural advantage with phrases like braw bricht munelicht nicht the nicht pointing to draw nigh and behold, in your blood. Still I say no more apart from that what you write indicates that you were at school before they stopped teaching english. I´ll bow out now before I prattle on . Which is a good phrase to practise translating in to spanish.
    Ciao for now
  32. JGreco Senior Member

    Citizen of the World
    Native of: English, Portuguese (oral) , and Spanish (oral)
    1st phrase: The cat had the milk ??? Drank...??

    2nd Phrase: The dog will ???? (don't know the rest)

    3rd Phrase: ........ man??......house??? (No comment)

    I'm sorry I am a native English speaker and I could not understand the majority of this. If this was in Dutch I would probably understand more of the written words but German is further away then Dutch from English. Also, I think there is the matter of the spoken language which the average English speaker would find spoken German incomprehensible. Though I have to admit I can understand a little more spoken Dutch....not that much more. I personally think English's situation in the Germanic family of languages is similar to Romanian's situation. Enough oddities occur within the language to make it distant from its other Germanic cousins. English might be still Germanic in character but yet otherwise distant in any other aspect.
  33. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Die Katze hat die Milch nicht getrunken.
    The cat had the milk not ge-drunken. :D ;)
  34. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    I don't think that the mutual intelligibility between other distant pairs of Germanic languages is any greater than between English and German. For example, my German (which used to be in a pretty good shape at one time) never helped me much in decoding the lyrics of songs by the Norwegian bands I listened to. In fact, out of those few words that I could recognize in those Norwegian texts, there were approximately as many that had obvious English cognates as those that had obvious German cognates. (And most of the ones I managed to recognize had both.)

    Thus, I wouldn't say that English is any less "Germanic in character" than any other modern Germanic language. It's just that this particular IE subfamily has diverged much more than the Slavic and Romance languages, for whatever reason.
  35. Ayazid Senior Member

    The fact is that English has diverged a lot even even from its closest linguistic relatives (excluding Scots it´s Frisian and Dutch) in the same branch of Germanic languages (West Germanic). English and Dutch/Frisian are just as similar and intelligible as French and Romanian, no matter that the geographic distance between them is much smaller :cool:
  36. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Actually, I don't think that Dutch is a closer relative of English than German (although Frisian certainly is). The greater similarities between English and Dutch are due to an accident of parallel evolution in a similar, more analytic direction, not due to a closer common ancestor (the same goes for English vs. Scandinavian languages).

    I don't think this is a special case among Germanic languages. There is a similar difference between e.g. Low German and Danish, despite a zero geographic distance, and Dutch and Frisian aren't much more similar either, despite both being West Germanic. (Native speakers might want to correct these perhaps mistaken impressions of mine.)

    In my opinion, things are best considered if we observe the largest Germanic dialect continuums: the British Isles, continental Scandinavia, and Central/Western Europe. There is a more or less equal difference (and zero intelligibility) between any two languages picked from different zones. However, by an accident of history, the first zone ended up having a single standard language (unless we count Scots), which now doesn't have any very close relatives because of that. But suppose that the history took a different course, and Britain ended up divided among several states, each with a different standard language descended from Old English, while Norway, Sweden, and Denmark ended up united under a single state, with a single standard national language. Then this unified Scandinavian would probably seem just as peculiar as English does for us.
  37. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Yes, the orthography is definitely an extremely important factor here. Most (all?) Germanic languages except English have spellings that closely reflect their present pronunciation. Since all these languages have passed through severe sound shifts since splitting off from their common ancestors, the cognates are heavily obscured in the vast majority of cases. On the other hand, both English and the Romance languages have strong traditions of archaizing spellings and artificial Latinization, which has had the opposite effect of increasing the similarities in their written forms.

    At the end of the day, there is no doubt which languages are more understandable for an English speaker in practice. Just observe the beginning of the top article in Swedish Google News from a few minutes ago (I took the first one to avoid any chance of cherry-picking):

    Regeringen fortsätter på den inslagna vägen
    Tre miljarder i miljöskatter, mål om full sysselsättning, löften om satsningar på vården, och inbjudan till brett samförstånd om energipolitiken. Det är mycket som låter som företrädaren Göran Persson när Fredrik Reinfeldt läser upp regeringsförklaringen. Men ändå är det upplagt för konfrontation.

    Just about the only words that I clearly recognize here based on English are the Latin and Greek ones -- miljarder, energipolitiken, and konfrontation (well, and tre, as a cognate straight from Proto-IE :D). I can also make a guess that full, till, and för might mean the same as in English, but I'm unable to extract any useful information from these. I would bet that even a German speaker wouldn't be able to understand much more from this sample (my rusty German certainly isn't helping me).

    As for the Romance languages, I can't really be the judge, since my ability to decode those has been boosted by learning some Spanish in recent years, but I'm sure that even at the time when I spoke only Croatian, English, and German, I could get more even out of Romanian than out of the above Swedish.

    As the bottom line, the divergences between the major branches of Germanic languages -- one of which is nowadays comprised only of English and Scots -- are much too large to enable any sort of mutual intelligibility, to the point where an English speaker can extract more information from common Greek and Romance loanwords than out of cognates when decoding an unknown foreign Germanic language.
  38. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    I found an answer to the question "What is the proportion of English words of French, Latin, or Germanic origin?" here.
    The numbers are not conclusive, in many cases quite hard to prove, and I am sure that others have reached different percentages, but I thought these figures were interesting nonethless:
  39. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    The problem is that this answer critically depends on what exactly one considers as the entire corpus of English vocabulary. In a small dictionary that is mostly limited to everyday vocabulary, the Germanic words will probably prevail, followed by the ancient Old French borrowings. In a very large dictionary that lists all sorts of abstruse high-register words, various Latin and Greek borrowings will probably swamp everything else.
  40. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    Are these statistics based on all the roughly 500,000 to 1,000,000 words that could be considered English words?

    If it were based ont the approx 10,000 to 15,000 words that the average person actually uses, would it look any differently?

    Just because there are lots of similarities between the languages they are probably very difficult to recognize for someone who has never learned a foreign language, or only one. Once you know a few languages one ought to be better at comparing and figuring out the meaning of words or sentences in similar languages that one has not (yet?) learned.
  41. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    As regards the statistical breakdown of the words in spoken English, I would refer you to my posts#7 and #9 on this thread, which you may have overlooked. In the latter post I gave a link (which still works) to a BBC programme dealing with the statistical breakdown of English according to origin, arrived at by a computer that automatically analyzes spoken English etymologically. It was found that even in legal and scientific language the vast majority of words used are of Germanic origin. Happy listening (and do not be put off by a bit of Anglo-Saxon at the beginning)!
  42. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    The Norman Conquest probably exaggerated the difference between English and continental Germanic. I wonder if, without it, at least Frisian would still be intelligible to English speakers, if not Dutch? I notice that in Anglo-Saxon times, "English and Frisians" were often lumped together in chronicle references. Being on an island might have increased linguistic differences, however. Whereas there is a Netherlandic-German dialect continuum with neighbouring dialects having no sharp breaks, that is not really possible when a large body of water gets in the way.
  43. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    Anthony Burgess praised the Scottish education system of his day in his autobiography, or some other book of his I read. He taught basic literacy to British soldiers who were illiterate, and noted that the Scottish system did not seem to produce illiterates, while the English education system often seemed to. Mind you, that was the 1930s and 1940s. Things may well have deteriorated since then.

    I think Scots is marginally closer to continental Germanic than English is - certainly phonetically and also to an extent in vocabulary.
  44. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    I think Scots is marginally closer to continental Germanic than English is
    Teachers of German to British students usually refer to the ch in Loch to explain the German ach-Laut, which is also in the Scots word for night, nicht, (not to be confused,however with the German word for not, nicht, which has the ich-Laut). Also the phrase He's a bonny fechter (He's a good fighter contains a word spelt the same as German Fechter (fencer) with a similar meaning, though once more with the ch pronounced differently. A wee bairn (a small child) is like Scandinavian barn, also a child, and hus (house) is the same in Scots and Norwegian.
  45. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I think even without the Norman Conquest, English would still be rather like a "middle-thing" between Dutch and Scandinavian because of the heavy Scandinavian influence English has.
  46. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    I've seen it all right, but it did not quite cover what I was after.
  47. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    If I ever wanted to measure the weight of an ancient component in a modern language, I don't think I would try to study the whole dictionary, firstly because that would cost a lot of effort, but also because the dictionary contains lots of words that most speakers don't use or understand. I think a good starting point is the list of the commonest words.

    There are lots of different lists of the commonest words in English on the web. This is one example. http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/common2000words.htm In this one, as far as I can see the 100 commonest words are all of Germanic origin. Words of Romance origin start at 104 (just), 106 (people) and 107 (Mr).

    Clearly it is a more difficult job to try to measure the sources of different grammatical (as opposed to lexical) elements.
  48. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    David Crystal reckons that 80% of English vocab is Romance, Latin or Greek, and not Germanic (on page 9 of this document - p42 of the actual article). There are some more numbers here.

    I agree, however, that this is all pretty much "informed guesswork". Don't shoot the messenger, please. I'm just sharing numbers as this was what the thread-starter asked for.
  49. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    I don't really have an answer, only a few comments and two further questions.

    Maybe it's not bad to have a look at "the Germanic component"-part of the question. As far as I understand, "Germanic" is mainly used in historical, (diachronic) linguistics and it refers to a group of languages spoken in the second half of 1st millennium BC. That's a mighty long time ago.
    Although the Germanic languages share a lot with the other IE languages, one can discern seven distinct features which set them apart from those other IE languages, and concerns about the lexicon is only one of those seven, an indication that the weight given to the lexicon in this kind of research is not overwhelmingly big.
    [Question 1: Is it?]

    [Question 2:]
    In this thread we are applying this term 'Germanic' (from diachronic) to contempory, Modern English (to synchronic).
    Isn't that a bit anachronistic (or ana-chronic, a-chronic, dis-chronic, if those words exist)?

    So, you're basically asking what's left of the seven Germanic features after 2500 years...

    The seven features (see link):
    1. The verbal system: applies to modern English;
    2. Preterites: applies to modern English;
    3. Weak and strong adjectives: applies to Old English, not to modern English anymore;
    4. accent (or stress) is mainly on the root of the word: applies to 'Germanic words' in Modern English (I wonder in how far it applies to English words with non-Latin, non-Romance, non-Greek roots or to words which didn't enter English via any of those).
    5. Modified vowels in the Germanic languages: applies partially, but, erm, 'blurred' by further developments in Old, Middle and Modern English (Great Vowel Shift, etc.).
    6. First Consonant Shift: idem;
    7. "Germanic has a number of unique vocabulary items, words which have no known cognates in other Indo-European languages": applies to Modern English.


  50. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Hm... that page says about strong/weak verbs: "The weak form is the living method of inflection, and many originally strong verbs have become weak." While the overall trends have certainly been in that direction, there are also important exceptions showing that the strong conjugations are alive and productive in English even nowadays. The most famous examples of weak verbs recently becoming strong are probably sneak/snuck and dive/dove (or, for a less recent example, plead/pled), but many others have also been emerging throughout the English-speaking world, even though they have little chance of wider acceptance because they are perceived as uneducated, rustic speech, like for example bring/brang or drag/drug.
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