English as a Romance Language.

As many of you may already know, in 1066, William of Normandy invaded England, bringing the French language with him. Because of this, about half the words in the English language are of French origin. Yet whenever I see the English language listed in dictionaries, etc. it is listed as a Germanic language along with Swedish and Dutch. If half the words are from French, shouldn’t it be listed as a Romance language? Or at the very least, isn’t English a hybrid language, neither Germanic nor Romance?

Thank you in advance to all who reply :slight_smile:

An interesting article is available here , which describes to some extent the history of English words for common meat products.

The first question I would ask is for a citation that half of the words in the English language are of French origin.

There’s more to situating a language in a linguistic family than just vocabulary. English grammatical construction is Germanic (despite centuries of trying to cram it into the square hole of Latin grammar). The most commonly used words in the language are derived from Germanic sources (the pronouns, the simple verbs, basically the stuff of everyday non-technical conversation).

English is a Germanic language with a Romance overlay and numerous polyglot intrusions.


They aren’t. It’s closer to 30%. From the Wikipedia article on the English language:

Note that last sentence. It’s more than absolute proportion of word origins. You have to take common usage into account as well.

Well, your cite also calls English a Germanic language, and goes on to explain why. Is that part of it to be ignored?
jayjaymakes an excellent point, as well.

From David Crystal’s The Stories of English (2004 hardcover), p 162:

The English language, like William of Normandy, is very much a bastard. I’m not so sure either Romance or Germanic describes it totally well, but the latter seems to be the best pick.

English is conclusively a Germanic language genetically. The origins of its early speakers and their movements are well attested in archaelogical record.

Any headcount of native vs. borrowed vocabulary doesn’t change a language’s genetic source. There is a significant number of languages in which native vocabulary has been almost wholly replaced by borrowings, leaving only a bare grammatical framework as a clue to genetic origin.


I’d really like to see – but it doesn’t exist, AFAIK – a comprehensive breakdown of English words by language of origin. I.e., one section would be a list – no definitions, pronunciation or etymological details, you’d look elsewhere for that – just an alphabetical list of English words derived from Old English; then a list of words derived from Danish, during the period when Canute ruled; then Norman French; from Latin, by scholarly coinage; from Greek; etc. It would be useful to have if you wanted to, e.g., write a piece using pure Anglo-Saxonisms wherever possible; or write a historical novel set in Greece, using works of Greek origin wherever they will fit.

OED editors, take note! It would be a very easy project.


Ooh, I’d love to see that, but surely it’s got to exist somewhere. I must investigate this possibility.

Well, there’s this.

Is it comprehensive? I clicked on “Norman French” and the list of words appears way too short! This needs the OED treatment! (I.e., every word in the OED should appear on one list or another.)

It’s not comprehensive, but it’s interesting reading for some of the more far-flung borrowings.

Also, note that borrowings from Norman French are separated from French on that site. This is important, because there have been multiple waves of borrowing from French. The first wave in the 11-12th century brought in words that today seem to belie their across-the-Channel origins due to contemporary differences between the Norman-Picard and Île-de-France dialects (source for further reading).

For instance, a basic word missing from that site’s Norman French list is the verb catch. It is a cognate of Île-de-France cache, but with Norman-Picard pronunciation.

Another missing word is "very’, which is one of the few very common English words borrowed from Norman French. It changed its meaning on the way (from meaning “true”), and almost completely replaced the Germanic word with the same meaning (“sore”, cognate with German “sehr”).

Incidentally, the French language borrowed quite a bit from Germanic sources, because of various Germanic invasions, including the name of their country (“France”) and their language (“français”). The Franks were one of the Germanic invaders of France, which was called “Gaul” before they arrived.

Germanic languages tend to stress the first syllable of the major part of a noun, and Romance languages tend to stress the last or next-to-last syllable. So in both French and English you have tons of words that end in -ion, and by far the majority mean the same thing in both languages. But the pronunciation differs greatly, because in English, the stress has moved away from the “-ion” to the syllable before it. In other words, the pronunciation has become Germanicized.

I remember Nava, a native speaker of Spanish, saying one time that before she learned English she would have had a hard time distinguishing it from Dutch or German.

I actually found it interesting when I learned German in High School how many very common German words are very similar to very common English words. You even notice that the grammar rules of English definitely share some heritage with those of German, even though at face value the grammar of both languages is very different.

And ironically, German picked upwhat is arguably the worst and most useless “feature” of Romance languages, while English left it at the alter: gender. There’s a bewilderingly complicated and utterly pointless array of word gender, which modifies pronouns and so forth by what the heck is going on the rest of the sentence…

It’s just stupid, and even though I syudied German for years I just fake it. :smiley:

From Twain’s “The Awful German Language”