Saturday, October 7, 2006


Art of borrowing

Men and languages are similar; they can both die if they remain isolated islands in the main stream of life. The worst thing a ‘linguaphile’ can do is to suffocate the language of choice. For edification, one need not go far. Why has English enveloped the world, in spite of a hated colonial past? Just a look at the vocabulary confirms its large-hearted policy of acceptance and adoption. The following is just the tip of the iceberg of borrowing.

When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded England, they brought with them the Latin words they had taken from their contact with the Roman Empire. Coupled with the arrival of the missionaries, the above development gave to the English language words like minister, monk and bishop. The Anglo-Saxons had a great spring festival that celebrated their Goddess of Dawn, ‘Eastru’ and ever since, the festival of Easter has come to stay.

The original inhabitants of the country, the Celts, contributed little or nothing to the language except for a few place names like Aberdeen. When William the Conqueror sailed across the channel, Norman French was superimposed on the West Germanic dialects. For many generations these two languages grew side by side, the one being spoken by the Norman overlords, the other by the Saxon vassals and serfs. The sheep, pig, calf and ox of the native Saxon’s table became the mutton, pork, veal and beef of the ruling Norman’s table.

Aided by the two World Wars in which the French and the English were allies, the process of borrowing from French continues even today, with words like mousse, clich, barrage, crepe, elite and impasse quietly and unobtrusively entering the lexicon.

English successfully borrows from Greek as well. Very few English users are aware that words like phenomenon, agnostic, neurology, atom, character and chorus owe their existence to Greek and that words from practically every language exist in English.

The absorbing part of this saga of tolerant growth is the fact that the borrowing is faster and larger now, in a world where ethnicity can be doomed. Slang, e-mails, blogging, text messaging`85the areas of influence are numerous and thereby hangs another tale`