How did the Introduction of Christianity affect the English language?
About 600 AD England was Christianized, and the conversion had far-reaching linguistic consequences. – Otto Jespersen
The introduction of Christianity in 597 AD brought about immense changes to England in social and religious matters. It also had far-reaching effects on the English language. It did not only introduce a rich source of Greek and Latin words but also opened up a new Visa for the formation of words from native Sources. Indeed, old English was remarkably influenced and enriched by the conversion of England into Christianity. As observed by H. Bradley, about 400 Latin words were incorporated in English after the conversion and before the Norman conquest (1066 AD) although many of them were not all commonly used and only a few of them had actually survived in modern English.
The great bulk of especially Christian terms entered into the English language only after the Christianizing of Britain. The introduction of Christianity meant the building of churches, monasteries, schools, etc. Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek bishop, Hadrian, another scholar devoted much energy to teach poetry, astronomy, and computation to the native masses. Besides, the venerable Bede wrote on grammar, prosody, science, Chronology, etc. In the 8th century, England held the intellectual leadership of Europe, and it owed leadership to the church. In this manner, Vernacular literature and arts received a new impetus from new faith.
The first wave of religious feeling that resulted from the missionary evangelism is reflected in the adoption of numerous words from Latin. Many new concepts that ensued naturally demanded more words. Thus the vocabulary became richer. Some such words are: aspendam ( to spend, L. expendere), bemution ( to exchange, L. mutare), sealtian ( to dance, L. saltare), trifolian ( to grind, L. tributare) etc.
The number of new ideas and things introduced by Christianity was considerable and it is interesting to note how the English managed to express them in their language. In the first place, they readily borrowed certain foreign terms connected with the new faith. they did so in order to express their ideas about their new religion clearly and to answer to their definite need, both spiritual and practical. Such sort of borrowing happened in several ways:
I)Several Latin and Greek words connected with Christianity were readily adopted together with their inhering ideas. Such as apostle (Gr, apostolus), disciple (L. discipulus), martyr (L.mirabilis), messiah (Gr. messias)
II) The titles of the entire ecclesiastical dignitaries were also readily introduced into the language. Such as Pope (L. papa), arch-bishop (L. erecbsihop), priest (L. presbyter), monk (L. monachus).
III) A few terms connected with Christian institutions were incorporated into the English Language. Such as mass (L. missa), hymen (Gr. hymnos), Candle (L. candela), alter (L. altare), etc.
IV) Words relating to events in the life of Jesus: Ressurection (L. resurgere), nativity (L. nativus), incarnation (L. incarnare).
V) Words relating to church furniture and various portions of the church: choir (L. chorus) pew (L. pedia), aisle (L. ala).
Vl) Words relating to Christian concepts: baptism (L. baptizare), sacrament (L . sacramentum).
VII) Words relating to canonical hours: vesper (Gr. Hesperos), matin (L. matutinus).
VIII) Words relating to Christian festivals: epiphany (Gr. epiphaneia), easter (Gr. ostern)
IX) The catholic church also exercised a profound influence on the domestic life of common people and that was evident in the adaption of many words, such as the names of articles of many words, such as the names of the articles of clothing, household use, and food: Cap (L. cappa), Silk ( L. sericum), Sock (L. socius), cabbage (L. caulis), Lily (L. Lilium), etc.
X) Words connected with education and learning: School (L. schola), master (L. magister), grammar (Gr. gramma), verse (L. versus), etc.
XI) Some words about the miscellaneous requirements of life were also introduced: anchor (L. ancora), place (L. platea), giant (Gr. gigas), sponge (L. spongia), etc.
The English did not blindly Borrow Christian words from Latin and Greek to enlarge their native vocabulary. They also utilized the resources of their native language in the light of their new acquaintances with the Christian faith and terms. This was done in three ways
Firstly, they formed new words from foreign loans by means of native affixes. Thus the native affix – had (modern hood) was extensively added after many Latin words to form new terms in the English language, such as priesthood, bishophood, etc.
Secondly, as Jespersen points out, ‘existing native words were largely turned to account to express Christian ideas, the sense only being more or less modified.’ Of these words, foremost was ‘God’. Other words, belonging o the same class and surviving till today, are ‘sin'(L. sons), altar (L.altar), easter (L. ostern).
Thirdly, some new words were simply fitted together from the translation of the component parts of Greek Latin words they were intended to render. Thus the Greek word ‘euaggelion’ was rendered as god’s spell, modern ‘ gospel’.
The native formation of Christian words was done at a rapid pace, and fully beer out the vitality as well as the flexibility of the English tongue that borrowed as well as created words under the influence of Christianity and strengthened its own plinth, with the help of learned classical words. In fact, classical influence after the conversion of English was immense and went a long way in establishing English as a vibrant varied language capable of both practical and literary expression.