Loan Words as milestone of General History | English Language

Loan Words as Milestones of General History 

‘Milestones’, apart from the cliche’ meaning, according to The American Heritage Dictionary is primarily. ‘An important event, as in a person’s career, the history of a nation or the advancement of the knowledge in a nation, a turning point.’ Otto Jespersen in his The Growth and Structure of English language observes, ‘the loan was have been the milestone of philology and further postulates the loan words to be ‘the milestone of general history’. As per the definition, then, the loan words, according to Jespersen, formed an important basis in the determination of the time or period of linguistics changes and growth. They show us the stages of civilization of the different countries and gives us information about the cultural life of different nations when the dry pages of history inform us of nothing except the dates of birth and death of kings and bishops. In the following paragraphs, nay pages, we will try to see and show how the loan words are ‘the milestones of philosophy’ and therefore ‘the milestones of general history’.

The contention of Jespersen may be corroborated by referring to the influence of loan words on English languages when two languages are found not to have adopted words from each other, we may safely conclude that the people speaking these two languages did not come in contact with each other. On the other hand, if these people have been in contact, with must find in their language the exchange of words. And when these loan words are rightly interpreted they will throw a flood of light on the reciprocal relationship of these people. There are several stages of the penetration of loan words into the English language, and these may well be designated as the milestone of its philological growth in particular and general history in general.

Before their conversion to Christianity, the savage Anglo-Saxons came in contact with the superior civilization of Rome. The impact of the high Roman culture and of the magnificence of the Latin language was immense on their language.

In fact, the adoption of Latin loans into the English language started before the settlement of the Anglos and the Saxons in England. Several Latin terms, connected with that civilization, had easy access to English. One such loan was Latin ‘starta’ (mod. ‘Street’). As a result, the Anglo-Saxon people learned a number of Latin terms in course of their intercourses with the Roman people and adopted them in their own language.

When the English settled in Britain, they learned a few other Latin words from Romanised people of the land. Thus, the Latin ‘castra’ (a fortified town) was adopted in old English under the form ‘ceaster’ and it survives today in the place-name of ‘Chester’ and in the ending of many other places-names, Such as Winchester, Leicester and so on. The English also learned from Room certain commercial terms, relating to value and measurement. One such term is ‘mint’ (O.E. ‘mynet’) from Latin ‘moneta’, meaning ‘money’. The Greek and the Latin loans constitute the second and third milestones in English Philological history.

The introduction of Christianity into English, about  600 AD, led to the import of a great number of loanwords, known as a Latin loan of the second period. The conversion had far-reaching linguistic consequences. They borrowed a good many words from Latin and Greek. One of the earliest loan words belonging to this sphere is ‘church’ (O.E. ‘Cirice’) from the Greek ‘kuriakon’ ( house of lord) or ‘kuriaka’. Other Latin and Greek loan words are Pope (L. papa), monk (L. monachus),  hymen (Gr. hymnos), etc.


The Scandinavian invasion and the settlement brought a good number of loan words, like ‘hence’, ‘thence’, ‘whence’, ‘gift’, ‘dream’, and so on. The Scandinavian loan words were not uncommon, nor too learned for the average Englishmen. They had a purely democratic character with their everyday uses in common-place matters. The Scandinavian contribution to the growth of the English language is immense and constitutes the fourth milestone in philological growth.

The Norman conquest of 1066 AD brought about another stage of the philological expansion in the English language. The Normans,  as conquerors and rulers, introduced a good many new ideas and institutions in schools, religious and political matters. Their own words; the French loan words, were automatically introduced by them to impose and express the same. Such French loans ‘reign’, ‘sovereign, ‘chancellor’, ‘minister’, ‘parliament’, ‘costume’ ‘dress’ etc. The Normans with their French culture and language were much more advanced than the conquered nation English. Naturally, the impact of this French language on English was tremendous, establishing the force of a superior culture on an inferior one, and marked another milestone in English philology and as told earlier, another milestone in general history.

The expansion of the British Empire, the new contact with distant lands, advancement in trade and commercial transactions, and scientific inventions are all found to have distinct distinctly affected and enlarged much the potential scope of for the inclusion of loan words from different languages. In fact, loan words have found their way into the English language from different countries, from Europe, Asia, Africa, and even America, at different times under the different forces social, commercial, ethical, or cultural.

To sum it up, the loan words which came in and through the extension of cultural ties or political or social relations of English people with various people, belonging to both the Orient and occident can apply to be dubbed, as the ‘milestone of general history’ for marking the point (towards modernity as well as postmodernity) in the history of not only a single nation but a plethora of nations.

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