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Germanic Roots of the English Language Versus Romance Roots

Essay by   •  August 13, 2011  •  Case Study  •  5,756 Words (24 Pages)  •  2,207 Views

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Germanic Roots of the English Language versus Romance Roots


The reason that I chose this subject has to do with some of my experiences in life. A long time ago, when I finished high school, I went into the United States Army. I was lucky that the US Army chose Germany as my first duty station, and I was even more fortunate to stay in Germany for over 5 years. I had a great time while living there. In between all that fun, I learn a few things about both myself and the world. Prior to moving to Germany, I was under the assumption that I just did not have the brain for languages. I had taken French level 1 twice just to make it to French level 2. I just was not getting it. I then moved on to Spanish and had the same issues. I think the reason I was having so much issue had to do with the way we teach languages in America and honestly, my lack of motivation to learn it. Secondary languages were taught for testing purposes and the point of learning them seemed distant to me. Regardless of my lack of motivation, one thing was still true: the way we taught languages was just not working well. I remember running into many American exchange students in Germany who were horrible at German. Kids who were in level 3 and 4 and just could not get by. I did notice that the people who did learn the fastest learned in a different way. Children prior to the age of 6 have no real language set in their brain. So to them, they did not need to translate words in their head. They just spoke and imprinted the words. Children messed up the language without a care to perfection; they just spoke, mistakes and all. In time their mistakes polished themselves out till they were fluent. I tried to take that lesson to heart and learn German like a child.

For the first few months German sounded like mush to me. I could not hear the beginning of words nor the end of sentences; it was just a jumble of sounds. Every so often, however, I would hear words that I knew, words that if I went with my instincts, tended to be a word I could figure out. The more and more I did this, the easier it was to get through German and the more words I noticed I knew. I had opened up my ears to hearing the roots between the two languages. This lead me to buy books on how to learn German and I began to teach myself. Later, I would return to college to take German level 1, and I received a C, though I could speak better than any other person in the class and rarely if ever needed to take time to rack my head. I was just learning differently and was at a different stage of polishing my German. My teacher was more concerned with perfect conjugation, sentence structure and spelling, (basically, things that I think should not matter at first) but this was being taught for a grade and not a function. Later I came to find out that the US government teaches languages like I learned German. Thankfully someone gets it.

At the same time I was taking and learning German, I kept on running across the idea that most of English words come from Latin and French origins. That statement was just not playing out as I learned German, as I have always been a voracious reader. I'm not a book worm per-say, but I liked to read history. The more I listened to German and opened up to it, the more I noticed words that had changed over time or had fallen out of favor in spoken modern English. Words that were more common one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, I was hearing in currently spoken German. They were not word for word translations, but the root was there if you could listen for it. One of the things that helped me was the knowledge that reading and writing, for a majority of the population, did not happen until the twentieth century. A few thousand years of mixing with other people and having no way to read, will lead to languages morph over time. German became more technical in grammatic structure while English less so. English however had enhanced with far more borrowed words from other cultures. It became a Creole of German and the longer the two cultures were isolated, the more the evolved on separate paths.

My way of explaining how I learned English was always summed up in a short explanation. The English language comes from lazy and ignorant German soldiers isolated on an island trying to deal with French-speaking kings and a Latin-speaking church. No one could read or write for a thousand years so the ways that words were spoken would evolve as they did within America. The binding factor that has kept places like the southern states of America from creating a new language is the fact that reading and writing are common now as television, so we can hear each other speak. There still exists pockets where many people speak differently than outsiders, but for the most part, we are all evolving on a more common path today than we were a thousand years ago.

In this paper I will try to give a historical summation of the English language and why it has more to do with German than the common idea that it is predominantly filled with borrowed words from Romance Languages. Far too many times when I was trying to explain to people how they could learn German if they opened up their ears to the similarities, I would get the common rebuttal that English was far more based on French and Latin. I think it was almost a complex where people just did not want to admit that our language evolved from German. That it somehow made English seem crude. But once people got past that and learned to listen to German like a game, it became instinctual. The main trip-up being the changes in sentence structure, the loss of nominative, dative and accusative, masculine, feminine and neuter in English, aside from English pronouns like his and hers. In German, all nouns can be masculine, feminine, or neuter, with modifications in the syntax changing based on the proper cases.


A proto-language is the term for historical linguistics that trace back to common ancestor from which many languages grew out of. These are often classified in many different language families. Sometimes the term, "proto-language" is referred to by its German term, Ursprache, which itself is a compound word in German that can be broken down into two distinct parts. Ur means "primordial," and can also be thought of as "original." Both words sound slightly similar when spoken, with "ur" being a shortened version of original. The word Sprache in German translates to "language" or "speaking," but the factor to remember is that the basis of all language is making noise that you hope someone



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