Influence of Christianity on Old English language

Also Read

      About 600 A.D. England was Christianised and the conversion had far-reaching linguistic consequences. It is interesting to note that even before the English had been converted to Christianity they had a few Latin Christian words in their vocabulary. Thus they had church (OE. Cyrice, ultimately from Greek Kyriokon). Words like angel (OE. engel), devil (OE. deofol) minster (OE. myanster) and perhaps bishop (OE. biscop, L. episcopus) belorng to this group.

with the introduction of Christianity, Latin loanwords poured in English language
Christian Influence

      But with the introduction of Christianity, Latin Loanwords poured in. The names of church dignitaries were taken-abbot (on. abbod), nun (OE. nunn), Pope (OE. Papa), archbishop (OE, erchbiscop), Priest (OB., preost). Other words relating to Church and Christian religion taken over in this period are altar (L. altare), anthem (L. antiphona) martyr, mass (L. Missa) etc. Other words also came in. Names of objects like cap, chest, sock; of vegetables like Millet, radish.

      After the Anglo-Saxons were converted into Christianity, new ideas and things were introduced into them. It is interesting to note how they managed to express new ideas. In the first place they adopted a great many foreign words together with the ideas: such words as Apostle (OE. Apostol), Disciple (OE. Discipul). It is worth noting that most of these loans were short words that tallied perfectly well with the native words.

      Then without wholly depending on the foreign words, they utilised the resources of their own language. This was done in three ways:

(1) By forming new words from the foreign loans by means of native affixes. Thus we have a great many words in - Had (modern hood); Preosthad-priesthood; biscopliad, biscophood;

(2) By modifying English words-foremost among these is the word God. Easter OE. Eastron was the name of an old pagan spring festival called after Austro, a goddess of spring;

(3) By framing new words from native stems-Greek euaggelion was rendered god-spell modern gospel. Heathen (OE. hoeoen) is derived from hoep 'heath' in close imitation of Latin paganus from pages, a country district. But in many cases, excellent words were devised as if the framers of them never heard of any foreign expression for the same conception - Sunder-halgan.

      It is interesting to note that the Anglo-Saxons did not adopt more of the ready-made Latin or Greek words. It is because no Latin-speaking community was in direct intercourse with the English people. The Anglo-Saxons adopted such words as were assimilated with the native vocabulary on foreign words. It shows a healthful condition of the language.

      Jesperson observes: it is not the old English system of utilising the vernacular stock of words, but the modern system of neglecting the native and borrowing from a foreign vocabulary that has to be accounted for as something out of the natural state of things. One illustration will make the point clear. To express the idea of a small book that is always ready at hand, the Greeks devised the word egkheiridion and the Romans Manuals. But the Anglo-Saxons made use of its own language and framed the compound hand-boc. But in the middle English period, hand-boc was disused, the French Manual taking its place. And so accustomed had the nation grown to preferring strange and exotic words that when in the nineteenth century, hand-boc appeared again, they looked upon as an unwelcome intruder.

Previous Post Next Post