Is English Really a Germanic Language?

If you want to learn to speak a language authentically, Italki is a great way to meet native speakers for language exchange or one-on-one lessons. Buy one lesson and get one free, click the link in the description. Hello everyone. Welcome to the Langfocus channel and my name is Paul Today, I’m going to answer the question: “is English really a Germanic language?” If you’ve seen any of my videos on Germanic languages like my Afrikaans video, like my Dutch video, like my German video or like my North Germanic languages video, then you probably saw that English is also a Germanic language. But a lot of people write comments expressing some confusion over this. They write things like: “Paul, are you sure it’s a Germanic language?” “Are you sure it’s not a Romance language?” Well, that’s a good question. If a native English-speaker, who had never learned another language before, had a look at a page of French and then had a look at a page of German or Dutch, they would probably be able to understand more of the page of French.

Or if they had a look at a page of Spanish or a page of Italian, they would probably be able to pick out a lot of words that they recognize. But on the other hand, if they looked at a page of Dutch or of German, they probably would’nt be able to pick out as many without decyphering the words a little bit first. So, in that case, why is English a Germanic language and not a Romance language? In the field of linguistics, languages are categorized according to their genetic relationship.

“Genetic relationship” means that they have a common ancestor. And therefore, they have some common features that distinguish them from other groups of languages. This type of genetic relationship between languages can commonly be seen in the grammar and synthax of the language. But the current vocabulary of the language is not really taken into account in its categorization. Even when a language has a huge number of loan words and its vocabulary changes a lot, that does NOT change the categorization of that language. So because English developped from Proto-Germanic, it is a Germanic language, despite massive changes that have taken place in its vocabulary. The vocabulary of English has been highly influenced by Romance languages. Romance meaning latin and any language that has developped from latin, like French, Spanish, Italian, etc… So how much has it been influenced? Well, English vocabulary is 26% Germanic, and it’s 29% French. Wait, you’re telling me that there’s more French vocabulary than Germanic vocabulary, even though it’s a Germanic language? That’s odd! Oh but wait, there is also 29% latin vocabulary.

So that means together 58% of English vocabulary comes from Romance languages? Well, that’s more than I thought! Another 6% comes from Greek, another 6% (not 4%) comes other languages, and 4% comes from proper names. I can’t really think of any vocabulary that comes from proper names, aside from Randy. So what if we ignore the origins of English and its grammar and synthax, and just focus on the vocabulary for a minute, then English is largely a Romance language. How did so much Romance vocabulary enter English? Much of the French vocabulary entered English after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Normans spoke a Regional French dialect called “Old Norman” or “Norman French”. The upper classes in England spoke French for around 300 years. English was influenced by the Norman French dialect, but also by Parisian French. due to its prestige and cultural influence in, the following centuries. Huge amounts of French vocabulary entered English and it lost much of its Old English vocabulary.

But in many cases, there are pairs of equivalent Germanic and French vocabulary. But, within those pairs, there is often a slightly different meaning or usage for the Germanic word and for the French word. An interesting example are the pairs of words representing animal versus foods that come from those animals. The animals are represented by Germanic words and the foods are represented by French loan words. For example, “cow” comes from Old English “cu” but “beef” comes French “boeuf”. “Pig” comes from Old English “picga” but “pork” comes French “porc” But I don’t know what the prononciation would have been like in Norman French. “Sheap” comes from Old English “sceap” when “mutton” comes Old French “mouton” “Snail” comes from Old English “snaegl” and “escargot” comes Norman French “escargot” French also influenced English because of its huge cultural influence on Europe from the Renaissance period to the end of the 19th century.

And even now to some extent. But it’s not just French, there’s also a lot of latin vocabulary. Some Latin entered Germanic dialects in their early days, through contact with the Roman Empire. On the top of that, some christian missionaries were present in Britain in the 6th & 7th centuries and they introduced some latin religious vocab’ into English. Many latin words were also borrowed during the Renaissance period and also during the scientific revolution of the 17th & 18th centuries, when many new words were “coined”. “Coined” meaning “newly created” New words were coined from latin roots, prefixes & suffixes to represent new concepts in science, in technilogy and in industry. So English is a Germanic language which absorbed a huge number of French and Latin words? Yes, basically. But some people have a different theory. Some people think that English is actually a creole language. That’s something called “The Middle English Creole Hypothesis” There are big differences between Old English and Middle English Of course, there was the importing of lots of French vocabulary. But that alone does not make it a creole language. But there were other changes to the grammar of English, which became highly simplified.

There was a lot of simplification. Like the loss of most noun cases and gender. So that, aside from the possessive form with ” ‘s ” and the plural forms, most nouns in English don’t have any inflection. Also, adjectives used to have inflection but that disappeared too. The word “inflection” means “changes to a word to represent different grammatical categories.” For example, the word “the cat” and “the cat’s paw”. Here the ” ‘s ” is a kind of inflection to show possession. And we have “one mouse” but “two mice” So here the word is inflected to show plural.

So let’s take a simple phrase like “the good king” and look at it in Old English. In Old English, notice that all 3 words in this phrase can change. In the nominative case: “Se goda cyning”. In the accusative case: “…”. In the genitive case: “…”. In the dative case: “…”. So the definite article changes, the adjective changes and the noun changes depending on the case. But the article and the adjective also change, depending on the gender and the case endings are different, depending on the gender. Let’s look at the similar phrase “the good queen”. Notice the different feminine forms of the definite article and the adjective. This is just an example of the grammatical complexity of Old English, so you can imagine how much it became simplified. By the Middle English Period, most of these forms had disappeared or merged together. So now, we just have a genitive case and the others formed a common case. This is the type of simplification that happens when creoles arise. So it’s very possible that Old English underwent a process of creolisation, inserting lots of French vocabulary into an Old English substrate or underlined structure.

But there might have a different reason for that simplification of English. Some people don’t believe in the creole hypothesis. And they point to things like some of the irregular forms that still exist in English, like the irregular verbs or the irregular plural forms. In a typical creole language, those forms would have been regularized. But, of course, creolization is not an “all or nothing” process, it’s possible that English was PARTIALLY creolized. Well, let’s look at a couple of sentences in English and let’s look at the influences we can find. And let’s see if there is more Germanic or more Romance influence. This one is a newspaper headline. [ The sentence is read ] “push” : this word comes from Old French “poulser” or Modern French “pousser” “immigration” : this word comes Latin “immigratum” “plan” : this word comes from the French word “plan” which means “map” or “ground plan” “meet” : this word comes from Old English “metan” “with” : this comes from Old English “…” “family” : this comes from the Latin “familia”, according to the source I used. But there is also the French “famille”, which, I suppose, could be the source.

“of” : this word comes from the Old English “aef” or “of”. “woman” : this comes from Old English “wimman” or “wiman”. “kill” : this might come from the Old English “cwellan” = “to quell”. “in” : this word comes from Latin So, out of those 10 words, 5 are Germanic and 5 are Romance words. But let’s look at a more casual sentence. Because I have a feeling that newspaper vocabulary tends towards Romance vocabulary more than common speech. [The sentence is read] “I” : this is Germanic, comes from Old English “ic” “had” : this is also Germanic, it comes from Old English “habban” “Lunch”. The origin of this one is vague, but it seems to be from a Modern English dialect word.

“with” : this is from Old English “…” “my” : this is Germanic, it comes from Middle English “mi” or “min” “friend” : this comes from Old English “freond” “and” : this comes from Old English “and” or “ond” “we” : this comes from Old English “we” “read” : this comes from Old English “raedan” or “redan” “some” : this comes from Old English “sum” “book” : this comes from Old English “boc” So this time, all of the words or almost all of the words are Germanic. So it’s interesting that the majority of English vocabulary comes from French or from Latin but, in the most commonly used words in casual speech, they tends to be more Germanic vocabulary. This is a good argument in favo(u)r of English being classified as a Germanic language So do I think that English should be classified as a Germanic language? Well, by a linguist’s criteria, yes. But most people don’t really care about a linguist’s criteria. They just care about the practical application, the practical use of the language.

And, in practice, I think that the vocabulary is a very important element of the language. So I think it’s fair to say that, in practice, English is a hybrid language, it’s partly Germanic, partly Romance. But that’s my personal conclusion. I’d like to know what you think. Do you think that English should be considered a Germanic language? Or do you think it seems more like a Romance language? Leave your answer in the comments down below. Be sure to follow Langfocus on Twitter, on Facebook or on Instagram.

Those are kind of places to keep in touch with me between videos. And I also post some little bits of bonus content on those social media channels. And I’d like to say thank you to all of my Patreon supporters, especially these people whose names are on the screen, for their especially generous monthly pledges. Thank you for watching and have a nice day..