Are Our Borrowed Words From French or Latin?
By N.S. Gill, About.com Guide
Question: Are Our Borrowed Words From French or Latin?
Many English words appear to be borrowings from Latin -- or is it French?
Answer: When I took an historical linguistics class, one of the questions on the first test was to write the country of origin for a series of English borrowed (meaning stolen, adopted, or adapted, but not returned) words. I fretted over the answers to some because while I knew there were Latin cognates, I didn't know whether the right answer was France or Italy. I don't remember what I decided to write. It didn't matter, though, because the teacher accepted either answer.
In the 11th century, the Norman French invaded not only the country of England, but its language. Some of the borrowings led to doublets, like pig and pork, cow and beef, and sheep and mutton, where the Anglo-Saxon animal name came to co-exist with a French word for the meat from the animal. Since French is a Romance language, it is based on the language of the Romans, i.e., Latin. This means that indirectly, English acquired much of its vocabulary from the Romans via the French. Some French words had other origins, so the English word 'garden' entered English from the French 'jardin', but 'jardin' entered French from a Germanic borrowing. Not all words of Latin origin entered English during the period of intense French influence. 'Pecuniary' entered English in the 16th century, a direct borrowing from Latin. The English word 'facile" may come from French 'facile' or from the Latin 'facilis'. We don't know which. According to Anatoly Liberman, whose examples I've used, for many words, it is best to say their presence in English is either from a French borrowing or directly from Latin.
Source: Word Origins, by Anatoly Liberman. Oxford: 2005. If you're interested in the origins of English words or onomatopoeia, you should read this book.