Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 629 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.
instance, “parliament,” “peers,” “commons.”  The language of law abounds in French terms, like “damage,” “trespass,” “circuit,” “judge,” “jury,” “verdict,” “sentence,” “counsel,” “prisoner.”  Many words used in war, architecture, and medicine also have a French origin.  Examples are “fort,” “arch,” “mason,” “surgery.”  In fact, we find words from the French in almost every field.  “Uncle” and “cousin,” “rabbit” and “falcon,” “trot” and “stable,” “money” and “soldier,” “reason” and “virtue,” “Bible” and “preach,” are instances in point.

French words often displaced Saxon ones.  Thus, the Saxon Haelend, the Healer, gave way to the French Savior, wanhope and wonstead were displaced by despair and residence.  Sometimes the Saxon stubbornly kept its place beside the French term.  The English language is thus especially rich in synonyms, or rather in slightly differentiated forms of expression capable of denoting the exact shade of thought and feeling.  The following words are instances:—­


body corpse folk people swine pork calf veal worth value green verdant food nourishment wrangle contend fatherly paternal workman laborer

English was enriched not only by those expressions, gained from the daily speech of the Normans, but also by words that were added from literary Latin.  Thus, we have the Saxon “ask,” the Norman-French “inquire” and “question,” and the Latin “interrogate.”  “Bold,” “impudent,” “audacious”; “bright,” “cheerful,” “animated”; “earnings,” “wages,” “remuneration,” “short,” “brief,” “concise,” are other examples of words, largely synonymous, from the Saxon, the Norman-French, and the Latin, respectively.  These facts explain why modern English has such a wealth of expression, although probably more than one half of the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary has been lost.

The Superiority of the Composite Tongue.—­While we insist on the truth that Anglo-Saxon gained much of its wonderful directness and power from standing in close relations to earnest life, it is necessary to remember that many words of French origin did, by an apprenticeship at the fireside, in the field, the workshop, and the laboratory, equally fit themselves for taking their place in the language.  Such words from French-Latin roots as “faith,” “pray,” “vein,” “beast,” “poor,” “nurse,” “flower,” “taste,” “state,” and “fool” remain in our vocabulary because they were used in everyday life.

Pure Anglo-Saxon was a forcible language, but it lacked the wealth of expression and the flexibility necessary to respond to the most delicate touches of the master-musicians who were to come.  When Shakespeare has Lear say of Cordelia:—­

              “Her voice was ever soft,
  Gentle, and low; an excellent thing in woman,”

we find that ten of the thirteen words are Saxon, but the other three of Romance (French) origin are as necessary as is a small amount of tin added to copper to make bronze.  Two of these three words express varying shades of quality.

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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