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A modern language is a product of a long historical development, in the course of which a language was subjected to multiple changes due to various reasons. These changes are diverse and affect all aspects of the language structure. The historical development of each level depends on specific causes and conditions that stimulate the shifts in the lexical composition of the language, its phonetic organization, and grammatical structure. The development of a language is also characterized by the processes of growth and decay. The history of a language and its study reveals all the processes that occur in the language at different stages of its existence.

Linguistic borrowings have different effects on language vocabulary. In some languages, they did not have such a large impact that would significantly change the vocabulary of a language. In other languages, borrowings in different historical periods changed the language so radically that even the most significant parts of speech, such as pronouns and prepositions, were borrowed from some other language and replaced original words.

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Linguistic borrowings played an important role in the lexicon of the English language. Almost all morphemes, such as prefixes, roots, and suffixes, were taken from other languages. In the course of its development, the English language adopted a significant number of foreign words, which have become an integral part of the language.

Thus, the aim of the term paper is to study the influence of the Greek language on the medical and figurative vocabulary of the English language. In particular, the paper will study and discuss the first appearance of Greek words in the English language their long-term effect on the language. Additionally, the paper will provide a deep investigation of the first appearance of Greek words in the science field and figurative language.

The origin of the Greek language

The Greek language is the official language of Greece and Cyprus. It is spoken by over ten million people. The language of modern Greece is a part of the Balkan linguistic group and is different from the ancient Greek language. It has been changed during many centuries. As a result, Greek grammar and spelling have become easier, and phonetics has been reconstructed.

Greek is the language of the Indo-European language family. The separation of a group of Greek dialects from other languages and dialects of the Indo-European family occurred in the third millennium BC. It resulted in the formation of a separate Hellenic group of languages. The ethnic population of Greece, which included Pelasgians, Leleges and other tribes, was driven away by Achaeans and Ionians, who created such states as Knossos, Phaistos, Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, and others (Miller 33).

The Ancient Greek language is the language of Homer’s poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, the philosophy and literature of the Golden Age of the Athens, and the New Testament. People spoke this language in the Empire of Alexander the Great and the kingdoms of the Diadochi. The Ancient Greek language was the second official language of the Roman Empire and the major language in the early stages of the existence of the Eastern Roman Empire and was gradually reborn in the Medieval Greek language (Miller 42-64).

In the Middle Ages, Greek became a model of a literary language of the Byzantine Empire and received the status of a classic language in Western Europe during the Renaissance. Besides, it influenced the development of the new Greek language, Katharevousa. At the same time, Korina Miller mentioned that “the Katharevousa form was never more than artificiality” (770).

There are several theories about the origin of the Greek language. According to David Crowley and Paul Heyer, “one theory suggests that it originated with a migration of proto-Greek speakers into the Greek peninsula…” while “another theory maintains that the migration into Greece occurred at a pre-proto-Greek stage, and the characteristic Greek sound-changes occurred later.”

The appearance of the first Greek words in the English language and its effect

Many factors, especially the invention of printing and the revival of classical learning, had an enormous impact on the development of the English language in the 15th century. These powerful factors came into effect at a time when the English language had reached certain stability in its development and was moving towards maturity. The advent of typesetting typographic fonts led to a broader and more rapid dissemination of literature and culture while the revival of the science of Ancient Greece favored a deeper and more versatile knowledge of a human being and his place in the universe. Only a few educated people had known Greek language until the 16th century. For instance, the Venerable Bede who lived in the 8th century and John of Salisbury who lived in the 12th century had some knowledge of the Greek language. However, it is unclear how freely they could read in Greek. Like other medieval scholars, everything that they needed for life was written in Latin. However, there were two distinguished scholars familiar with the Greek language and the science of Ancient Greece in the 13th century. They were Grossest Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, and his pupil Roger Bacon, known as Dr. Mirabilis. These scientists anticipated the revival of Hellenistic science led by Thomas Linker, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More for more than two centuries (“Early Modern English”).

The names of the seven sciences that were included in the medieval university courses and comprised of three and four disciplines originated from Greek. These were grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Greek language was also introduced in Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe, thus preparing the ground for the later borrowing of such words as drama, theater, comedy, tragedy, catastrophe, climax, episode, scene, monologue, dialogue, prologue and epilogue in the Tudor’s era. Additionally, it contributed to the subsequent establishment of a large number of neologisms in the 19th-20th centuries. They were composed by joining Greek prefixes and suffixes to the already well-known roots with an intention to provide the technical terminology of medicine, biology, surgery, dentistry, pharmacy, zoology, physics, chemistry, metallurgy, electronics, engineering and other fields of academic and applied science. For example, prefix ‘tele-‘, which means distant, is now used with the meaning ‘driven at a distance.’ This prefix is used in such words as telephotography, television and others. By contrast, prefixes ‘macro-‘, which means long or large, and ‘micro-’, which means small, were adjusted to the English language and evolved into free forms that can be connected to any word.

Greek culture and art also began to revive in the 15th century, which resulted in the borrowing of many Latin words. New literary borrowings were created in the Renaissance. Many writers of the time used Latin words in their works, which were later included in the vocabulary of the English language. These words make up a significant part of the legacy of that time. They were often created by the writers themselves based on Latin and Greek roots as purely bookish terms, many of which were used by an author once but became popular later and remain widely used nowadays. In general, the English language has lots of literary Latin borrowings. Such words came into the language through any documents and books. Apart from literature, new linguistic borrowings appeared in other sectors of culture and science. For example, Latin language has influenced English medical terminology. Latin played a prominent role in the enrichment of the medical terminology since many Greek words came through it into medicine (“Early Modern English”).

Greek words in science

Many Greek words that have become a part of the English language appeared along with Latin words. It happened because the Latin language itself has borrowed such words from Greek. Thus, modern scientific and technical terms came from the Greek language. Most of these words are international and do not need translation as they are well-know all over the globe.

In natural sciences, the number of words of Greek origin is surprising. For example, Greek words are presented in such natural sciences as bacteriology, botany, histology, physiology, physics, zoology and biology, etc. The Greek language has entered many other areas of the scientific world besides natural sciences, having created a varied lexicon of scientific terms. Moreover, a lot of Greek words are used in the recently opened modern and developing areas of medicine. For instance, there are such words as adenoids, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and others. Different diseases, pathologies, symptoms, numerous medical instruments and devices, carriers of disease, and other medical terminologies received their name from the Greek-Latin vocabulary (Hoffman 55).

Medical vocabulary is one of the oldest professional terminologies. It was formed on the basis of the Latin language, assimilating everything that the world civilization has developed since the time of its inception. Medical terminology is not a permanent system. It is being developed, changed, and adapted to the needs of the time. The history of medicine, changes in scientific views, integration and differentiation of disciplines, cultural ties, the influence of the lexical-semantic system of language – all these are reflected in the stylistic heterogeneity of medical terminology. This phenomenon is to a certain extent connected with the origin of the modern English scientific terminology, which has passed quite a long and difficult path of development.

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It has become clear that Greek and Latin are connected to each other because many Greek words have come to the English language through Latin. Although there are many exceptions, terms with Greek roots show that a particular part of the body is investigated or present evidence of a disease in this part while terms with Latin roots refer to any part of the human body. For example, the English anatomical term for stomach is ‘gut’ while it is ‘intestinum’ in Latin. However, the branch of science that studies intestinal diseases is called gastroenterology, which is the word derived from Greek language. Another example is the English word ‘cardiac,’ which derived from the Greek word ‘kardiakos,’ ‘kardia,’ which means heart in Greek (Collins 155). Most likely, terms borrowed from the Greek language are used to refer to pathologies. Thus, the terms that are derived from Greek can often be found in the disease nomenclature. For instance, the Greek root for breast is ‘mast(o),’ which is generally found in the names of breast pathologies or malignancies, such as ‘mastectomy.’

Greek words in figurative language

Words of Greek origin appeared in the English language not only as technical terms in the natural and exact sciences but also in everyday life. People are often confronted with words that were borrowed from the Greek language when studying English and writing unfamiliar words from a text.

As a result of linguistic borrowings, the English language has been enriched with international words. Words are called international if they can be found in many languages but have slight phonetic differences related to specific features of pronunciation of each language. As a result, the English language includes many words of Greek origin which should not be translated because they have become international. For example, these are ‘analysis,’ ‘comedy,’ ‘tragedy,’ ‘chorus,’ ‘democrat,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘gymnastics,’ ‘problems,’ ‘scheme,’ ‘scene,’ ‘rhythm,’ ‘epos,’ ‘epilogue,’ etc. Male and female names that have taken root in England also come from Greek. These are such names as Helene, Sophie, Peter, Nicholas, Theodor, Eugene, George, and others. Similarly, many scientific terms learned during the study of the English language as a discipline come from the Greek language. Thus, English lexicology has a set of terms derived from Greek. For example, these are ‘antonym,’ ‘synonym,’ ‘homonym,’ ‘idiom,’ ‘dialect,’ ‘archaism,’ ‘etymology,’ ‘euphemism,’ ‘hyperbola,’ ‘lexicology,’ ‘metaphor,’ ‘neologism,’ etc. Many Greek words have become international prefixes. For example, Greek suffixes, such as -ist, -ism, and -isk, are well-recognized in many languages all over the globe (Green 72).

There are words of Latin and Greek origin that have been added to the English language in different historical periods and ways. As a result, there appeared many words the pronunciation and writing of which does not meet the standards of the English language. They have some grammatical features. Such words can be easily recognized because some letter combinations are read not in English but Greek. Thus, the combination is read as [k] in such words as ‘Christ,’ ‘character,’ ‘school,’ ‘chemistry,’ ‘technical,’ ‘mechanic,’ and ‘architect,’ and the combination is read as [f] in words ‘phone,’ ‘physics,’ ‘graph,’ ‘photo,’ ‘alphabet,’ ‘emphasis,’ and ‘phrase.’ Another example Greek legacy in the English language is that is not read before in such words as ‘psychiatry’ and ‘psychology’ while is placed instead of in the middle of such words as ‘sympathy’ and ‘physics’ (Green 62).

The borrowing of the vocabulary can occur in an oral and written ways. In case of oral borrowings, words are faster assimilated in the language in contrast to written borrowings, which longer retain their phonetic and grammatical features. Apart from that, linguistic borrowing can be direct or enter into a language through an intermediary, which supports the fact that many Greek words appeared in English from Latin.

The main methods of linguistic borrowings are transcription, transliteration and calquing. Transcription is the borrowing of a vocabulary unit that maintains its sound shape. For example, the Greek letter ‘phi’ (?) is pronounced like [th] in English and is marked [?] in English transcription. Transliteration is a type of linguistic borrowing, when the letters of a borrowed word are replaced by the letters of a native language (Green 62). For example, such words as ‘demography’ and ‘democracy’ have the root ‘demo’ which derives from the Greek word ‘demos,’ which means a nation. The word is read by the rules of the native language under the transliteration. Calquing is a type of borrowing, under which components of a borrowed word or phrase are translated separately and then connected as in the original foreign word and phrase. Peraki notes that Ancient Greeks used a real alphabet that included vowels and consonants in the first place. The word ‘alphabet’ is in use in English these days and has come into the language through the combination of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, which are ‘alpha’ and ‘beta.’ It is an example of calquing and one of the methods of linguistic borrowing.

In the English language, there are many foreign-language vocabulary units, in particular, words borrowed from Greek, which have mainly come through the Latin language. The understanding of the meaning of the most common roots of Greek origin helps to reveal the motivation of the borrowed words and realize their meaning. The introduction to the semantics of the most common Greek roots will help to gain understanding of pronunciation and spelling of many common terms and words. For example, ‘bios,’ which is ‘life’ in Greek, is the root of ‘biology,’ ‘biography,’ and ‘demos,’ which stands for ‘people/nation’ in Greek, is the root of the words ‘democracy,’ ‘demography,’ etc.

Other roots that have equivalents in the English language are: autos -> self, chroma -> color, ge -> earth, graphein -> write, logos -> discourse, phone -> voice, kratos -> power, strange, skopein -> see, telos -> at the distance. Examples of English words with Greek roots are such words as ‘autograph,’ ‘autocrat,’ ‘geography,’ ‘geology,’ ‘phonograph,’ ‘telephone,’ etc. (Green 51).

There was a very small number of direct linguistic borrowings from Greek into English. An example is the word ‘church,’ which derives from the Greek word ‘kuriakon’ and is translated as the house of God. However, the majority of Greek borrowings have come into English through other languages that are called mediators, mainly through the Latin language. These Greek-Latin elements can be found in any chronological layer of the Latin borrowings in English. For example, ‘angel’ is ‘angelus’ in Latin and ‘?ggelos’ (the messenger) in Greek; ‘martyr’ is ‘martyr’ in Latin and ‘m?rtur’ in Greek (refers to ‘a martyr’ and ‘a witness’ respectively), etc.

The following words of Greek origin came into English via Latin and French, which played the role of intermediary languages:

Fantasy – ‘phantasia’ that ‘idea,’ ‘notion’ in Latin and ‘phantasia’ as ‘appearance of a thing’ in Greek;

Catalogue – ‘catalogus’ in Latin and ‘katalogos’ as ‘a list, a register’ in Greek;

Chronicle – ‘chronica’ in Latin and ‘chronika’ as ‘annals’ in Greek.

In the Renaissance, the period of a lively interest in the ancient Greek culture and reading of ancient authors in original, the following words were borrowed directly from Greek:

Myth – the word refers to ‘mythos’ as ‘a word, speech, story, legend’ in Greek;

Petal – ‘petalon’ in Greek refers to ‘a leaf;’

Sympathy – has derived from ‘syn-‘taken from ‘sympathenia’ and ‘patos’ that refers to ‘feeling’ in Greek;

Acme – ‘akm?’ that means ‘a point’ in Greek;

Enthusiasm – ‘enthusiasmos’ (refers to ‘divine inspiration’);

Apathy – ‘a-pathos’ (refers to ‘insensitivity’);

Atlas – the name of the mythical titan in Greece, on whose shoulders supposedly the Earth rests;

Catastrophe – ‘katastroph?’ (refers to ‘a revolution’) (McEwan).


The vocabulary of the English language is the richest in the world mainly due to a vast number of linguistic borrowings. The Dictionary of Contemporary English includes about a half of Germanic vocabulary, and the other half of the vocabulary is comprised of Roman borrowings, mostly from the Greek language and other languages. Almost all the basic concepts and everyday vocabulary as well as personal pronouns, verbs, simple prepositions and conjunctions, and almost all the numerals derive from the Anglo-Saxon language.

Many commonly used nouns, adjectives and verbs a have Scandinavian origin. The words of the Greek origin are often considered a sign of elegance and erudition. In many cases, a native English speaker has a choice between Germanic, Latin and Greek synonyms. The difference in the value of these synonyms promotes flexibility and richness of the language and can transmit subtle shades of the meaning. In everyday speech, words of Germanic origin prevail, whereas Latin and Greek words are mostly used in formal speech and writing in the English language.

The lexical structure of the English language is not uniform. Its peculiarity is manifested in the fact that up to 70% of its words were borrowed from other languages. These are Latin, Greek, French, Scandinavian, and other Roman languages. As for the Greek linguistic borrowings, they have entered the English language in several waves. The earliest one refers to the time when the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians concluded trade and military contacts with the Romans before moving to Britain. During that time, the designations of the material culture items, such as ‘butter,’ ‘box,’ etc., were directly borrowed from Greek. Subsequently, many words of Greek origin were added to the English language through other languages, mainly through Latin, such as ‘abbot’ or ‘bishop,’ and French, such as ‘fancy’ or ‘idea.’ Finally, the third wave can be attributed to modern neologisms that basically have Greek roots. These are such words as ‘encephalopathy’ or ‘apocalypse.’

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The Greek language has presented many words to the English language. Fragments of Greek are found in roots, prefixes and suffixes of English words. Sometimes, the understanding of the value of Greek fragments helps to realize the meaning of the entire word.

To sum up, the research paper discussed the influence of the Greek language on the English language. It included the discussion of the origin of the Greek language, the way Greek words came into English, and what effect they has had on the English language. At the same time, the research paper has presented the historical appearance of Greek words in the English language as well as the major causes that contributed to the appearance of Greek words in English. Additionally, the paper discussed the appearance of Greek words in science and figurative language to show their impact on the modern English language.

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