Word choice between Old English vs Romance languages

HareBrain

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This isn't going to be a suggestion; I'm just wondering if anyone has ever given any thought to this, or knows of any articles on the subject, etc.

We know English is a language that draws from all over the place. Over the years I've come across a few comments to the effect that words derived from Old English (Anglo-Saxon), or other Germanic languages such as Old Norse, have a different feel to those that come from Romance languages such as French (and ultimately Latin). Usually, but not always, the OE ones would be shorter, and using short words does give a different feel. But possibly OE-derived might also sound more direct and earthy.

What I'm wondering is whether a text would take on a certain flavour if, where possible, OE-derived words were chosen over Romance ones. It occurred to me when recently reading Treacle Walker that this is what Garner did in that book, but I don't know if that's the case. I might go back through it and see. Does anyone know any other authors they think do this, or are on record as saying so?

A few examples: help is OE, aid is R; brock is OE, badger is R; stoat is I think OE, ermine is R; stronghold is OE, castle is R.
 

Venusian Broon

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I can't help you with your query, but I'd fascinated to see a short paragraph, well-known or otherwise, 'translated' into OE-only English, then the same done but with R English. Might give it a go myself, if I have the energy!
 

Yozh

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English speakers generally feel that the Romance derived words are more formal, learned, or "high class." (Except maybe for your badgers...) Legacy of the Norman conquest after which the ruling class used French, and then also post-Enlightenment use of latin roots for scientific, medical and other fancy book-learning.

One interesting dichotomy in modern English is that our words for live farm animals are mostly Germanic (cow, swine*, sheep) but the meat from those animals is derived from French (beef, pork, mutton). The Germanic folk were raising the animals, and the Romance lords were eating them!

Tolkien made use of many Anlgo-Saxon Old English terms in his works, such that I think the use of such words now signals "fantasy world" to modern readers.
Tolkien Society on Anglo-Saxon

*I think "hog" is actually Celtic
 

The Judge

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One interesting dichotomy in modern English is that our words for live farm animals are mostly Germanic (cow, swine*, sheep) but the meat from those animals is derived from French (beef, pork, mutton). The Germanic folk were raising the animals, and the Romance lords were eating them!
Not all the meat was eaten by the Norman overlords, though, hence words such as oxtail and oxtongue, liver and lights and probably chitterlings -- the bits the posh lot didn't want! And not just farmed animals -- deer/hart are Germanic but venison is derived from the French.


As for the use of Old English derived words in literature, that's an interesting thought about Treacle Walker, not that I noticed it if he did. I can't think of an author doing it in a book, though for some reason it made me think of Anthony Burgess, who had studied Anglo-Saxon poetry and recited Caedmon. But Churchill's "We shall fight them on the beaches" is one A-S word after another, with the only long latinate word being "surrender" -- undoubtedly done for the sake of the strong, punchy effect required to drive the message home. (An analysis of it here may be of interest Did the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly use words from Old English? If so, why?)
 

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