How many languages did the English language “borrow” from?

Shocking to hear that English is not as “authentic” as you thought it was?

In fact, there are probably more than hundreds of words from other at least 146 different languages.

In this article to show you some common English words that was loaned from other languages and how did it happened.

As the second most popular language of our time, the English language is notorious for borrowing words from almost every language on the face of the earth. From indigenous African languages like Swahili to popular languages such as Spanish and Mandarin, the English language is known to loan words from almost every culture it comes into contact with. In its earliest days of evolution, English was made of dialects spoken by Germanic settlers to include Mercian, Kentish, Northumbrian, and West Saxon.

As the days went by, the English language grew rapidly, borrowing over 400 words from Latin and a few from Greek during the earliest days of Christianity. Some of the historical events that happened afterward continued to revolutionize the language to the English we have today. Even though the old English (Anglo-Saxon) appears unintelligible to modern-day English speakers, at least half of the words in modern English have old English roots.

While the English language has borrowed from almost any language, there are those that it has heavily borrowed from. The English words from these cultures are universally accepted and contribute a significant percentage in the composition of the language. Here are the top languages that the English language has borrowed from.

French origin.

Even though studies differ, a survey by Joseph M. Williams (1986) shows that at least 41% of the words used in modern day English originates from French. The study was conducted by analyzing a list of ten thousand words derived from over a thousand business letters. The French language is known to borrow from Latin, Gaulish, and other Germanic languages. Most of the French vocabulary used in English today has been imported over the centuries from the Normans conquest in 1066.

During this era, William the Conqueror led his army to conquer the whole of England, hence bringing in the influence of the Norman French and culture to the Anglo-Saxon English. Also, the influence of France on Europe during the Renaissance period had a significant impact on bringing into contact the English language and French.

The English words with a French origin include Abandon, abase, artiste, ascertain, aspirant, baboon, bailey, baleen, cabinet, cabaret, chemist, compose, among many others.

Anglo-Saxon origin.

In his book, “Origins of the English Language” Joseph M. Williams identifies 33% of the English language to be made of words with an Anglo-Saxon or native origin. The original speakers of Anglo-Saxon, commonly known as old English, consisted of three tribes to include the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. The dialects from each of these tribes played a part in the formation of the Anglo-Saxon language which was spoken in parts of Scotland and England between the 5th and 12th centuries.

According to, the English words with an Anglo-Saxon origin tend to be short with either one or two syllables. Also, they relate to areas such as animals, the human body, family and relationships, weather, farming, landscape features, colors, and human activities. Examples include abide, back, bird, blood, chicken, daughter, daft, each, keen, queen, quick, nail, rag, say, thank, udder, vat, wag, yard, among others.

Latin origin.

In the “Origins of the English Language,” Latin is said to contribute at least 15% of the borrowed words. The influence of Latin to the evolution of the English language started in 1066 when the Normans invaded England. The Norman French was a Romance language with deep roots in Latin. This means that some of the words used in Norman French had a Latin origin, and were later loaned to the English language.

There was also a direct influence of Latin to the English language when the Romans invaded England in 43AD. The introduction of Christianity and the adoption of Latin as the official language of the church further broadened the influence to the English language. Given that Latin, French, Italian, Roman, Spanish, and Portuguese are some words are shared across all these languages and have been borrowed into English.

Some of the English words with a Latin origin include conflation from conflationem, delete from deletus, elicit from elicitus, infelicity from infelicitus, among many others.

Old Norse origin.

According to Joseph M. Williams, the English language borrows 5% of its words from the Old Norse, a North Germanic language spoken by the inhabitants of Scandinavia during the 9th to 13th century. The Old Norse language had three dialects to include the Old West Norse, Old East Norse, and the Old Gutnish. The interaction between the Scandinavians and the old English speakers brought some of the Old Norse vocabularies to the English language.

Some of the English words with Old Norse origin include bark, bask, gawk, skip, thwart, girth, cake, awe, irk, oaf, kid, ugly, scant, weak, among others.

Dutch origin.

The Dutch language is said to contribute at least 1 % of the borrowed words in the English Language. Like English, the Dutch is a West Germanic language and shares a lot of similar characteristics with the Romance languages. At least one-third of the Norman invaders was of the Dutch origin and stayed in England after the conquest thus influencing the English language.

The English words borrowed from Dutch include cookie from koekie, boss from baas, Yankee from Jan-Kees, Pump from Pomp, Waffle from Wafel, Wagon from Wagen, Cruise from Kruisen, among many others.


Five percent of the borrowed words in the English language come from a combination of other languages apart from the one mention above. According to mental floss, some of the languages that have a significant influence on the development of the English language include Spanish, Hindi, Bengali, Mandarin, Korean, Turkish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.

Additional studies.

Another computerized survey by Oxford dictionary and published by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff in 1973 shows that French and Latin have the highest contribution to the English language followed by Dutch and Old Norse. The Greek Language is another major contributor with other languages only contributing six percent.

Up to date, English is one of the languages with most borrowed words and as Philip Durkin, the deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary notes, English has evolved to become a language with a global outreach.

About Rain Tan

I’m full time home tutor and also a blogger at Einstein tuition Loves teaching and sharing knowledge with people. I like to blog about education related topics.