Chapter 3: The 21st century speaks many languages

The [old] linguistic new world order

On January 29, 1991, President George H.W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress. He spoke of a “new world order” as “a big idea,” in which “diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind.” In many respects, the first President Bush was correct: during the 1990s,  the global community did come closer to establishing universal norms of government, trade, and human rights.

The New World Order also had an impact on language. During the late 1980s, the bipolar world order of the Cold War years collapsed. Between 1989 and 1991, East and West Germany reunited, countries like Czechoslovakia and Poland jettisoned Communism, and the Soviet Union officially dissolved itself. In the absence of the bipolar conflict, the 1990s were dominated by the concept of globalization. Geopolitics, trade, (and the global use of language) was said to be heading down the path of homogenization. The only real powers in the world were the United States, and an amalgamation of smaller, weaker countries grouped together under the flag of the United Nations.

Almost by default, such an arrangement naturally favored the global usage of English. During the Cold War, half of the world was studying Russian as a second language. But now, English was the only second language that really counted.

New Markets for U.S. Multinationals

The business conditions that were emerging when George H.W. Bush delivered his “New World Order” speech in 1991 also favored the global dominance of English. During the 1990s, U.S. multinationals moved rapidly into new consumer and labor markets around the world. American companies had numerous advantages over any local competitors: access to cheap capital, management expertise, and brand recognition. In addition, many new players—like Russia and China—were still learning the basics of capitalism.

The Americans were offering not only products, but jobs as well. The 1990s was the beginning of the “outsourcing” or “offshoring” trend that would receive so much attention after the recession of 2001 and 2002. Multinationals discovered that they could significantly cut costs by moving production facilities to cheaper labor markets overseas. As a result, global hiring by U.S. multinationals soared during the 1990s. (For example, employment of Mexican nationals by U.S. companies more than doubled in the five years following the 1994 passage of NAFTA.) In much of the world, a job with an American company was seen as the surest path to personal prosperity. For the more desirable jobs, this usually meant learning English.

New Trends and New Challenges

There can be no doubt that the 1990s were an era dominated by the global usage of English. Nonetheless, three new trends are changing the global linguistic landscape—and making foreign languages more important to native English-speakers.

Trend 1: there is A new global balance of power

The United States remains the most prosperous nation on earth, and the other English-speaking nations are close behind. However, there has been a change in the relative position of the Anglophone world. At the end of World War II, nations like China and Japan were economic basket cases with little global impact. Today, China is the world’s second or third largest economy (depending on how you measure economic size); and competitors from throughout the non-English-speaking world are gaining on American companies.

The automotive sector provides a striking example. A Japanese automaker—Toyota—now holds 12 percent of the U.S. automobile market. Many industry analysts are suggesting that Toyota will ultimately reach parity with the Big Three within the U.S. market. A 2005 industry study predicted that Toyota will supplant General Motors as the largest automobile manufacturer in the world by 2010.  Toyota itself projects that it will corner 15 percent of the global automobile market by the same year.

China was one of the world’s poorest countries as recently as 1980. Today, China is home to 18 million millionaires, 400 million television sets, and 470 million cell phone subscribers.  China now manufacturers two-thirds of the world’s DVD players, copy machines, and microwave ovens. In its May 04, 2005 issue, Newsweek magazine openly asked “Does the Future Belong to China?”

Latin America was once dominated by totalitarian governments, high national debts, and almost universal poverty. Latin American living standards are still far below those of the United States, but purchasing power within the region is rapidly growing. The thirteen nations of South America alone have a total population of 330 million, and a combined GDP of $1.8 trillion. In Mexico, the second largest Latin American country after Brazil, ecommerce is booming; in a recent survey, more than 25 percent of  Mexican consumers reported making an online purchase in the past ninety days.

Just as Sputnik generated fears of an American decline, the recent advances made in overseas economies are interpreted by some as a harbinger of doom. Others see the changes in a more optimistic light. Nobel Prize-winning Economist Milton Friedman has said that all countries will experience long-term benefits from the increase in prosperity in the developing world. Wealthy populations are typically less susceptible to extremist doctrines and dictatorship. This ultimately means fewer wars and terrorist attacks.

Cooperation between Non-English Speakers Diminishes the Usage of English

There is now large-scale cooperation between non-English-speaking economic entities. In the mid-1990s, I made numerous trips to Nissan Mexicana, Nissan Motor Company’s Mexican division. Nissan owns a series of assembly plants, foundries, and research centers throughout Mexico. The Aguascalientes assembly plant produces engines and completed vehicles for the North American market. I spent most of my time in Mexico at this facility, and had ample opportunity to observe communications practices.

According to the theory of Global English, the Mexicans and the Japanese employed by Nissan should have used English as the daily “business language.” However, this was almost never the case—even at the management level. Almost all conversations took place in Spanish.

The shift toward languages other than English has been accelerated by the rise of regional economic blocs. Mercosur is a union of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in South America. It therefore follows that these languages, rather than English, are used for business purposes at Mercosur functions. (When I visited the Mercosur website, the only language options available were Portuguese and Spanish.)

The hottest new language in Argentina and Chile is not English—but Chinese. In certain sectors, Beijing is poised to become the most significant trading partner of these two South American nations. Chinese language studies are booming; and some analysts have speculated that Chinese will be the most important foreign language in South America within five years.

China and Japan have not yet formed their own economic alliance, but there are signs that such an alliance may be formed within the next decade. At the end of 2002, Beijing and Tokyo began preliminary talks about the formation of a free-trade zone that would include not only their two countries, but also South Korea. Sino-Japanese trade is now growing faster than Japanese-American trade, or Chinese-American trade. China is already one of Japan’s principle trading partners, and Japan has been China’s largest trading partner since the early 1990s. Andy Xie, writing for Morgan Stanley’s “Global Economic Forum” online newsletter in May, 2001, predicted that, “Within ten years China and Japan could become each other’s most important trading partners, replacing the United States.”

The relationship between China and Japan is entering a new, historically unprecedented phase. Dr. Jin Xide, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, notes that in the past, Sino-Japanese relations have been defined by the relative weakness of one of the two countries. Now, however, “..for the first time in history, Sino-Japanese relations are stepping into a new period of ‘strong China and strong Japan.’”

If the current pace of economic integration in East Asia continues, it is only a matter of time before businesspersons and government officials in China, South Korea, and Japan begin to show more interest in the languages of their neighboring customers and partners. While there are significant dissimilarities between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, any one of these languages has vastly more in common with the other two than it does with English. Businesses in East Asia’s three largest economies will always need some English speakers to communicate with the West; but it would be tremendously inefficient for these countries to use English to communicate with each other.

The bottom line is that the formation of regional trading blocks comprised of non-English-speaking countries will not favor a more extensive usage of English as a lingua franca. Businesspersons (and therefore, eventually, school systems) will have to devote more attention to the languages of their major trading partners. In such an environment, monolingual English-speaking businesspersons will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Businesses Speak the Languages of their Customers

Visit the website of almost any major company that provides goods or services to consumers, and you will likely find multiple language options. Ford Motor Company’s English-language site has links to companion sites in more than a dozen languages—including such exotics as Indonesian and Vietnamese. Consumer goods manufacturer Proctor & Gamble provides online and offline materials in Russian, Turkish, and Hebrew, among many others.

Corporations like Ford and P&G exist to make money for their shareholders. Their investment in multilingual marketing materials is therefore motivated not by concerns of multiculturalism or political correctness—but a desire to tap the increasing purchasing power of the non-English-speaking world.

In previous decades, American corporations had minimal incentive to adopt foreign-language marketing campaigns abroad. Not only was the purchasing power of non-English-speaking consumers small, but there were few alternatives for the Chinese- or Spanish-speaking consumers who could afford to buy. Now U.S. companies face increasing competition from foreign firms who by default sell their goods and services in the local language.

It is also worth noting that the market incentive to go multilingual is not limited to household-name, multinational corporations. The area of Ohio where I live is home to many Japanese companies, and a large number of Japanese expatriates. This has prompted local real estate agencies, insurance companies, and travel bureaus to recruit employees who speak Japanese. Improved access to foreign markets via the Internet has also enabled more small- and medium-sized businesses to enter the export market.

An English Internet?

Enthusiasts of the Global English theory once cited the Internet as evidence that the non-English speaking world was rapidly conforming to an English-speaking standard. In his Wall Street Journal article, “World Wide Web: Three English Words”, Michael Specter wrote, “If you want to take full advantage of the internet there is only one real way to do it: learn English.”

Given that the article appeared in 1996, Specter’s statement cannot be written off as mere cultural chauvinism. As recently as 1997, about 80% of the content on the Internet was written in English. For a while, the Web seemed to be moving in a monolingual direction.

However, this trend is now reversing itself. It is estimated that as of 2002, less than 50% of the content on the Internet is written in English. Some experts anticipate that this figure will fall below 30% within the next few years. On a country-by-country basis, local languages are being overwhelmingly chosen as the medium for web content. In Japan, for example, more than 90% of all web content is written in Japanese. In Spanish- and French-speaking countries, this number is probably around 98% or 99%.

The Internet’s major corporate players have recognized linguistic diversity as a dominant market trend. All the major portal and e-commerce sites—MSN, Amazon, Yahoo, etc—offer mirror sites in multiple languages. Yahoo even provides services in such arguably minor languages as Danish and Catalan.

Language and Technology Transfer

The linguistic patterns of the scientific and technological realms have largely followed those of the wider world, with a few minor variations. German never became a universal global language, but it did attain lingua franca status inside the scientific community. Before America’s ascendancy as the world’s foremost industrial power, Germany was widely regarded as the leader in scientific and technological research. A hundred years ago, a young person who aspired to a career in science would have likely studied the German language. Germany’s technical universities were regarded as the finest in the world; and Germany’s lead in patents and technical research meant that many of the breakthrough research papers of the day were published in German.  A disproportionate number of the scientific luminaries of the 19th century and early 20th century were German-speakers: Max Planck, Max Born, Albert Einstein, etc.

Germany is still the technological powerhouse of Europe, and the German language has retained a certain cachet among science and technology students. Even today, science and engineering faculties in the United States continue to recommend the German language for students who must complete a general studies language requirement.

Despite the continued popularity of German, English has become the language of technological research and development since the postwar era. In the decades following World War II, the United States developed into the world’s primary source of groundbreaking research and new patents.

However, there is now evidence that the pendulum of technological supremacy may be swinging again. The United States now awards 25% fewer bachelor’s degrees in engineering than it did in 1985. China graduates more engineers than the United States; and Asia as a whole graduates eight times as many engineers as the United States. In recent years, researchers in China, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere have been making revolutionary strides in biotechnology, computer science, and related fields. Only a portion of this research material is being translated for foreign consumption. In the near future, American researchers may find that the ability to read a foreign language is essential to keeping up with the latest developments in their fields. 


Trend 2: Demographic changes

Language and population are inextricably linked. Language is intimately tied to actual human beings; and languages either grow or shrink with populations.

In a March 2004 interview with the Voice of America (VOA) program “Coast to Coast,” British linguistics scholar David Graddol noted that while the total number of English-speakers continues to grow, our population growth rate lags behind speakers of other languages.  According to Graddol, this will lead to English falling to a secondary place as a world language by the middle of this century. After Chinese, English will likely occupy a mid-tier position along with Arabic and several other tongues.

Most English-speaking countries are part of the developed world, which is characterized by low birth rates, and low overall rates of population growth. In the United States, growth rates are still near the 1 percent threshold due to immigration. (The native population of the United States is now reproducing at a rate below the replacement level.) But the population growth rate in Great Britain is less than 0.5 percent.  The population growth rates of Canada and Australia (both of which attract many immigrants) approach those of the United States; but both have comparatively tiny population bases. There are only 32 million Canadians, and 20 million Australians. When added together, Canada and Australia still comprise less than half the population of Mexico.

In the developing world—which largely speaks languages other than English—population growth rates are much higher than they are in the developed world. Some parts of the developing world have population growth rates near 3 percent. Moreover, many of these countries are growing from base populations that are already large. It has become a cliché to note that there are 1.3 billion people in China; but the considerable populations of Egypt, Brazil, and the rest of Latin America receive far less press. And Indonesia, the giant of Southeast Asia, is practically ignored by the Western media—the coverage of the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali being the exception which proves the rule.   

Demographic factors alone cannot give a language worldwide clout. On balance, German is still a more significant global language than Bengali. Germany’s population of 83 million is now shrinking; it had no population growth in 2004. Bengali is spoken by twice as many people; and the average population growth rate of Bengali speakers is above 2 percent. Nonetheless, Germany’s gross domestic product (GDP) is $2.362 trillion, compared to $275.7 billion of Bengali-speaking Bangladesh.

The impact of large population numbers is arguably most significant in those parts of the world which have high rates of economic growth and a large and/or rapidly increasing population. We will begin with the two most significant examples in this regard: China and Latin America.    


As most readers have undoubtedly heard, China’s population is the largest in the world—1.3 billion. This is more than four times the current size of the population of the United States. One in every five people living on earth is Chinese.

China’s population has been large by Western standards for centuries. In the early 1300s, China already had a population of more than 120 million, when the total population of Europe was 170 million. China’s population was subsequently halved by a bubonic plague outbreak in the 1330s. (The same outbreak would hit Europe in 1347 and reduce the European population by one third.) Despite this setback, China’s population had reached 420 million by 1850, about five times its post-plague lows. (At the same time, there were 16 million souls in England, and 23 million in the United States.) The accounts of Westerners who visited China in the 1800s often make reference to the vastness of the country’s population.

By 2010, it is estimated that China’s population will exceed 1.4 billion. If the nation continues its current path of economic reform and development, then the sheer numbers of prosperous Chinese-speaking consumers in the world will dramatically increase the prestige of the language over the coming decades.

The Growth of Spanish and Portuguese

John F. Copper is a professor of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Writing in Next Step Magazine, a magazine for graduating high school students and their parents, he encouraged readers to study Spanish not only because of its current status as one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, but because of its future growth. Copper pointed out that most Spanish-speaking countries are experiencing high rates of population growth.

Ironically, Spain, like the rest of Europe, is shrinking demographically. Spain currently has an annual population growth rate of only 0.15%. However, Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas are among the fastest growing in the world, and these nations are increasing the global importance of Spanish. Mexico’s population growth rate is 1.17% —almost eight times the growth rate of Spain, and four times the rate of the United Kingdom.

Portuguese-speaking Brazil is the fifth-largest nation in the world, with a population of more than 186 million (more than triple the population of Great Britain). And Brazil is experiencing fast growth in both economic and human terms. The country’s gross domestic product grew by 5.1% in 2004 (the U.S. economy grew by about 4% in 2004); and Brazil’s annual rate of population growth is above 1%. These factors make Portuguese a major language today—and in the future, as well. (It should also be noted that Brazil is not the only country in the developing world where Portuguese is spoken.)

The Growth of Arabic

The populations of the Arabic-speaking world are growing even faster than those of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. Egypt already has more than 77 million people and a growth rate of 1.78%. In Iraq, the growth rate is now 2.7%. Saudi Arabia’s population is also growing by more than 2% a year; and Arabic-speaking Yemen’s population is swelling at 3.45% per year.

Population Growth Rates in Perspective

Ideally, a country’s population growth rate should avoid either extreme. On one hand, many European countries face uncertain economic futures because the numbers of people entering the workforce are not high enough to sustain economic growth and social benefits. On the other hand, the excessively high population growth rates of the Arabic-speaking world are tied to rigidly patriarchal social structures, and limited opportunities for women.

Nonetheless, birth rates do have a significant impact on the future of a language. If more native speakers of a particular language are being born today, then there will be more adult speakers of that language twenty years from now. Likewise, a decline in the birthrate of the speakers of a particular language will result in fewer adults speaking that language in the coming decades.


Trend 3: Linguistic groups are increasingly borderless.

The notion of a global community of speakers is an old idea. For centuries, French, English, Spanish, and a handful of other languages have been widely spoken in numerous countries. Now modern technology and travel are increasing the “borderlessness” of other languages as well. At the same time, the distinctly modern phenomenon of nonpermanent immigration is creating ambivalent attitudes about linguistic assimilation.

On average, immigrants lose their native language within two generations. (In the melting pot environment of the United States, the native language is often abandoned by the first generation born and raised here.) The permanent immigrant makes a multigenerational investment in a new country, while simultaneously breaking ties with the country of her birth. Nineteenth-century immigrants to the United States saw little practical benefit in retaining the Italian, Polish, and Gaelic of their homelands. American English would become the language of their children, and their children’s children.   

Residency abroad is increasingly a temporary situation. There are growing numbers of people who complete extended stays in a foreign country without the intention of becoming permanent residents. In most cases, these extended visits are the result of overseas posting by multinational corporations, or the desire of individuals to take advantage of economic opportunities abroad. In addition, the global nature of modern business creates many serial travelers, who spend large amounts of time in a foreign country without ever establishing a permanent residence.

These short-term immigrants and frequent visitors have different attitudes about the languages of their host countries. There is no sense of forsaking the homeland. The visitor/nonpermanent immigrant will almost certainly want to take her language with her while abroad. This creates a demand for a foreign-language media in the host country, and an infrastructure that speaks the visitor’s language.

Telenovelas in Mexico—and in the United States

In the United States, the increase in temporary workers from Mexico has heightened the demand for Spanish-language broadcasting in recent years. Advertising on Spanish-language networks in the U.S. will reach $1.41 billion in 2005—more than double the amount six years earlier. The presence of Spanish-speakers and Spanish-language media in the United States is nothing new; but the recent upsurge in temporary workers has given the media a distinctly borderless quality. As more Mexicans spend part of the year in the United States and part of the year in their native Mexico, there is a growing market incentive to create Spanish-language media that can cross the U.S.-Mexican border with visitors.

Azteca América is a Spanish-language broadcasting company that primarily serves Spanish-speakers living in the United States. The company recently announced plans to launch telenovelas—soap operas—simultaneously in the U.S. and Mexican markets. The move was specifically motivated by a desire to take advantage of the borderless nature of their market. According to one industry analyst, ”There’s a lot of movement between the two countries. The Azteca viewer is in constant communication with their homeland so they’re hearing and talking about the novelas at home.”

Japanese as a Business Language in Ohio

The U.S. received a substantial influx of Japanese immigrants from the 1880s through the 1930s. These permanent immigrants followed the typical assimilation pattern. Their children grew up in an English-speaking environment, largely abandoning the Japanese language. Therefore, few Japanese-language media institutions were created to serve these early twentieth century immigrants from Japan—and those that did exist quickly folded after the first generation passed from the scene.

In the late 1980s, the U.S. had another influx of people from Japan, as Japanese companies like Honda and Toyota expanded their operations in the United States. This time, however, the “immigrants” consisted of businesspersons and their families who were posted in America for three- to five-year assignments.

I met many of these families during my own time in the Japanese automotive industry. While Japanese company employees posted overseas studied English enthusiastically, their spouses often existed in microcosms consisting of Japanese-speaking friends and transplanted Japanese media. These families had no intention of settling in the United States, so their need to “assimilate” was temporary, and did not include an abandonment of their native language.

Columbus, Ohio is a long way from traditional international hubs like Los Angeles and New York. Surrounded by farmland and small towns, Columbus is a city that still has a quasi-rural feel. Columbus is also home to Honda of America (in nearby Marysville), and dozens of smaller Japanese firms that exist to serve the American division of Japan’s second largest automaker. The Columbus suburb of Dublin is home to scores of Japanese-speaking travel agencies, bookstores, and restaurants. Many of these media and service outlets are Japanese transplants that followed Honda to Ohio; and all of them rely heavily on business from Honda employees.

Ohio is also home to a fair number of Japanese-language schools. The Japanese school system subjects students a series of rigorous examinations, which is often called 試験地獄(shiken-jigoku), or “examination hell.” Preparation for these tests is a fulltime job for all school-age children. Japanese students prepare for tests in school, and also in after school “cram schools” known as 塾(juku). If a student neglects her preparations while living overseas, it may be impossible for her to catch up with her peers when she returns to Japan. This potential dilemma for parents and students has led to numerous Japanese-language schools not only in Ohio, but throughout the world wherever there are sizeable numbers of Japanese transplant companies.

English-Speaking Islands Abroad

The above descriptions are accounts of foreign-language cultures that have made inroads into the United States. We English-speakers also create pockets of media and infrastructure abroad that cater to our needs. Most foreign countries have English-speaking schools that educate the children of American, British, and Canadian expatriates. Many large cities overseas also have English-language bookstores that cater to the English-speaking client who cannot yet read the local language.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. On one of my business trips to Mexico, my colleague suffered the misfortune of losing his luggage and wallet. We spent an afternoon driving around to various department stores and financial institutions to address this minor crisis. When we entered the office of well-known American credit card company, there was no one on duty who spoke English. This struck me as odd given the fact that this company aggressively markets its services to Americans who are stranded abroad with no wallet or identification. The irony was compounded when we visited the local branch of Banamex. Banamex is a thoroughly Mexican institution, but we were greeted by a man who happened to have spent five years in the United States—and he spoke excellent English.

CHAPTER 3 APPENDIX: The Many Origins of English

If you elect to study a Western European language, you will often encounter cognates—words that are similar or identical across English and another language. You can mostly thank long-dead invaders for these conveniences. English has been extensively influenced by the languages brought to the British Isles through ancient conquests.

The earliest inhabitants of Britain spoke a variety of languages, including various Celtic tongues. However, no Celtic language would help you order a cup of coffee in Heathrow Airport today. Ancient Britain’s language and culture were quickly sullied by foreign influences.

In the mid-5th century, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, invaded Britain. Their invasion was linguistic as well as military; the languages spoken by the Germanic tribes soon overwhelmed the Celtic ones.  But the Celtic past of England persists in some words of Celtic origin that are still used in modern English, such as: gravel, bard, bother, clan and slogan. (The latter is an adaptation of the Celtic word sluagh-ghairm, or “battle cry”.) 

As the Germanic tribes thrived in Britain, English became infused with a vast Germanic vocabulary. You can thank these tribes if you ever decide to learn modern German. Many German words, like der Apfel (“the apple”), die Mutter (“the mother”) and der Vater (“the father”) will be immediately recognizable to you.

The word “English” came into common usage in the area of Britain lying between the Thames and the southern frontier of Scotland. This portion of modern-day England was settled by the Angles, who came from the wedge of land, or “angle” which comprises the region presently known as Schleswig-Holstein. Over the next few centuries, several dialects of English evolved. These dialects did not converge until the 14th century.

The alphabet that we English speakers use today has its roots in Rome. The invading Germanic tribes originally had a system of writing that used runes. In this period, European writing techniques were still crude. Letters had to be carved into wood or stone surfaces. Runes therefore consisted of straight lines and angles. (If you have ever read any of the Tolkien works, then you have an idea of what these characters looked like.) As Roman invaders, and later Christian missionaries, brought Latin to British shores, the runes were gradually replaced by the Latin alphabet. Latin vocabulary also made deeps inroads into the English language, although English is not a derivative of Latin to the extent that French, Spanish, and Portuguese are.

In the northern section of England, Viking invasions brought an early Scandinavian language known as Old Norse. We still speak fragments of Old Norse today. Sky, egg, skin, window, and ugly are all Old Norse words. We can also give a nod of thanks to the Vikings for the personal pronouns they, their, and them.

The evolving English language suffered a temporary setback in 1066 when England was conquered by a new group of invaders—the Normans. The ruling Normans spoke an early version of French, which became the language of the English nobility for several hundred years. The Norman invaders repaid the subjugated Britons with a vast array of new French-based vocabulary. Most of this vocabulary exists today in the form of synonyms of older English words. Norman French added depth and variety to the English language.

For example, if you want to say that an event happens once per year, you can use the English word yearly, or the French word annual. If you note that the door to your office is shut, you are connecting with your English roots; if you say that the door is closed, you are using a remnant of Norman French. And don’t forget to thank the Normans the next time you order a meat entree in a restaurant; beef, veal, and pork are all derived from French.

French is itself Latin-based; so many Latin words that originally entered English through Latin itself later arrived through the medium of French. In many cases, scholars are uncertain of whether a modern English word can be authentically traced to purely Latin influences, Latin-French influences, or both. Consider the English word “sententious,” which means “pithy” or “abounding in aphorisms and moralizing.” The Latin word sententiōsus means “full of meaning.” But there is also an Old French equivalent: sententieux. Whether sententious is truly derived from French or Latin is a matter of some speculation.

During the Middle Ages, loanwords from other languages reached English, often via the conduit of French. Marmalade is of Portuguese origin. Sable is derived from a Russian word. Many readers will be surprised to learn that English also contains scores of Arabic loanwords: cotton, hazard, mosque, algebra, zenith, sugar, etc.

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