this project, I divided up the English language into these
(Curious how French, Latin and Greek on? Click here!)
Many factors affect how
you speak and write. The Latinometer™ will enable you to choose
your word from the right group.
First, you need to
understand an ancient fault line that cuts through cultures and
creates these oppositions.
English, like many
languages, reinforces these divisions by matching them with two
sets of words. As English speakers, we connect lofty subjects (the
top row) with words derived from the classical languages, and we
connect every-day things in the real world (the bottom row) with
words derived from Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language. English does
this with its division between words derived from Anglo-Saxon, a
Germanic language, and words from the classical languages, Latin,
French and Greek.
To make the contrasts
more clear, I excluded the common words (Excluded words) and gave
different values to words from the classical languages.
words, foreign words, names) Not
Latin or Greek words) 0.25
Germanic density would be much higher if I included function
words (prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns) in the count.
Following the advice of statisticians, I omitted them in the
interest of clarifying the distinction between Germanic words
and words from Latin, French, and Greek.
has adopted an open door policy for words from other languages,
welcoming words from all over the world. Words like tortilla
that have retained a non English pronunciation or spelling I
have classified as foreign.
one talks in plain English, one uses Germanic words (words
derived from Anglo-Saxon). In Jane Austen’s novels, educated,
intelligent upper-class people use more Latinate words, while
ignorant, frivolous, or lower-class people use more Germanic
words. Austen did not regard heavily Latinate language as
admirable. Speakers of high density include the pedant Mary
Bennet from Pride
and the hypocritical Mr. Elliot of Persuasion.
Sailors in her novels speak at a low density, and they are
almost all admirable.
English words have become naturalized citizens even though they
come from far-away languages. Sugar, for instance, comes from
Sanskrit. I am counting words of this type as Germanic because
they are not noticeably foreign.
I mean words that are derived from Latin or Greek but underwent
changes early on, before the printing press standardized
a syllable: frail
“able to be broken”
a vowel: appear
other changes: governor
have also included in this category words like line
that come from Latin, but they are short and have been in the
language for a long time. Only a philologist would be aware
is Latinate while mine
these words come from Latin and are allied with more obviously
Latinate words, I give them half a point, as mid-way between
Latin and Anglo-Saxon.
the wordsmiths have made adjustments, particularly clipping off
endings that don’t look English. Here are some typical
changes that don’t stop a word from being classified as
ending in –a:
with silent –e:
ending in –us:
with silent –e:
ending in –is
lost their –is
ending in –tas
ending in –tia
became –ce or –cy: avarice
before a vowel: January
return of Greek literature to Europe is said to have
precipitated the Renaissance. Latin was never lost. Greek was
less well known, more intellectual, and therefore snazzier. For
that reason I gave Greek words an extra half point.
Want to change your image?
Click on a green
word, and be transported to thesaurus.com, to pick up a Latinate
too Latinate? Click on a blue
word, a purple
word, or a red
word to be carried to thesaurus.com, to pick up a Germanic
NB: Be sure you know the
meaning of the word you will use as a substitute. It is worse to
be caught misusing a word than not knowing it.
teaches Latin in Denver. She persuaded Eric Johnson (from the
University of South Dakota) to make an early version of the
Latinometer™ for a paper they wrote on Jane Austen’s language.
They found that the Latinate density of Austen’s characters
correlated with their social status, education, gender, and
emotional self-control and published their findings, “The
Density of Latinate Words in the Speeches of Jane Austen’s
Characters,” Literary and Linguistic Computing. Vol. 16, no. 4
is a Colorado Mathlete who designed the program for an app.
is a programming student who implemented the Latinometer for the
email your questions and comments to us at [email protected].