Has there ever been an attempt to “purify” English by removing Latin/French words and reintroucing the old Germanic words (like many languages did)?

By: | Post date: 2016-08-15 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: English, Linguistics

Thanks to Loren Peter Lugosch for posting the Wikipedia link. The most serious recent attempt to purify English was William Barnes.

He called for the purification of English by removal of Greek, Latin and foreign influences so that it might be better understood by those without a classical education. For example, the word “photograph” (from Greek light+writing) would become “sun-print” (from Saxon). Other terms include “wortlore” (botany), “welkinfire” (meteor) and “nipperlings” (forceps).

Enjoy Barnes’ grammar of English, written in purified English:


It’s very reminiscent of the linguistic and grammar works written in Demotic Greek by Ioannis Psycharis and his school.

The other attempts in the past two centuries were either thought experiments, jokes, or in Orwell’s case calls for Plain English.

I find the “that would be horrible” protests here unconvincing. English-speakers are only saying that because English didn’t travel down that path; and English didn’t travel down that path by accident, not by design. (Mike Richmond’s answer captures why.) Is Icelandic (or Modern Greek or German or Chinese) less of a language, because they did choose to travel down that path more than English did? Really?

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