Subekhi  Hadi Purnomo

State Polytechnic of Malang




The cultural and language contacts have occurred in the English language for centuries, and enriched its vocabulary. This article reviews how English vocabulary was enriched from the view of sociocultural contact and development. European Countries’ Colonization of England has surely shown some influence on English vocabulary. This can be traced from words that can be referred back to the influence of Roman and Saxon cultures (German, Norman, and French cultures). Interestingly, English was also enriched by the languages of the countries England colonized (e.g. Czech, Dakota, Danish, Dutch, Egyptian, Finnish, German, Guarani, Gullah, and Haitian). In the modern era, English vocabulary is influenced by politics, economy, social affairs and religions. This proves that language is an important part of culture, and culture contact always leads to language contact.


Key-words: sociocultural contact, vocabulary enrichment, culture, contact



Groups of people are different among others due to their ways of life, or culture.  Culture is a way of life within which we exist, think, feel, and relate to others, and this is ‘a “glue” that binds a group of people together (Brown, 2000:176). What makes the groups different among others is that each group makes its norms or rules among the   members to be approved, and the norms one group makes are not really similar with other   groups as each group, consisting of unique members, has different agreements on many   things. The agreement usually comes from individual experiences building background    knowledge of other members.

What makes each member of the cultural group understands what he/she thinks or feels is that, generally, each uses a language. This means that” Language is the greatest achievement of culture” (Vladimir Alexandrov in Lederer, 1991: 178) because, as   Sapir (1956: 1)  states, ” … language is an essentially perfect means of expression and   communication among every known people.   Of all aspects of

culture, it is a fair guess  that language was the first to receive a highly developed form and that its essential   “perfection is a prerequisite to the development of culture as a whole” (Greenberg,ed., 1963: 226). The needs that cultural groups have to meet lead to a contact between, or even among, groups. The contact of cultural groups creates a language   contact, making borrowing in a group’s language as the influence ‘of the socio-cultural setting toward the language, as what Sapir states that

The simplest kind of influence that one language may exert on another is the” borrowing” of words. When there is cultural borrowing there is always the likelihood that the associated words may be borrowed, too. (Sapir,1949: 193).

The cultural and language contacts have occurred in the English language for centuries, and enriched its vocabulary. This simple article reviews how English vocabulary was enriched from the view of sociocultural contact and development.



Culture has been defined in different statements among experts, but whatever they state, it is in relation with society. Larson and Smalley (1972: 39) state culture

… guides the behavior of people in a community and is incubated in family life. It governs our behavior in groups, makes us sensitive to matters of status, and helps us know what others expect of us and what will happen if we do not live up to their expectations. Culture helps us to know how far we can go as individuals and what our responsibility is to the group (Brown, 2000: 176-7).

As culture is guides, it contains norms, customs, ideas, and many things that each member has to take due to other members’ acceptance in a society. The society’s culture, then, things deal with people’s knowledge about “know-how” (Wardhaugh, 1988: 212) in their living since” a society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and to do so in any role that they accept for anyone of themselves (Good enough cited in Wardhaugh, 1988: 212).

There is always a relation between language and culture due to the fact that


a language is a part of culture, and a culture is a part of language; the two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture (Brown, 2000: 177).


Since culture deals with knowledge, belief, and value, language provides a means of encoding it. The example can be taken from Tahitians. The people do not have a distinction between ‘sadness’ and ‘sickness’, so they use the same word for both. This happens because of their belief that sickness and sadness are the condition showing an attack of evil spirit. Such belief can be odd for other people from other cultures (Holmes, 2001:329). It seems that different cultures lead to different languages. Wardaugh states that if language A has a word for a particular concept, then that word makes it easier for speakers of language A to refer to that concept than speakers of language B, who lack such a word and are forced to use a circumlocution (1988: 215). For example, the German word Weltanschauung has no exact equivalent in English (Wardaugh, 1988: 216).

When a group of culture meet and mix with another group of culture, meaning culture contact, it leads to “biculturalism (participation in two cultures) as well as bilingualism, diffusion of cultural traits as well as linguistic elements” (Weinreich, 1968: 91). In such contact, one group learns from the other that the gap found in vocabulary of  each group “may need filling by borrowing” (Weinreich, 1968) that is ” The process whereby  bilingual speakers introduce words from one language into another language, these loan  words eventually becoming accepted as an integral part of the second language”  (Trudgill, 2003: 19). In this condition, a small group usually borrows many words from a large one as Linton (cited in Weinreich ) states “… when a large and a small group are  brought into contact, the small group will borrow more extensively than the large one…. . A hundred individuals can learn a new thing as readily as one” (1968: 91).



 England under European Countries’ Colonization

 It is really untraceable to find the real English people. What can be traced is the Celts who probably came from central Europe, and southern Russia. This people were better than the local one who were driven to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, later controlled the areas of Britain, and were joined by the new arrivals from Europe. The last Celtic arrival was the Belgic tribes. The Celtic tribes are the ancestors of the people ‘in Highland Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Cornwall, and Celtic languages are still spoken in these areas (McDowall,1995: 6-7)

The coming of Roman to chase the Celts of Gaul, France, who hid in Britain, became the first colonizer. The word “Britain” comes from “Pretani”, the Greco-Roman word for the inhabitants of Britain, but it was mispronounced to become “Britania”. The Romans brought Latin and Greek, and they were literate, while the Celtic were illiterate. The Roman culture in handling the people was that the Roman divided them into three groups living in three different areas, such as coloniae for Roman settlers, municipia for those with Roman citizenship, and civitas for the Celtic. These areas were walled, and called castra the Latin word for camp which has remained today as the names of some cities with the’ ending chester, caster or cester: Gloucester, Leicester, Doncaster, Winchester, Chester, Lancaster, and many others.

The Saxon invasion that is the settlement of the Germanic tribes: the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons as the, second colonizer brought another culture and language making contact with the Celtics. These tribes gave the land a name “Englaland, the land of the Angles, and the language Englisc, because the Angles were the chief group at that time” (Lederer, 1991: 21). The strong culture of the Anglo-Saxon influenced the death of the Celtic culture and language in England except the names of some rivers, Thames, Mersey, Severn and Avon, and two cities, London and Leeds (McDowall, 1995: 11).

The influence of their culture is obvious today. The names of days of the week were taken from Germanic gods: Tig (Tuesday), Wodin (Wednesday), Thor (Thursday), Frei  (Friday) (McDowall, 1995), so when ,someone says ‘Wednesday’, it means “the day. of Odin”  (Brooks,1960: 15).

Another part of Saxon’s culture remaining today is names of some cities showing family villages. The ending -ing meant folk or family, thus “Reading” is the place of the family of Rada, “Hasting” is the family of Hasta. Ham means farm as in the place-name Birmingham, Nottingham, and ton for settlement as in Southampton. The  Saxon government divided the-land into areas administratively called ‘shire’ or county  (Norman word) under the king’s local administrator shire reeve shortened to “sheriff’ (McDowall, 1995: 12). The Vikings of Norway and Denmark who invaded England and forced the Saxons to give some part of the land to the Viking made the Saxons build  walled settlements called  burghs later spelt borough such as cities: Irthlingborough, Wellingborough, Gainsborough, just to mention the names.

The coming of the Normans to claim the throne of England in 1066, as the fourth colonizer, brought also the culture and the language, French. French was used by the  royal family and the French nobles as King William could not speak English or Old  English spoken by ordinary people as “serfs” that was the lowest level’ of governmental hierarchy. The highest level was the King governing the country using a system called “feudalism” from a French word feu (McDowall, 1995: 24). The names of live animals that were bred by the ordinary people were Old English such as sheep, cow, ox, swine, calf, deer, and chicken, but these animals brought to the castle for the noble feast had French names: mutton, beef, pork, bacon, veal, venison, and pullet (Lederer, 1991: xv).

French was then considered to be better to cease Anglo-Saxon words to use, for example,  stool the Anglo-Saxon word for a piece of furniture was replaced by the French word chair, and stomach ,the French word, replaced the Anglo-Saxon word belly.  French words that were adopted by the ordinary people, and the changing language evolved was called Middle English. Latin words, meanwhile, had mingled with the English language since the beginning of the Roman conquest of England and the influence of the Roman church and missionaries. However, it was after the Norman Conquest Latin influenced English more, though the use of Latin was rather for formality than everyday conversation. The result of this mingled history is that the vocabulary among Anglo-Saxon, French, and Latin has the meaning, as the following examples in Table 1.


Table 1. English Vocabulary from Latin/Greek

Anglo-Saxon French Latin / Greek

















emaciated     (Lederer, 1991 :23)


Lederer also states that the single syllabic Anglo-Saxon words show directness, brevity, and plainness, and make the English people feel more deeply and see things more truly. French words show grandeur, sonority, courtliness, and more literary level of expression. The precision and learnedness of Latin and Greek vocabulary arouse the minds to more complex thinking and the making of fine distinctions (Lederer, 1991).

The Middle Ages ended when there was a technical development: the first English printing press set up in 1476 by William Caxton after learning the skill of printing in Germany (McDowall, 1995: 65). With this printing press, books, previously written manually, became cheaper and plentiful. This led to standardization, and it was London English, a mixture of south Midland and southeastern English. “For the first time, people started to think of London pronunciation as “correct” pronunciation” (McDowall, 1995: 85).



3.2 English Colonization

Under Henry VII, the Tudor, England avoided war, and built merchant ships as his policy to make England independent, strong and powerful was by making England have good business. This means that England began to trade with other countries, which later led England to be a colonizer because she needed market shares to sell her products. The invention England made gradually changed England from agricultural to industrial country or capitalism country. The contact with other countries, cultures, and languages in parts of such four  continents as Africa, America, Asia, and Australia has enriched its vocabulary as English has been open to accept words from many different languages, and”… has never rejected a word because of its race, creed, or national origin” (Lederer, 1991: 25). The following list in the next table contains fifty familiar English words, along with the languages from which they descend.

Table 2. Englilsh Vocabulary from Colonized Cultures

aardvark: Afrikaansmoose: Algonquinalcohol: Arabic

poncho: Arauncanian

boomerang: Australian

zebra: Bantu

anchovy: Basque

bungalow: Bengali

typhoon: Cantonese

hurricane: Carib

Eskimo: Cree

camel: Hebrew

saber: Hungarian

whisk: Icelandic

banshi: Irish

opera: Italian

tycoon: Japanese

batik: Javanese

tundra: Lapp

bantam: Malagasi

ketchup: Malay

kiwi: Maori

coyote:Mexican Indian

shingle: Norwegian

wigwam: Ojibwa

polka: Czechteepee: Dakotaskill: Danish

boss: Dutch

oasis: Egyptian

sauna: Finnish

kindergarten: German

jaguar: Guarani

jukebox: Gullah

canoe: Haitian creole

ukulele: Hawaiian

bazaar: Persian

mazurka: Polish

molasses: Portuguese

pal: Romany

vodka: Russian

sugar: Sanskrit

rodeo: Spanish

smorgasbord: Swedish

boondocks: Tagalog

tattoo: Tahitian

polo: Tibetan

jackal: Turkish

flannel: Welsh

kibitzer: Yiddish (Lederer, 1991:25-6)


4. English Sociocultural Development and Its Vocabulary Enrichment

The coming of other peoples made the cultural development in such aspects as politics, economy, social, and religion. The spreading and teaching of Christianity,  bringing words such as ” bishop and angel” ( Sapir, 1947: 193), through dramas in  churches led to the development of English dramas especially under Elizabeth I period in  which William Shakespeare created many poems and plays. Excluding the contact with,   other countries, Shakespeare influenced the native tongue with many words that he used  in writing for the first time: accommodation, amazement, apostrophe; assassination,  bedroom, countless, dwindle, exposure, frugal, generous, hurry, impartial, laughable, monumental, obscene, pedant, radiance, road, sneak, useless, etc. (Lederer,  1991: 94).

Some other literary men and women also created some words: Sir Thomas More’s utopia in 1516; William Tyndale’s scapegoat in 1530; Sir Thomas Elyot’s irritate  in 1531; Ben Jonson’s diary in 1581; Sir Thomas Browne’s hallucination in 1629;  Jonathan Swift’s yahoo 1726, and many others. On April 15, 1755, there was” a turning point in the history of our tongue” (Lederer, 1991: 102) when Samuel Johnson produced Dictionary  of the English Language with 43,000 words and 114,000 supporting quotations from  every fields of study though there is subjectivity as it can be seen from the following   examples dealing with the political aspect:


Tory. One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state; and the apostolical Hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a whig.

Whig. The name of faction. [Johnson, of course, belonged to the Tory party and despised the Whigs.] (Lederer, 1991: 106)


From Dictionary of the English Language with 43,000 words, today’s dictionaries such  as Webster’s Third New International Dictionaries lists 450,000 words, and Oxford  English Dictionary lists 615,000 words excluding technical and scientific terms, family  words slang and argot, and spanking-new creations that totally would be two million. Comparing to other languages, German has 185,000 words and French fewer than 100,000 (Lederer, 1991: 24). Despite the fewer-than 100,000 French words, “English borrowed an immense number of words from the French of the Norman invaders” (Sapir, 1949: 193).

The inventions of telephone by Alexander G. Bell of United States in 1876 ,  television by John L. Baird of Scotland and Charles F. Jenkins of United States in 1925,  and telestar (first television satellite) by U.S. scientists and industry (Edgar, 1963: 119)  have made people leave” postage system” (McDowall, 1995: 135) invented in 1840. These inventions made developments in communication technology in the late twentieth century especially “for visual communication” (Goodman and Graddol, 1996:1). The computer functions much more than counting as ‘to compute means to count’.  PC can means “politically correct” and” personal computer” (Lederer, 1991:45). In computers,  the words” back up, bit, boot, crash, disk, hacker, mail, memory, menu, mouse, park,  scroll, virus, and windows” (Lederer, 1991) have different meanings with what can ‘be found in  dictionaries because these belong to ” a new user-friendly vocabulary” including other  words like” desktop, laptop, micro” (Lederer, 1991), and others.

For Simeon Yates in Goodman and Gradoll (1996: 106-7), the rapid growth of communication technologies has created the new world with cable and satellite  television, fax machine and multimedia computers, and the growing data network called  the ‘information superhighway’. With this technology, come the words internet, cyberspace, electronics mail, bulletin boards, ‘Usenet’ newsgroup, modem, World Wide Web, and others.

Rich Hall of the United States created the term a sniglet that is “any word that doesn’t appear in a dictionary but should” (Lederer, 1991: 62). The new words below will not be found in dictionary as they are sniglets dealing with students’ life. For Lederer, through sniglets, it seems that “No language has a net wide enough to throw over all of reality. There will be more  things and ideas than there are words” (Lederer, 1991: 62). See the examples below.

cryptocarnophobic (adj.) How one feels when mystery meat is placed on the table at  evening seated    meal.

postpost (v.) To check your post office box five times a day even on Sunday when you know there can’t be anything there.

SATarrhea (n.) The urge to go to the bathroom while taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test. (Lederer, 1991: 63).



Language is an important part of culture, and culture contact always leads to language contact. English socioculture has made contacts with other sociocultures and has enriched its vocabulary through borrowing. Besides, English is open to accept any words needed. The development of English socioculture has provided new words. The development of language is along with the sociocultural contact and development.




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