Linguistic purism in English is the opposition to foreign influence in the English language. English has evolved with a great deal of borrowing from other languages, especially Old French, since the Norman conquest of England, and some of its native vocabulary and grammar have been supplanted by features of Latinate and Greek origin.[1] Efforts to remove or consider the removal of foreign terms in English are often known as Anglish, a term coined by author and humorist Paul Jennings in 1966.[2]

English linguistic purism has persisted in diverse forms since the inkhorn term controversy of the early modern period. In its mildest form, purism stipulates the use of native terms instead of loanwords. In stronger forms, new words are coined from Germanic roots (such as wordstock for vocabulary) or revived from older stages of English (such as shrithe for proceed). Noted purists of Early Modern English include John Cheke,[3] Thomas Wilson,[4] Ralph Lever,[5] Richard Rowlands,[6] and Nathaniel Fairfax.[7] Modern linguistic purists include William Barnes,[1] Charles Dickens,[8] Gerard Manley Hopkins,[9] Elias Molee,[10] Percy Grainger,[11] and George Orwell.[12]


Middle English

See also: Middle English creole hypothesis

English words gave way to borrowings from Anglo-Norman following the Norman Conquest as English lost ground as a language of prestige. Anglo-Norman was used in schools and dominated literature, nobility and higher life, leading a wealth of French loanwords to enter English over the course of several centuries—English only returned to courts of law in 1362, and to government in the following century.[13]

In spite of this, some texts of early Middle English engaged in linguistic purism, deliberately avoiding excessive Anglo-Norman influence. Layamon's Brut, composed in the late 12th or early 13th century, espoused several features of Old English poetic style and used a predominantly Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.[14] Ancrene Wisse, of the same era, allowed for French and Old Norse loans but maintained conservative spelling and syntax to keep with Old English.[15] Ayenbite of Inwyt, a Kentish translation of a French treatise on morality written about a century later, used calques to avoid borrowing from French.[16]

Early Modern English

Controversy over inkhorn terms—foreign loanwords perceived to be needless—persisted in the 16th and 17th centuries. Among others, Thomas Elyot, a neologizer, borrowed extensively from abroad in support of "the necessary augmentation" of English.[17] Linguistic purists such as John Cheke opposed this borrowing in favor of keeping English "unmixt and unmangled".[18] Thomas Wilson, a contemporary of Cheke, criticized borrowing from foreign languages as seeking an "outlandish English".[4]

Modern English

William Barnes, a 19th-century poet and linguistic purist

With the influx of new industrial and scientific terms from Greek and Latin, linguistic purism saw renewed interest in the 19th century.[19] American statesman Thomas Jefferson observed in an 1825 letter that "a taste is reviving in England for the recovery of the Anglo-Saxon dialect".[20] Dorset poet, minister, and philologist William Barnes coined several words to promote "strong old Anglo-Saxon speech", including speechcraft for grammar, birdlore for ornithology, and bendsome for flexible.[21] Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins discussed Barnes in an 1882 letter to Robert Bridges, lamenting the "utter hopelessness" of Barnes's purism but nonetheless writing in support of it, claiming that "no beauty in a language can make up for want of purity".[9][22] Charles Dickens emphasized the importance of Germanic elements of English during this period, stressing that a writer should not "seek abroad" for new words.[8]

The fifth rule of vocabulary in The King's English, published in 1917, suggests that writers should "prefer the Saxon word to the Romance".[8] In his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language", George Orwell criticized the extensive use of "foreign" words in English.[12] Australian composer Percy Grainger, a contemporary of Orwell, invented a "blue-eyed English" that he perceived to be linguistically pure and preferred the use of English words in the place of traditional Italian music terms.[11] One year after Grainger's death, philologist Lee Hollander emphasized in his 1962 translation of the Poetic Edda—a collection of Old Norse poems—that "Germanic material must be drawn upon to the utmost extent ... because of the tang and flavor still residing in the homelier indigenous speech material".[23]

Paul Jennings coined the term "Anglish" in a three-part series in Punch commemorating the 900th anniversary of the Norman conquest of England.[2] Jennings's articles, entitled "1066 and All Saxon" and published in June 1966, envisioned an England in which the conquest had failed and included linguistically pure English passages; Jennings gave "a bow to William Barnes" as an inspiration.[24] In 1989, science fiction writer Poul Anderson released a similarly-written text about basic atomic theory called Uncleftish Beholding composed almost fully of Germanic-rooted words. In 1997, Douglas Hofstadter jokingly entitled the style "Ander-Saxon".[25]

The September 2009 publication How We'd Talk if the English had Won in 1066 by David Cowley updates Old English words to today's English spelling, seeking mainstream appeal by covering words in five grades ranging from "easy" to "weird and wonderful" and giving many examples of use with drawings and tests.[26] Paul Kingsnorth's 2014 The Wake is written in a hybrid of Old English and Modern English to account for its 1066 milieu,[27] and Edmund Fairfax's 2017 satiric literary novel Outlaws is similarly written in a "constructed" form of English consisting almost exclusively of words of Germanic origin.[28] An online newsletter called The Anglish Times has regularly reported on current events without non-Germanic borrowed words since January 2021.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b R.L.G. (28 January 2014). "Johnson: What might have been". The Economist. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b Bidwell, Lili (25 March 2017). "Anglish: A Brexiteer's lingua franca?". The Cambridge Student. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. "Sir John Cheke". Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b Rhode Island College. "Texts from the Inkhorn Debate, c. 1560–1640". Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  5. ^ Sgarbi, Marco (2013). "Ralph Lever's Art of Reason, Rightly Termed Witcraft (1573)". Bruniana & Campanelliana. 19 (1): 149–163. JSTOR 24338444. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  6. ^ Morsbach, Lorenz (1910). Studien zur englischen Philologie. Halle a.S., Max Niemeyer. p. 123.
  7. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). "Fairfax, Nathaniel". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9088. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 25 January 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ a b c Lynne, Murphy (2018). The Prodigal Tongue. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1524704889.
  9. ^ a b Roper, Jonathan (April 2012). "English Purisms". Victoriographies. 2 (1). Edinburgh University Press: 44–59. doi:10.3366/vic.2012.0059. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  10. ^ Molee, Elias (1890). Pure Saxon English, Or, Americans to the Front. Rand McNally.
  11. ^ a b Gillies, M. (2019). "Percy Grainger: How American was He?". Nineteenth-Century Music Review. 16 (1). Cambridge University Press: 9–26. doi:10.1017/S1479409817000568. S2CID 187266648. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  12. ^ a b Poole, Steven (17 January 2013). "My problem with George Orwell". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  13. ^ Kay, Christian; Allan, Kathryn (2015). "A brief history of the English lexicon". English Historical Semantics. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 6–24. ISBN 978-0748644773.
  14. ^ Ackerman, Robert W. (1966) Backgrounds to Medieval English Literature. 1st. New York: Random House, Inc.
  15. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1929). "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad". Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association. 14: 104–126.
  16. ^ Herman, Louis Jay (8 January 1989). "Remorse From Dan Michel to James Joyce". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  17. ^ Vos, Alvin (October 1976). "Humanistic Standards of Diction in the Inkhorn Controversy". Studies in Philology. 73 (4). University of North Carolina Press: 376–396. JSTOR 4173916. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  18. ^ Simkin, John (September 1997). "John Cheke". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  19. ^ Langer, Nils; Davies, Winifred (2005). Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages. De Gruyter. p. 103. ISBN 3-11-018337-4.
  20. ^ "From Thomas Jefferson to J. Evelyn Denison, 9 November 1825". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  21. ^ Barnes, Williams (1878). An Outline of English Speech-Craft. C. Kegan Paul & Co.
  22. ^ Langer, Nils; Davies, Winifred (2005). Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages. Walter de Gruyter. p. 328.
  23. ^ Hollander, Lee M. (1986). The Poetic Edda. University of Texas Press. p. xxviii. ISBN 0292764995.
  24. ^ Jennings, Paul (June 1966). "1066 and All Saxon". Punch. London.
  25. ^ Hofstadter, Douglas R. (1997). Le Ton beau de Marot. Basic Books. ISBN 0465086454.
  26. ^ "How We'd Talk if the English Had Won in 1066: New Edition 2020". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  27. ^ Thorpe, Adam (2 April 2014). "The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth review – 'A literary triumph'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  28. ^ Fairfax, Edmund (2017). Outlaws. Bokos. ISBN 978-0995296503.
  29. ^ "News Written In Anglish". Retrieved 15 November 2022.