Thursday, October 15, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
James Morwood, Mark Warman, Our Greek and Latin Roots (2nd edition, first published 1990). Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. 72. ISBN 9780521699990. $26.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Vibeke Roggen, University of Oslo

The object of this review is a textbook in form, and, apparently, intended for various groups of pupils or students, because on p. 6, there is a reference to "your school or college". For potential readers (and even for reviewers), it would have been useful if some information had been given -- for example on the back cover -- regarding what age group the authors had in mind.

The subject is not Latin or Greek proper, but -- as the title says -- the contributions from these languages to contemporary English. And, according to the back cover text, this book is "entirely accessible to teachers and students with little or no knowledge of classical languages". Obviously, such a book could be very useful, for example in the teaching of English language, and in general, the authors, James Morwood and Mark Warman, have succeeded in their aim. The claim of accessibility seems to be warranted.

The book is organised in eight units, including "The family of Latin languages", "The Romans in Britain", "Our Latin roots", a chapter which compares Latin and English grammar, and basic Greek. (See the table of contents at the end of this review.) The material is presented according to the pedagogical principle of starting with what is familiar and gradually proceeding to new material. Illustrations, tables and maps are used with creativity, and through the tasks that are set, readers are encouraged to reflect on questions concerning the relationship between English and the classical languages as well as questions concerning language in general. The text is for the most part easy to read, and the reader is even introduced through examples to the cultural history of Latin and Greek.

Morwood and Warman's approach is pedagogical -- which is necessary, their project taken into account. Assimilation is explained as follows, after examples with con-, col-, cor- and com-: "The last letter of the prefix is changed to make the word easier to pronounce." And it is a good idea to have pictures with text to demonstrate that Caesar's name has become 'Kaiser' (Kaiser Wilhelm) and 'Czar' (Czar Nicholas II).

But in some cases, the tasks may be a bit too difficult, or may even lead the reader astray. One example is a table on p. 17, where the reader is encouraged to compare certain Latin words which have survived in Welsh, with the equivalent words in French, Spanish and Italian. The column marked 'English' is confusing; it is meant as a mere translation, presumably, but some of these words are Latin and/or Greek, too. In the case of castra, Welsh has 'car', 'caer'; English 'camp', 'chester'; French 'champ'; Spanish 'castro'; Italian 'campo'. Thus, English has one word derived from castra, like Spanish, and also a word derived from Latin campus -- like French and Italian. A non-Latinist reader wouldn't know this -- campus not being mentioned in the text -- and might start to think that 'champ' is derived from castra. On p. 30, the explanation implies that the terms 'root' and 'stem' are equivalent. It would have been better -- the general level of the book taken into account -- not to mention the term 'root' at all; the examples show that stems are meant ('cept', 'clus', 'struct'). And one understands the wish to illustrate the system of derivation (with prefixes and suffixes) through the image of a tree, but the metaphors get into conflict when the roots of the tree bear the suffix 'ion'.

In some cases the information is a bit too simplified, e.g. a commentary on a page from an early English version of Comenius' Orbis sensualium pictus (a good idea to use it!): "Note that at this time s could be written as f." (p. 25) But the facsimile has examples of f as well as s longa, and the difference between the two letters should have been demonstrated instead. And, regarding verb stems, it might have been a good idea to identify present stems and perfect participle stems, instead of only "There has been a small change of stem" (talking about admit and admission, describe and description). On the other hand, it seems like a good decision to leave out the Greek diacritical marks, except for the spiritus asper.

In other cases this reader suspects that the information given is not accurate. For example, is it certain that all the words listed on pp. 22-23 have come into English via French? For example, accelerate and interior may well have come directly from Latin. And it is hardly helpful for the pupil, whose task it is to detect the school subject athletics, that ἀθλητικά is translated "things to do with prizes". It is hard to see how pupils can be able to guess om this basis what 'pentathlon' and 'decathlon' may mean.

The majority of the tasks are very good, but some of them seem to be too open. For example, in the chapter "How Greek entered English", on gamma rays: "Why are they called this?" (p. 40). And after examples of English words from Latin in the fields of government, the church, law, the military, learning and medicine (p. 21): "What do these groups of words have in common with each other?"

There seem to be very few misprints. On p. 16, there is a reference to "the twentieth-century map of the world", which was good enough when the book was first published, in 1990, but this is the second edition from the twenty-first century -- 2008.


1. The family of Latin languages
2. The Romans in Britain
3. Our Latin roots
4. Building English from Latin
5. How Greek entered English
6. The Greeks had a word for it
7. Latin grammar and English -- same or different?
8. et cetera

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