Chapter 1: Introduction
§2. What is Greek and Latin Roots (GRS 250)
In the UVic Calendar, Greek and Roman Studies 250 carries a reasonably clear and straightforward title: “Greek and Latin Roots of English in Science and Social Sciences.” Still, it may be a good idea to summarize what this course attempts to achieve, and what it does not. Although Greek and Roman Studies 250 may vary in emphasis from one instructor to the next, its general aims and objectives can be stated as perennial goals.
The course will examine the systematic principles by which a large portion of English vocabulary has evolved from Latin and (to a lesser degree) from Greek. It will try also to impart some skill in the recognition and proper use of these derived words. Notice the stress on principles: although we shall be continually looking at interesting individual words, our constant aim will be to discover predictable general patterns of historical development, so that we may be able to cope with new and unfamiliar words of any type that we have studied. We shall often approach the problem by a procedure known as “word analysis,” which is roughly comparable to the dissection of an interesting specimen in the biology laboratory.
The course assumes no previous knowledge of Latin and Greek, and does not involve the grammatical study of these languages—except for a few basic features of noun and verb formation that will help us to understand the Latin and Greek legacy in English. (If you have already had some encounter with Latin and/or Greek, you are welcome in the course; but you may find the early chapters rather obvious and elementary.) When we turn to consider the Greek material, all students will be asked to learn the Greek alphabet. This skill is not absolutely essential for a general knowledge of Greek roots in English, and it is often not required in courses that deal only with medical and technical terminology. Knowing the alphabet, however, will help you understand a number of otherwise puzzling features of spelling and usage; moreover, it is a challenge that students always find interesting and appealing. (There have been cries of alarm on those occasions when we have asked, in year-end opinion surveys, whether the Greek alphabet requirement should be dropped.)
Although there will be some attention paid to the historical interaction of Latin and Greek with English, Greek and Roman Studies 250 is definitely not a systematic history of the English language. Excellent courses on that topic are taught, from differing vantage points, by the Departments of English and Linguistics. It will be our concern to examine only those elements within English that have been directly or indirectly affected by the two classical languages.
In order to provide the broadest possible service to students, the course will emphasize standard English vocabulary in current use. The more exotic technical vocabulary of science and medicine can be extremely interesting, but it will be explored in only summary fashion. Nevertheless, Greek and Roman Studies 250 should be of considerable value, say, to a would-be botanist or medical doctor, if only by providing the foundation for further specialized enquiry.