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Words from French
Before the Modern English that we speak today was fully settled, the French of the Middle Ages—a direct offshoot of Latin—was widely spoken in the British Isles, as a result of the conquest of Britain by France in 1066. English is so rich in vocabulary today partly because we often have words with similar or overlapping meanings, one of which came via the Germanic route (that is, from Anglo-Saxon or another Germanic language) and one via French. So, for example, we may call the animal a hog (Old English), but the meat it produces is pork (from French).
Today, English words with French credentials are everywhere in English. Our pronunciation of vowels and consonants is quite different from the modern French of today, but there are many consistent spelling patterns that can help us make educated guesses about how to spell words that come from French.
Tip from the Top
French has many different vowel sounds and diphthongs that are distinctly French, but it has only the same 26 letters to spell them with that English has. Therefore, French relies on certain combinations of vowels and consonants in spelling to show what vowel sound is meant. When pronounced in English, many of these sounds are simplified. The result is that many different English spellings stand for the same sound in French words.
All Around the Mediterranean
If you're getting an odd sense of déjà vu looking at some of these French words, you're not mistaken! Some of them are purely French—that is, they have no obvious roots in another language. A large number, however, have roots in Latin (such as ambulance, and renaissance) and Greek (such as diplomat, neologism and stethoscope). Long before France was an independent country it was part of the Roman Empire, and its language was close to Latin. The Roman Empire was, in turn, influenced by the civilization of classical Greece that preceded it. With so rich a heritage, the French did not have to travel very far to find a word for just about everything! Diorama is a special case. If you see elements in it that remind you of Greek words, you are correct; but the French actually modeled this word on a word they saw in English—panorama—which was, in turn, made from Greek roots!
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