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It is certainly true that educational level and social position usually walk together in most societies. Not considering that, however, and based only on how often one uses Graeco-Latin versus Anglo-Saxon derived words, is it possible to identify someone’s social status in England? In other words, upper middle-class people would tend to use Graeco-Latin derived words much more often than the poorer working-class, irrespective of other educational level markers. I am not looking for opinions, but for statements based on data and statistical analysis, just like the one below.

LEXICAL BAR - A term coined by linguist David Corson in the 1980s.

In English-speaking societies coincidences of social and linguistic history have combined to create a lexical situation that is unique among languages: most of the specialist and high status terminology of English is Greco-Latin in origin and most of the less abrstract terminology is Anglo-Saxon in origin. English in this respect, relative to other languages, has a fairly clear boundary drawn between its everyday and its high status vocabularies.

...

The bar is partly a function of the historically introduced and social class-based orderings of society that are associated with the division of labour: it separates the lexes of the members of conservative peripheral social groups from the dominant and high status léxicon of the language.

The author goes on to offer examples of the differences in the linguistic style of young people on opposite sides of the bar: "I dunno, there's times when I think there are a few laws I'd like to stop but....don't know any I'd like to bring in." (London, poorer working-class 15-year-old) and "I don't think I'd introduce many new ones but I would abolish quite a few. (London, upper middle-class 15-year-old) References: 1. Corson, D., The Lexical Bar, Pergamon Press, 1985.

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    Some people certainly believe this. Though that's also true of practically any statement one can make about language. But there's nothing special about Greek and Latin, except for the facts that half of English vocabulary comes ultimately from them, and that that half is largely the technical half. Mar 30, 2014 at 18:47
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    It is also true that practically anything can be used as an indicator of social class, by those who care about such things. Personally, I see a fascination with indicators of social class as terribly bourgeois. Mar 30, 2014 at 19:15
  • @TimLymington I was told by a modern history lecturer that an interest in social-class interpretations indicated a Marxist approach to history.
    – WS2
    Mar 30, 2014 at 19:38
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    I don't know about use of Graeco-Latin words, but a study done a couple of years ago showed that there was a very high preponderance of surnames of Norman origin, as opposed to Saxon, among the upper bourgeoisie, and gentry classes in modern Britain. It does seem incredible that a conquest that took place 948 years ago should still determine to some extent who's who in Britain.
    – WS2
    Mar 30, 2014 at 19:44
  • @WS2 Do you have a source or more details? I want to do more!
    – philshem
    Mar 31, 2014 at 9:27

2 Answers 2

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LEXICAL BAR - A term coined by linguist David Corson in the 1980s. "In English-speaking societies coincidences of social and linguistic history have combined to create a lexical situation that is unique among languages: most of the specialist and high status terminology of English is Greco-Latin in origin and most of the less abrstract terminology is Anglo-Saxon in origin. English in this respect, relative to other languages, has a fairly clear boundary drawn between its everyday and its high status vocabularies." ............. "The bar is partly a function of the historically introduced and social class-based orderings of society that are associated with the division of labour: it separates the lexes of the members of conservative peripheral social groups from the dominant and high status léxicon of the language."
The author goes on to offer examples of the diferences in the linguistic style of young people on opposite sides of the bar: "I dunno, there's times when I think there are a few laws I'd like to stop but....don't know any I'd like to bring in." (London, poorer working-class 15-year-old) and "I don't think I'd introduce many new ones but I would abolish quite a few. (London, upper middle-class 15-year-old) References: 1. Corson, D., The Lexical Bar, Pergamon Press, 1985.

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This isn't a real answer to your question, but...

Generally, words coming from French often retain a higher register than words of Anglo-Saxon origin, and are considered by some to be more elaborate, sophisticated, or pretentious. Wikipedia

For those who are still curious, check out the fascinating (7 hour) documentary: The Adventure of English

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  • I speak American English, so I can't tell the difference.
    – philshem
    Mar 30, 2014 at 19:04
  • Why would your speaking American English make it so that you can't tell the difference between Saxon and Norman words? How would being, for example British, make it easier?
    – WS2
    Mar 31, 2014 at 10:41
  • I was referring to: "is it possible to identify someone’s social status in England...?"
    – philshem
    Mar 31, 2014 at 11:34
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    The fact is that in English the more sophisticated vocabulary tends to be from French and other Romance languages, whilst everyday terms are more likely to be of Saxon origin. As John Lawler says here, the French half tends to be the technical half. So it is perhaps not surprising that the better educated a person is, the more inclined they will be to use words of Romance origin. If it is true in Britain it seems axiomatic that it is also true in America. Pneumonia is still pneumonia whether the doctor diagnosing it is British or American.
    – WS2
    Mar 31, 2014 at 19:45
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    @TimLymington Nor leukaemia, and no doubt countless other '...aemias'. But the Greek connection is still undeniable.
    – WS2
    Apr 3, 2014 at 21:16

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