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The Etymology

of English Words


Survey of certain historical facts 3

Structural elements of borrowings 7

Why Are Words Borrowed? 8

Do Borrowed Words Change or

do They Remain the Same? 8

International Words 9

Etymological Doublets 10

Translation-Loans 10

Are Etymological and Stylistic Characteristics of Words Interrelated? 10

Survey of certain historical facts

It is true that English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive among the world's languages con tains an immense number of words of foreign origin. Explanations for this should be sought in the history of the language which is closely connected with the histo ry of the nation speaking the language.

The first century B. . Most of the territory now known to us as Europe was occupied by the Roman Em pire. Among the inhabitants of the Europe are Ger manic tribes. Theirs stage of devel opment was rather primitive, especially if compared with the high civiliza tion of Rome. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know almost nothing about land cultiva tion. Their tribal languages contain only Indo-European and Germanic elements.

Due to Roman invasion Germanic tribes had to come into contact with Romans[1]. Romans built roads, bridges, military camps. Trade is carried on, and the Ger manic people gain knowledge of new and useful things. The first among them are new things to eat. It has been mentioned that Germanic cattle-breeding was on a primitive scale. Its only products known to the Ger manic tribes were meat and milk. It is from the Romans that they learn how to make butter and cheese and, as there are naturally no words for these foodstuffs in their tribal languages, they had to use the Latin words to name them (Lat. butyrum, caseus). It is also to the Romans that the Germanic tribes owe the knowledge of some new fruits and vegetables of which they had no idea before, and the Latin names of these fruits and vegetables entered their vocabularies: cherry (Lat. cerasum), pear (Lat. pirum), plum (Lat. prunus), pea (Lat. pisum), beet (Lat. beta), pepper (Lat. piper).

Here are some more examples of Latin borrowings of this period: cup (Lat. cuppa), kitchen (Lat. coquina), mill (Lat. molina), port (Lat. portus), wine (Lat. vinum).

The Germanic tribal languages gained a considerable num ber of new words and were thus enriched.

Latin words became the earliest group of borrow ings[2] in the future English language which was - much later - built on the basis of the Germanic tribal languages.

The fifth century A.D. Several of the Germanic tribes (the most numerous among them were the An gles, the Saxons and the Jutes) migrated across the sea to the British Isles. There they were confronted by the Celts, the original inhabitants of the Isles. The Celts desperately defend ed their lands against the invaders, but nevertheless gradually yielded most of their territory. They retreated to the North and South-West (modern Scotland, Wales and Cornwall). Through numerous contacts with the defeated Celts, the conquerors borrowed a number of Celtic words (bald, down, glen, bard, cradle). Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of riv ers, hills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but the names of many parts of their ter ritory remained Celtic. For instance, the names of the rivers Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Ux originate from Celtic words meaning "river" and "water".

Ironically, even the name of the English capital originates from Celtic Llyn+dun in which llyn is an other Celtic word for "river" and dun stands for "a for tified hill" - the meaning of the whole is "fortress on the hill over the river".

Some Latin words entered the Anglo-Saxon lan guages through Celtic, among them such widely-used words as street (Lat. strata via) and wall (Lat. vallum).

The seventh century A.D. This century was signifi cant for the christianization of England. Latin was the official language of the Christian church, and con sequently the spread of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings. These borrowings no longer came from spoken Latin as they did eight centuries ear lier, but from church Latin. Also, these new Latin bor rowings were very different in meaning from the earli er ones. They mostly indicated persons, objects and ideas associated with church and religious rituals: e. g. priest (Lat. presbyter), bishop (Lat. episcopus), monk (Lat. monachus), nun (Lat. nonna), candle (Lat. candela).

It was quite natural that education al terms were also Latin borrowings, for the first schools in England were church schools, and the first teachers priests and monks. So, the very word school is a Latin borrowing (Lat. schola, of Greek origin) and so are such words as scholar (Lat. Scholar(-is) and magister (Lat. magister).

From the end of the 8th century to the middle of the 11th century England underwent several Scandinavian inva sions. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian borrowings: call (v.), take (v.), cast (v.), die (v.), law (n.), husband[3] (n.), window[4] (n.), ill (adj.), loose, (adj.), low (adj.), weak (adj.). Some of Scandinavian borrowings are easily recogniz able by the initial (sk-) combination. E. g. sky, skill, skin, ski, skirt.

Certain English words changed their meanings under the influence of Scandinavian words of the same root. So, the old English bread which meant "piece" acquired its modern meaning by association with the Scandinavian braud. The old English dream which meant "joy" assimi lated the meaning of the Scandinavian draumr.

1066. With the famous Battle of Hastings, when the English were defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror, began the eventful epoch of the Norman Conquest. The Norman culture of the 11th century was certainly superior to that of the Saxons. The result was that English vocabulary acquired a great number of French words. But instead of being smashed and broken by the powerful intrusion of the foreign element, the English language managed to preserve its essential structure and vastly enriched its expressive resources with the new borrowings. England became a bilingual country, and the impact on the English vo cabulary made over this two-hundred-years period is immense: French words from the Norman dialect pene trated every aspect of social life. Here is a very brief list of examples of Norman French borrowings.

Administrative words: state, government, parlia ment, council, power.

Legal terms: court, judge, justice, crime, prison.

Military terms: army, war, soldier, officer, battle, enemy.

Educational terms: pupil, lesson, library, science, pen, pencil.

Terms of everyday life: table, plate, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle, etc.

The Renaissance Period. In England, as in all Euro pean countries, this period was marked by significant developments in science, art and culture and, also, by a revival of interest in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and their languages. Hence, there occurred a considerable number of Latin and Greek borrowings. In contrast to the earliest Latin borrowings (1st century B.C.), the Renaissance ones were rarely concrete names. They were mostly abstract words (e. g. major, minor, moderate, intelligent, permanent, to elect, to create). There were numerous scientific and artistic terms (e.g. datum, status, phenomenon, philosophy, meth od, music). Quite a number of words were bor rowed into English from Latin and had earlier come into Latin from Greek.

The Renaissance was a period of extensive cultural contacts between the major European states. There fore, it was only natural that new words also entered the English vocabulary from other European languag es. The most significant were French borrow ings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are known as Parisian borrowings. Exam ples: routine, police, machine, ballet, matinee, scene, technique, bourgeois, etc. Italian also contributed a considerable number of words to English, e. g. piano, violin, opera, alarm, colo nel.

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