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ETYMOLOGICAL SURVEY OF THE ENGLISH WORDSTOCK
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12.1.The double heritage of the contemporary English language.
12.2.Words of native origin.
12.3.Borrowing: causes, ways, criteria.
12.4.Assimilation of borrowings.
12.5.Translation loans, etymological doublets, international words.
12.1. Etymology is both the study of the history of words and a statement of the origin and history of a word. Etymologically, all English words are divided into native words and borrowings.
A native word is one which hasn’t been borrowed from another language, but represents the original English wordstock as known from the earliest available manuscripts of the OE period (5 th -7 th c.).
A borrowed word, also called a borrowing or a loan-word, is one which has come into English from another language.
The term "borrowing" is also used to denote the process of adopting words from other languages.
English has a great number of borrowed words (about 70%), which is explained by the eventful history of the country and numerous international contacts.
12.2.The original English word stock contains:
(a) the Indo-European element,
(b) the Germanic element,
(c) the Anglo-Saxon (or the English proper) element.
Only the lattter element can be dated: the words of this group appeared in the vocabulary in the 5th c. or later when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain.
The ultimate origins of English lie in IE (possibly spoken between c. 3000 and c. 2000 BC). The Indo-Buropean element consists of words common to all or most IE languages. The roots denote elementary notions without which no communication could be possible:
� terms of kinship: father, mother, brother, son, daughter, etc.;
� parts of the human body: nose, lip, heart, foot, etc.;
� animals: cow, swine, goose, fish;
� plants: tree, birch, corn;
� times of day: day, night;
� heavenly bodies: sun, moon, star;
� adjectives: red, new, glad, sad;
� numerals: from one to one hundred;
� pronouns: all personal pronouns except they which is a Scandinavian borrowing; demonstrative pronouns;
� verbs: be, stand, sit, eat, know.
IE ceased to exist sometime soon after 2000 BC, having diversified into a number of increasingly distinct offspring as a result of migration and natural linguistic changes. One of these offspring is known as Primitive (Old) Germanic. It had a vocabulary that included some roots not inherited from IE. Thus, the Germanic element of English comprises words with roots common to all or most Germanic languages, but not found in other IE languages:
� parts of the human body: head, arm, hand, finger, bone;
� animals: bear, fox, calf;
� plants: grass, oak, fir;
� seasons of the year: spring, summer, winter (but autumn was borrowed from French);
� natural phenomena: rain, frost; but snow is IE;
� landscape features: sea, land;
� human dwellings, furniture: house, room, bench;
� sea-going vessels: boat, ship;
� adjectives: green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, old;
� verbs: see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink.
The English proper element contains words which have no cognates in any other language,
e.g. bird, girl, boy, lord, lady, woman, always.
The OE vocabulary expanded mostly through compounding and derivation,
e.g. da3es – ēā3e > daisy; hāl "hale, whole" > hæl� "health".
Though native words are fewer in number, they play a very important role in English due to their characteristics:
1) They possess great stability, i.e. they have existed for centuries and are sure to exist for centuries to come.
2) They belong to very important semantic fields without which no communication would be possible as they denote everyday notions and objects.
3) They are monosyllabic, as a rule, and structurally simple, which makes them flexible, i.e. they serve as bases for numerous derivatives.
4) They are polysemantic.
5) They possess a wide range of lexical and grammatical valency, i.e. they enter into innumerable collocations.
6) They are used in a great number of phraseological units.
7) They have a high frequency value in speech.
Thus, native words are an indespensible part of the English vocabulary.
12.3.In the ’80s, English borrowed words from 84 languages, as follows: French � 25%, Spanish and Japanese both � 8%, Italian � 6.3%, Latin � 6.1%, Greek � 6%, German � 5.5%. Here only the Japanese element breaks the traditional pattern, in which European languages predominate.
The structure of the borrowed element of the English vocabulary can be shown in the following table.
Borrowing can have both linguistic and extralinguistic causes.
Extralinguistic causes are close contacts between different language communities, which may be of two kinds: on the one hand, wars, invasions, conquests when a foreign language is forced upon a reluctant conquered nation; on the other hand, trade and cultural links, which are more favourable for borrowing.
Linguistic causes are the necessity to fill in gaps in the vocabulary to name new objects and concepts.
Actually, reasons for borrowing may be:
(a) the domination of some languages by others (for cultural, economic, religious, political or other reasons),
(b) a sense of need, e.g. for education or technology,
(c) prestige associated with using foreign words,
(d) a mix of some or all of these. Individuals may use a foreign expression because it seems to them the most suitable term available, the only possible term (with no equivalent in their own language) or the most expressive term.
Loan-words may enter a language in two ways:
1) through oral speech by immediate contact between people,
2) through written speech (e.g. books, periodicals) by indirect contact.
Oral borrowing was more important in earlier periods whereas in more recent times written borrowing has gained importance.Oral borrowings are usually short and completely assimilated,
e.g. street, mill, inch, pound (all from Latin).
Written borrowings often preserve their spelling and some peculiarities of pronunciation; their assimilation takes more time,
e.g. naiveté, resumé (from French).
It is important to distinguish two terms: the source of borrowing and the origin of borrowing. The former is applied to the language from which the word was borrowed; the latter means the language the word originates from,
e.g. jacket, jumper, crimson, amber, magazine, zero, coffee
were borrowed from French (source of borrowing) but were originally Arabic.
There are certain criteria which can be used to identify a word as a borrowing (and maybe even determine the source language):
1) spelling and pronunciation, i.e. "alien" sounds and sound clusters, position of stress, unusual correlations between sounds and letters,
e.g. [v], [d3],  in the initial position: volcano (It), vase (Fr), genre (Fr);
j, x, z in the initial position: jungle(Hindi) , zeal (L);
x is read [z] in Greek borrowings: xylophone;
ch is read [∫] in late French borrowings (machine) and [k] in words of Greek borrowing : epoch, chemist;
ph, kh, eau in the root: Philology (Gr), Khaki (Hindi).
2) irregular plurals: stimulus – stimuli, criterion – criteria, datum – data, crisis – crises, etc.
3) morphological structure, i.e. some words may be recognized as Latin or French borrowings by suffixes and prefixes,
e.g. -ant/ -ent: convenient, constant, -ute: attribute, contribute,
-able: detestable, -ive: convulsive.
Note: sometimes foreign affixes can be added to native stems: talkative, drinkable.
4) "alien" concepts and object of different cultures (realia) denoted by words,
e.g. burqa "muslim woman’s long enveloping garment worn in public", paella, pagoda, balalaika.
The above mentioned criteria are not always helpful. Some early borrowings have been so thoroughly assimilated that they are unrecognisable as such without etymological analysis.
12.4. Assimilation of borrowings (adaptation) means that a borrowing adapts itself more or less thoroughly to the norms of the borrowing language.
There are different types of assimilation: graphic, phonetic, grammatic, structural, semantic.
(1) Phonetic assimilation is substituting native sounds for foreign ones, as well as a shift of stress,
e.g. café (Fr) [e] > [ei]; spitz (German) [∫] > [s].
In French and Latin borrowings the stress is usually shifted to the first syllable,
e.g. garage [gæ’ra:3] > [‘gæra:3]
(2) Grammatic assimilation is the change of grammatical categories and paradigms of borrowed words,
e.g. cactus – Pl. cacti and cactuses; trauma – Pl. traumata and traumas.
(3) Compounds and dirivatives are borrowed as simple words. But if a number of loan-words have the same structure it becomes clear, morphemes are singled out and in the course of time they may be even used to derive new words from native stems,
e.g. eatable, drinkable, talkative.
Derivatives may also be made from borrowed stems with the help of native affixes,
e.g. faintly, faintness < faint (Fr), beautiful < beauty (Fr).
Perhaps the largest morphological impact on English has been the addition of French, Latin and Greek affixes such as dis-, pro-, anti-, -ity, -ism and such combining forms as bio-, micro-,-metry, -logy, which replaced many of the original Gc affixes in English.
(4) Semantic assimilation consists in changes in the semantic structure of loans.
Polysemantic words are usually borrowed in one meaning,
e.g. kulak (Rus) "well-to-do Russian peasant".
The original meaning may change, i.e. it may become more specialized or generalized,
e.g. umbrella was borrowed from Italian in the meaning "a sunshade, parasol", then it came to denote similar protection from rain as well.
A borrowing can acquire new meanings, not found in the original semantic structure,
e.g. move was borrowed from French and later acquired the meanings "to propose", "to change one’s flat", "to mix with people".
The original primary meaning of a loan may become a minor one,
e.g. fellow was borrowed from Old Norse in the meaning "companion" , which later became its minor meaning as a new meaning of the word appeared in English, i.e. "man, boy".
According to the degree of assimilation, borrowings are completelyassimilated, partially assimilated and unassimilated (called barbarisms).
Completely assimilated loan-words comply with all the norms of the language, their foreign origin is entirely obscured; they are usually old borrowings, characterized by high frequency of usage and stylistically neutral,
e.g. cheek, wrong, cockroach.
Partially assimilated loan-words may not be assimilated phonetically (regime, foyer [‘foiei]); graphically (corps [ko:]; buffet [ei]); morphologically, i.e. they preserve foreign plurals (corpus – corpora); semantically, i.e. denote "alien" notions and objects (jihad "religious war of Muslims against unbelievers", mullah, sarong).
Unassimilated loans are foreign words used by English people, but not adapted in any way and for which there are English equivalents ,
e.g. carte blanche (Fr) – a free hand, Status quo (L) – unchanged position.
12.5. Translation loans are words and expressions formed from morphemes available in English after patterns characteristic of the source language by way of literal morpheme-for-morpheme translation,
e.g. Übermensch (Ger) – superman (translated by B. Shaw), prima balerina (It) – first dancer.
Semantic borrowing is the appearance of a new meaning in an English word’s semantic structure under the influence of the correlated word in the source language,
e.g. reaction acquired the political meaning "tendency to oppose change or return to former system" under the influence of the French word.
Etymological doublets are two (or sometimes more) words derived by different routes from the same source. They differ to a certain degree in form, meaning and usage. Etymological doublets may be:
1) two native words which were originally dialectal variants of the same OE word,
e.g. hale f. hāl (Northern dialect) and whole f. hōl (Southern and Eastern dialects), both originally f. OE hāl;
2) a native and a borrowed word,
e.g. shirt (native) and skirt (Scandinavian), both originally f. Gc *skurt "short";
3) two borrowings from different languages which are etymologically descendant from the same root,
e.g. canal (L) – channel (Fr) , etymologically f. L canalis;
4) words borrowed from the same language twice but at different time,
e.g. corpse – corps (originally f. L corpus "body"), both borrowed from French, but corpse was borrowed from Norman French after the Norman conquest, while corps was borrowed during the Renaissance period.
Etymological triplets are rare,
e.g. hospital (L) – hostel (Norman Fr) – hotel (Fr during the Renaissance).
International words are words of the same origin that exist in several languages as a result of simultaneous or successsive borrowing from one ultimate souce. Usually they are words of Latin or Greek origin. Here belong:
� scientific terms, e.g. philosophy, mathematics, medicine, antenna;
� terms of art, e.g. music, tragedy, comedy, theatre, museum;
� political terms, e.g. policy, democracy, anarchy, progress;
� foodstuffs, e.g. banana, chocolate, coffee, cocoa.
English has also contributed quite a few international words to world languages, e.g.
� sport terms: football, tennis, box, match, knock-down;
� clothes: sweater, pullover, tweed, jersey, nylon;
� entertainment: film, club, jazz, cocktail, etc.
International words in different languages, despite their outward similarity, often have different meanings. They are called "false friends of interpreters" as interpreters and translators, as well as language learners should be aware of them,
e.g. sympathy "compassion" � �������� "liking",
complexion "face colour" – ���������� "build",
decade "ten years" – ������ "ten days".
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Brief Etymological Review of the English Word-Stock
by Linda Correli
Etymologically the vocabulary of the English language is far from
being homogenous. It consists of two layers – the native stock of
words and the borrowed stock of words. Numerically the borrowed stock
of words is considerably larger than the native stock of words.
In fact native words comprise only 30% of the total number of words
in the English vocabulary but the native words form the bulk of the
most frequent words actually used in speech and writing. Besides, the
native words have a wider range of lexical and grammatical valency,
they are highly polysemantic and productive in forming word clusters
and set expressions.
Borrowed words or loanwords are words taken from
another language and modified according to the patterns of the receiving
In many cases a borrowed word especially one borrowed long ago is
practically indistinguishable from a native word without a thorough
etymological analysis. The number of the borrowings in the vocabulary
of the language and the role played by them is determined by the
historical development of the nation speaking the language.
The most effective way of borrowing is direct borrowing from another
language as the result of the contacts with other nations. Though,
a word may be also borrowed indirectly not from the source language
but through another language.
When analyzing borrowed words one should distinguish between two terms
– source of borrowing and origin of borrowing. The first
term is applied to the language from which the word was immediately borrowed
and the second – to the language to which the word may be ultimately traced.
The closer the two interacting languages are in structure the easier it
is for words of one language to penetrate into the other.
There are different approaches to classifying the borrowed stock of words
The borrowed stock of words may be classified according to the nature of
the borrowing itself as borrowing proper, loans translation and
Loan translation or calque is a phrase borrowed from
another language by literal word-for-word translation.
Semantic loan is the borrowing of the meaning for a word already
existing in the English language.
Latin loans are classified into the subgroups.
- Early Latin loans. Those are the words which came into English
language through the languages of the Anglo-Saxon tribes. The tribes had
been in contact with Roman civilization and had adopted many Latin words
denoting objects belonging to that civilization long before the invasion
of the Angles, Saxons and Judes into Britain (e.g., cup, kitchen, mill,
- Later Latin borrowings. To this group belong the words which
penetrated into English language in the sixth and seventh centuries, when
the English people were converted to Christianity (e.g., priest, bishop,
nun, and candle).
- The third period of the Latin borrowings includes words which
came into English due to two historical events: the Norman Conquest and
the Renaissance. Some came to English language through French but some
were borrowed directly from Latin (e.g., major, minor, intelligent, permanent).
- The latest layer of Latin words. The words of this period are
mainly abstract and scientific words (e.g., nylon, molecular, vaccine,
phenomenon, and vacuum).
The tendency of the English language to borrow extensively can be traced
during the centuries. Thus, one can confidently claim that borrowing is
one of the most productive sources of enrichment of the English vocabulary.
About the author:
Linda Correli is a staff writer of
and an author of the popular online tutorial for students “What Teachers
Want: Master the Art of Essay Writing in 10 Days”, available at
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