Имя материала: Лексикология английского языка

Автор: Антрушина Галина Борисовна

Chapter 3 the etymology of english words.1 are all english words really english?


As a matter of fact, they are — if we regard them in the light of present-day English. If, however, their origins are looked into, the picture may seem somewhat bewildering. A person who does not know English but knows French (Italian, Latin, Spanish) is certain to recognize a great number of familiar-looking words when skipping through an English book.

It is true that English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive amongst the world's languages contains 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 history of the nation speaking the language. In order to have a better understanding of the problem, it will be necessary to go through a brief survey of certain historical facts, relating to different epochs.


* * *


The first century В. С. Most of the territory now known to us as Europe is occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the inhabitants of the continent are Germanic tribes, "barbarians" as the arrogant Romans call them. Theirs is really a rather primitive stage of development, especially if compared with the high civilization and refinement of Rome. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know almost nothing about land cultivation. Their tribal languages contain only Indo-Europe-an and Germanic elements. The latter fact is of some importance for the purposes of our survey.

Now comes an event which brings an important change. After a number of wars between the Germanic tribes and the Romans these two opposing peoples come into peaceful contact. Trade is carried on, and the Germanic 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 Germanic 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 are 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 enter their vocabularies reflecting this new knowledge: cherry (Lat. cerasum), pear (Lat. pirum), plum (Lat. prunus), pea (Lat. pisum), beet (Lat. beta), pepper (Lat. piper). It is interesting to note that the word plant is also a Latin borrowing2 of this period (Lat. planta).

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 fact that all these borrowings occurred is in itself significant. It was certainly important that the Germanic tribal languages gained a considerable number of new words and were thus enriched. What was even more significant was that all these Latin words were destined to become the earliest group of borrowings in the future English language which was — much later — built on the basis of the Germanic tribal languages. Which brings us to another epoch, much closer to the English language as we know it, both in geographical and chronological terms.


The fifth century A. D. Several of the Germanic tribes (the most numerous amongst them being the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes) migrated across the sea now known as the English Channel to the British Isles. There they were confronted by the Celts, the original inhabitants of the Isles. The Celts desperately defended their lands against the invaders, but they were no match for the military-minded Teutons and gradually yielded most of their territory. They retreated to the North and South-West (modern Scotland, Wales and Cornwall). Through their numerous contacts with the defeated Celts, the conquerors got to know and assimilated a number of Celtic words (Mod. E. bald, down, glen, druid, bard, cradle). Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of rivers, hills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but the names of many parts and features of their territory 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 another Celtic word for "river" and dun stands for "a fortified hill", the meaning of the whole being "fortress on the hill over the river".

Some Latin words entered the Anglo-Saxon languages 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 significant for the christianization of England. Latin was the official language of the Christian church, and consequently the spread of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings. These no longer came from spoken Latin as they did eight centuries earlier, but from church Latin. Also, these new Latin borrowings were very different in meaning from the earlier 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).

Additionally, in a class of their own were educational terms. It was quite natural that these 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. scholars(-is) and magister (Lat. magister).

From the end of the 8th c. to the middle of the 11th с. England underwent several Scandinavian invasions which inevitably left their trace on English vocabulary. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian borrowings: call, v., take, v., cast, v., die, v., law, n., husband, n. (< Sc. hus + bondi, i. e. "inhabitant of the house"), window n. (< Sc. vindauga, i. e. "the eye of the wind"), ill, adj., loose, adj., low, adj., weak, adj.

Some of the words of this group are easily recognizable as Scandinavian borrowings 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 O. E. bread which meant "piece" acquired its modern meaning by association with the Scandinavian braud. The О. Е. dream which meant "joy" assimilated the meaning of the Scandinavian draumr (cf. with the Germ. Traum "dream" and the R. дрёма).


1066. With the famous Battle of Hastings, when the English were defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror, we come to the eventful epoch of the Norman Conquest. The epoch can well be called eventful not only in national, social, political and human terms, but also in linguistic terms. England became a bilingual country, and the impact on the English vocabulary made over this two-hundred-years period is immense: French words from the Norman dialect penetrated every aspect of social life. Here is a very brief list of examples of Norman French borrowings.

Administrative words: state, government, parliament, 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.

Everyday life was not unaffected by the powerful influence of French words. Numerous terms of everyday life were also borrowed from French in this period: e. g. table, plate, saucer, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle, etc.

The Renaissance Period. In England, as in all European 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 c. B. C.), the Renaissance ones were rarely concrete names. They were mostly abstract words (e. g. major, minor, filial, moderate, intelligent, permanent, to elect, to create). There were naturally numerous scientific and artistic terms (datum, status, phenomenon, philosophy, method, music).1 The same is true of Greek Renaissance borrowings (e. g. atom, cycle, ethics, esthete).

The Renaissance was a period of extensive cultural contacts between the major European states. Therefore, it was only natural that new words also entered the English vocabulary from other European languages. The most significant once more were French borrowings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are known as Parisian borrowings. Examples: regime, routine, police, machine, ballet, matinee, scene, technique, bourgeois, etc. (One should note that these words of French origin sound and "look" very different from their Norman predecessors. We shall return to this question later (see Ch. 4).)

Italian also contributed a considerable number of words to English, e. g. piano, violin, opera, alarm, colonel.


* * *


There are certain structural features which enable us to identify some words as borrowings and even to determine the source language. We have already established that the initial sk usually indicates Scandinavian origin. You can also recognize words of Latin and French origin by certain suffixes, prefixes or endings. The two tables below will help you in this.

The historical survey above is far from complete. Its aim is just to give a very general idea of the ways in which English vocabulary developed and of the major events through which it acquired its vast modern resources.


I. Latin Affixes



The suffix -ion

communion, legion, opinion, session, union, etc.

The suffix -tion

relation, revolution, starvation, temptation, unification, etc.


The suffix -ate [eit]

appreciate, create, congratulate, etc.

The suffix -ute [ju:t]

attribute, contribute, constitute, distribute, etc.

The remnant suffix -ct

act, conduct, collect, connect, etc.

The remnant suffix -d(e)

applaud, divide, exclude, include, etc.

The prefix dis-

disable, distract, disown, disagree, etc.


The suffix -able

detestable, curable, etc.

The suffix -ate [it]

accurate, desperate, graduate, etc.

The suffix -ant

arrogant, constant, important, etc.

The suffix -enf

absent, convenient, decent, evident, etc.

The suffix -or

s major, minor, junior,

senior, etc.

The suffix -al с

т cordial, final, fraternal,

maternal, etc.

The suffix -ar

lunar, solar, familiar, etc.

II. French Affixes




The suffix


arrogance, endurance, hindrance, etc.

The suffix


consequence, intelligence, patience, etc.

The suffix


appointment, development, experiment, etc.

The suffix


courage, marriage, passage, village, etc.

The suffix


tigress, lioness, actress, adventuress, etc.


The suffix


curious, dangerous, joyous, serious, etc.


The prefix en-

enable, endear, enact, enfold, enslave, etc.


Notes. 1. The tables represent only the most typical and frequent structural elements of Latin and French borrowings.

2. Though all the affixes represented in the tables are Latin or French borrowings, some of the examples given in the third column are later formations derived from native roots and borrowed affixes (e. g. eatable, lovable).

3. By remnant suffixes are meant the ones that are only Partially preserved in the structure of the word (e. g. Lat. -ct < Lat. -ctus).

It seems advisable to sum up what has been said in a table.


The Etymological Structure of English Vocabulary


The native element1

The borrowed element


I. Indo-European element

II. Germanic element


III. English Proper element (no earlier

than 5th c. A. D.)




I. Celtic (5th — 6th c. A. D.)


II. Latin

    1st group: 1st c. B. C.

    2nd group: 7th c. A. D.

    3rd group: the Renaissance period


III. Scandinavian (8th — 11th c. A. D.)


IV. French

      1. Norman borrowings: 11th—13th c. A. D.

      2. Parisian borrowings (Renaissance)

V. Greek (Renaissance)

VI. Italian (Renaissance and later)

VII. Spanish (Renaissance and later)

VIII. German

IX. Indian

X. Russian

     And some other groups


The table requires some explanation. Firstly, it should be pointed out that not only does the second column contain more groups, but it also implies a greater quantity of words. Modern scholars estimate the percentage of borrowed words in the English vocabulary at 65—70 per cent which is an exceptionally high figure: one would certainly expect the native element to prevail. This anomaly is explained by the country's eventful history and by its many international contacts.

On a straight vocabulary count, considering the high percentage of borrowed words, one would have to classify English as a language of international origin or, at least, a Romance one (as French and Latin words obviously prevail). But here another factor comes into play, the relative frequency of occurrence of words, and it is under this heading that the native Anglo-Saxon heritage comes into its own. The native element in English comprises a large number of high-frequency words like the articles, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, auxiliaries and, also, words denoting everyday objects and ideas (e. g. house, child, water, go, come, eat, good, bad, etc.).

Furthermore, the grammatical structure is essentially Germanic having remained unaffected by foreign influence.

It is probably of some interest to mention that at various times purists have tried to purge the English language of foreign words, replacing them with Anglo-Saxon ones. One slogan created by these linguistic nationalists was: "Avoid Latin derivatives; use brief, terse Anglo-Saxon monosyllables". The irony is that the only Anglo-Saxon word in the entire slogan is "Anglo-Saxon". [31]

Now let us turn to the first column of the table representing the native element, the original stock of the English vocabulary. The column consists of three groups, only the third being dated: the words of this group appeared in the English vocabulary in the 5th c. or later, that is, after the Germanic tribes migrated to the British Isles. As to the Indo-European and Germanic groups, they are so old that they cannot be dated. It was mentioned in the historical survey opening this chapter that the tribal languages of the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, by the time of their migration, contained only words of Indo-European and Germanic roots plus a certain number of the earliest Latin borrowings.

By the Indo-European element are meant words of roots common to all or most languages of the Indo-European group. English words of this group denote elementary concepts without which no human communication would be possible. The following groups can be identified.1


I. Family relations: father, mother, brother, son, daughter.

II. Parts of the human body: foot (cf. R. пядь), nose, lip, heart.

III. Animals: cow, swine, goose.

IV. Plants: tree, birch (cf. R. береза}, corn (cf. R. зерно).

V. Time of day: day, night.

VI. Heavenly bodies: sun, moon, star.

VII. Numerous adjectives: red (cf. Ukr. рудий, R. рыжий), new, glad (cf. R. гладкий), sad, (cf. R. сыт). VIII. The numerals from one to a hundred.

IX. Pronouns — personal (except they which is a Scandinavian borrowing); demonstrative.

X. Numerous verbs: be (cf. R. быть), stand (cf. R. стоять), sit (cf. R. сидеть), eat (cf. R. есть), know (cf. R. знать, знаю).


The Germanic element represents words of roots common to all or most Germanic languages. Some of the main groups of Germanic words are the same as in the Indo-European element.

I. Parts of the human body: head, hand, arm, finger, bone.

II. Animals: bear, fox, calf.

III. Plants: oak, fir, grass.

IV. Natural phenomena: rain, frost.

V. Seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer.1

VI. Landscape features: sea, land.

VII. Human dwellings and furniture: house, room, bench.

VIII. Sea-going vessels: boat, ship.

IX. Adjectives: green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, old, good.

X. Verbs: see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink.


* * *


It has been mentioned that the English proper element is, in certain respects, opposed to the first two groups. Not only can it be approximately dated, but these words have another distinctive feature: they are specifically English having no cognates2 in other languages whereas for Indo-European and Germanic words such cognates can always be found, as, for instance, for the following words of the Indo-European group.

Star: Germ. Stern, Lat. stella, Gr. aster.

Sad: Germ. satt, Lat. satis, R. сыт, Snscr. sa-.

Stand: Germ. stehen, Lat. stare, R. стоять, Snscr. stha-.

Here are some examples of English proper words. These words stand quite alone in the vocabulary system of Indo-European languages: bird, boy, girl, lord, lady, woman, daisy, always.

Of course, one might remark that Russian vocabulary also has the words лорд, леди, бой (in the meaning of "native servant"). The explanation is simple: these words have been borrowed by Russian from English and therefore are not cognates of their English counterparts.

It should be taken into consideration that the English proper element also contains all the later formations, that is, words which were made after the 5th century according to English word-building patterns (see Ch. 5, 6) both from native and borrowed morphemes. For instance, the adjective 'beautiful' built from the French borrowed root and the native suffix belongs to the English proper element. It is natural, that the quantity of such words is immense.




I. Consider your answers to the following.


1. How can you account for the fact that English vocabulary contains such an immense number of words of foreign origin?

2. What is the earliest group of English borrowings? Date it.

3. What Celtic borrowings are there in English? Date them.

4. Which words were introduced into English vocabulary during the period of Christianization?

5. What are the characteristic features of Scandinavian borrowings?

6. When and under what circumstances did England become a bilingual country? What imprint features were left in English vocabulary by this period?

7. What are the characteristic features of words borrowed into English during the Renaissance?

8. What suffixes and prefixes can help you to recognize words of Latin and French origin?

9. What is meant by the native element of English vocabulary?


II. Subdivide all the following words of native origin into:

a) Indo-european, b) Germanic, c) English proper.


Daughter, woman, room, land, cow, moon, sea, red, spring, three, I, lady, always, goose, bear, fox, lord, tree, nose, birch, grey, old, glad, daisy, heart, hand, night» to eat, to see, to make.


III. Read the following jokes. Explain the etymology of the italicized words. If necessary consult a dictionary.1


1. He dropped around to the girl's house and as he ran up the steps he was confronted by her little brother.


"Hi, Billy."

"Hi," said the brat.

"Is your sister expecting me?"


"How do you know that?"

"She's gone out."


2. A man was at a theatre. He was sitting behind two women whose continuous chatter became more than he could bear. Leaning forward, he tapped one of them on the shoulder.

"Pardon me, madam," he said, "but I can't hear".

"You are not supposed to — this is a private conversation," she hit back.


3. Sonny: Father, what do they make asphalt roads of?

Father: That makes a thousand question you've asked today. Do give me a little peace. What do you think would happen if I had asked my father so many questions?

Sonny: You might have learnt how to answer some of mine.


IV. Identify the period of the following Latin borrowings; point out the structural and semantic peculiarities of the words from each period.


Wall, cheese, intelligent, candle, major, moderate, priest, school, street, cherry, music, phenomenon, nun, kitchen, plum, pear, pepper, datum, cup, status, wine, philosophy, method.


V. In the following sentences find examples of Latin borrowings; identify the period of borrowings.


1. The garden here consisted of a long smooth lawn with two rows of cherry trees planted in the grass. 2. They set to pork-pies, cold potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, cold bacon, ham, crabs, cheese, butter, gooseberry-tarts, cherry-tarts, bread, more sausages and yet again pork-pies. 3. Instead of commendation, all we got was a tirade about the condition of the mackintosh sheets which Matron had said were a disgrace both to the hospital and the nursing profession. 4. A cold wind knifing through downtown streets penetrated the thin coat she had on. 5. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. 6. It was the money, of course; money which did strange things to human beings, making them greedy, panicked, at times sub-human. 7. On the morning of burial — taking no chances — an archbishop, a bishop and a monsignor concelebrated a Mass of the Resurrection. A full choir intoned responses to prayers with reassuring volume. Within the cathedral which was filled, a section near the altar had been reserved for Rosselli relatives and friends. 8. The room was full of young men, all talking at once and drinking cups of tea. 9. I made way to the kitchen and tried the kitchen door which gave on to the fire-escape. 10. "Lewis, dear," Edwina said, "could you interrupt your speech and pour more wine?" 11. All Anna's life worked to schedule; like a nun, she would have been lost without her watch.


VI. Study the map of Great Britain and write out the games of the cities and towns ending in: a) caster (chester)1 b) wick, thorpe, by.2


VII. Study the map of Great Britain and find the names of places, rivers and hills of Celtic origin.


VIII. In the sentences given below find the examples of Scandinavian borrowings. How can the Scandinavian borrowings be identified?


1. He went on to say that he was sorry to hear that I had been ill. 2. She was wearing a long blue skirt and a white blouse. 3. Two eyes — eyes like winter windows, glared at him with ruthless impersonality. 4. The sun was high, the sky unclouded, the air warm with a dry fresh breeze. 5. If Eastin were right, Wainwright reasoned, the presence of the husband could tie in with Wainwright's own theory of an outside accomplice. 6. It's not such a bad thing to be unsure sometimes. It takes us away from rigid thinking.


IX. Read the following jokes and identify the Scandinavian borrowings.


1. "Very sorry, Mr. Brown, but the coffee is exhausted," the landlady announced.

"Not at all surprised," came back Mr. Brown. "I've seen it growing weaker and weaker every morning."


2. Small boy: I say, dad, teacher said this morning that the law of gravity kept us on the earth. Is that right?

Father: Yes, my boy, that's correct.

Small boy: Well, how did we get on before the law was passed?


3. "I want a man to do odd jobs about the house, run errands, one who never answers back and is always ready to do my bidding," explained a lady to an applicant for a post in the household.

"You're looking for a husband, ma'am, not a servant," said the seeker for work.


X. Copy out the examples of Norman and Parisian borrowings from the following passage. Describe the structural peculiarities of these words.


1. It was while they were having coffee that a waitress brought a message to their table. 2.1 knew nothing about the film world and imagined it to be a continuous ferment of personal intrigue. 3. The masseur and majordomo quietly disappeared. Replacing them like or; a more character emerging on stage was a chef, a pale, worried pencil of a man. 4. A limousine and chauffeur, available at any time from the bank's pool of cars, were perquisites of the executive vice-president's job, and Alex enjoyed them. 5. He would have dinner quickly and then get down to work. But as he opened the door he smelt Eau-de-Cologne and there was Ruth in a chair b;/ the grate. 6. His bandaged head was silhouetted in the light from the little window. 7. "I don't see the matter," said Steven, helping himself to more mayonnaise. 8. Apart from being an unforgivable break of etiquette, you only make yourself extremely ridiculous. 9. However, this John Davenant evidently knew more about the army and commerce than either of them. 10. At last I began to want my breakfast. I began walking in the direction of Madge's hotel and set down en route at a cafe' not far from the Opera.


XI. Read the following extract. Which of the italicized borrowings came from Latin and which from French?


Connoisseurs of the song will be familiar with the name of Anna Quentin, distinguished blues singer and versatile vocalist. Miss Quentin's admirers, who have been regretting her recent retirement from the limelight, will hear with mixed feelings the report that she is bound to Hollywood. Miss Quentin, leaving for a short stay in Paris, refused either to confirm or to deny a rumour that she had signed a long-term contract for work in America.


XII. Explain the etymology of the following words.


Sputnik, kindergarten, opera, piano, potato, tomato, droshky, czar, violin, coffee, cocoa, colonel, alarm, cargo, blitzkrieg, steppe, komsomol, banana, balalaika.


XIII. Think of 10—15 examples of Russian borrowings in English and English borrowings in Russian.


XIV. Read the following text. Identify the etymology of as many words as you can.


The Roman Occupation

For some reason the Romans neglected to overrun the country with fire and sword, though they had both of these; in fact after the Conquest they did not mingle with the Britons at all but lived a semi-detached life in villas. They occupied their time for two or three hundred years in building Roman roads and having Roman Baths, this was called the Roman Occupation, and gave rise to the memorable Roman law, 'He who baths first baths fast', which was a good thing and still is. The Roman roads ran absolutely straight in all the directions and all led to Rome. The Romans also built towns wherever they were wanted, and, in addition, a wall between England and Scotland to keep out the savage Picts and Scots.

(From 1066 and All That by C. W. Sellar, R. J. Yeatman)


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