The etymology of english words (Этимология английских слов)


The Etymology of English Words


Survey of certain historical facts
Structural elements of borrowings
Why Are Words Borrowed?
Do Borrowed Words Change or
do They Remain the Same?
International Words
Etymological Doublets
Are Etymological and Stylistic Characteristics of Words Interrelated?

Survey of certain historical facts
It is true that English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive among 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.
The first century B. C. Most of the territory now known to us as Europe was occupied by the Roman Em­pire. Among the inhabitants of the Europe are Ger­manic tribes. Theirs stage of devel­opment was rather primitive, especially if compared with the high civiliza­tion of Rome. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know almost nothing about land cultiva­tion. 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 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 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 num­ber of new words and were thus enriched.
Latin words became the earliest group of borrow­ings[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 An­gles, 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 defend­ed 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 riv­ers, hills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but the names of many parts 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 is «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 borrowings 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).
It was quite natural that education­al 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 inva­sions. 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 recogniz­able 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» assimi­lated 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 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.
Terms of everyday life table, plate, 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 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, meth­od, music). Quite a number of words were bor­rowed 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. There­fore, it was only natural that new words also entered the English vocabulary from other European languag­es. The most significant were French borrow­ings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are known as Parisian borrowings. Exam­ples 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, colo­nel.
The historical survey above shows the ways in which English vocabulary developed and of the major events through which it acquired its vast modern re­sources. Summary is shown in the table 1.
The second column of the table contains more groups, but it also implies a great 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. It means that the native element[5] doesn’t pre­vail. This anomaly is explained by the country’s event­ful history and by its many international contacts.
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 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 and it remains unaffected by foreign influence.
The Etymological Structure[6] of English Vocabulary
table 1

The native element
The borrowed element

1.Indo-European element
I. Celtic (5th – 6th c.A.D.).

2.Germanic element
II. Latin

1st group 1st c.B.C.

2st group 7th c.A.C.

3st group the Renaissance period

3.English Proper element (no earlier than 5th c.A.D.)
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 first column of the table consists of three groups, only the third being dated the words of this group appeared in the English vocabulary in the 5th century or later, that is, after the Germanic tribes migrated to the British Isles. 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. The words of this group denote ele­mentary concepts without which no human communi­cation would be possible. The following groups can be identified.
1. Family relations father, mother, brother, son, daughter.
2. Parts of the human body foot, nose, lip, heart.
3. Animals cow, swine, goose.
4. Plants tree, birch, corn.
5. Time of day day, night.
6. Heavenly bodies sun, moon, star.
7. Numerous adjectives red, new, glad, sad.
8. The numerals from one to a hundred.
9. Pronouns — personal (except “they” which is a Scandinavian borrowing) and demonstrative.
10. Numerous verbs be, stand, sit, eat, know.
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.
1. Parts of the human body head, hand, arm, finger, bone.
2. Animals bear, fox, calf.
3. Plants oak, fir, grass.
4. Natural phenomena rain, frost.
5. Seasons of the year winter, spring, summer[7].
6. Landscape features sea, land.
7. Human dwellings and furniture house, room, bench.
8. Sea-going vessels boat, ship.
9. Adjectives green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, old, good.
10. Verbs see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink.
The English proper ele­ment is opposed to the first two groups. For not only it can be approximately dated, but these words have another distinctive feature they are specifically English have no cognates[8] 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.
Stand Germ. – stehen, Lat. — stare, R. – стоять.
Here are some examples of English proper words bird, boy, girl, lord, lady, woman, daisy, always.
Structural elements of borrowings
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. We can also recognize words of Latin and French origin by certain suffixes, prefixes or endings. Here are some typical and frequent structural elements of Latin and French borrowings
Latin affixes of nouns
The suffix (-ion) legion, opinion, etc.; the suffix (-tion) relation, temptation, etc.
Latin affixes of verbs
The suffix (-ate) appreciate, create, congratulate, etc.; the suffix (-ute) attribute, distribute, etc.; the remnant[9] suffix (-ct) act, collect, conduct, etc.; the prefix (dis-) disable, disagree, etc.
Latin affixes of adjectives
The suffix (-able) detestable, curable, etc.; the suffix (-ate) accurate, graduate, etc.; the suffix (-ant) constant, important, etc.; the suffix (-ent) absent, evident, etc.; the suffix (-or) major, senior, etc.; the suffix (-al) final, maternal, etc.; the suffix (-ar) solar, familiar, etc.
French affixes of nouns
The suffix (-ance) endurance, hindrance, etc.; the suffix (-ence) consequence, patience, etc.; the suffix (-ment) appointment, development, etc.; the suffix (-age) courage, marriage, village, etc.; the suffix (-ess) actress, adventuress, etc.
French affixes of verbs
The prefix (en-) enable, enact, enslave, etc.
French affixes of adjectives
The suffix (-ous) curious, dangerous, etc.
It’s important to note that later formations derived from native roots borrowed Latin and French affixes (e.g. eatable, lovable).
Why Are Words Borrowed?
Sometimes it is done to fill a gap in vocabulary. When the Saxons borrowed Latin words for «butter», «plum», «beet», they did it because their own vocabu­laries lacked words for these new objects. For the same reason the words “potato” and “tomato” were borrowed by English from Spanish when these vegetables were first brought to England by the Spaniards.
But there is also a great number of words which are borrowed for other reasons. There may be a word (or even several words) which expresses some particular concept, so that there is no gap in the vocabulary and there does not seem to be any need for borrowing. However a word is borrowed because it supplies a new shade of meaning or a different emotional colouring though it represents the same concept. This type of borrow­ing enlarges groups of synonyms and provides to enrich the expressive resources of the vocabulary. That is how the Latin “cordial” was added to the native “friendly”, the French “desire” to “wish”, the Latin “admire” and the French “adore” to “like” and “love”.
The historical circumstances stimulate the borrowing process. Each time two nations come into close contact. The nature of the contact may be different. It may be wars, invasions or conquests when foreign words are imposed upon the conquered nation. There are also periods of peace when the process of borrowing is due to trade and international cultural relations.
Do Borrowed Words Change or
do They Remain the Same?
When words migrate from one language into another they ad­just themselves to their new environment and get adapted to the norms of the recipient language. They undergo certain changes which gradually erase their foreign features, and, finally, they are assimilated. Sometimes the process of assimilation develops to the point when the foreign origin of a word is quite unrec­ognizable. It is difficult to believe now that such words as “dinner”, “cat”, “take”, “cup” are not English by origin. Others, though well assimilated, still bear traces of their foreign background. “Distance” and “development”, for instance, are identified as borrowings by their French suffixes, “skin” and “sky” by the Scandinavian ini­tial (-sk), “police” and “regime” by the French stress on the last syllable.
Borrowed words are adjusted in the three main areas of the new language system the phonetic, the grammatical and the semantic.
The lasting nature of phonetic adaptation is best shown by comparing Norman French borrowings to later (Parisian) ones. The Norman borrowings have for a long time been fully adapted to the phonetic system of the English language such words as “table”, “plate”, “courage”, “chivalry” bear no phonetic traces of their French origin. Some of the later (Parisian) borrowings, even the ones borrowed as early as the 15th century, still sound surpris­ingly French “regime”, “valise”, “matinee”, “cafe”, “ballet”. In these cases phonetic adaptation is not completed.
Grammatical adaptation consists in a complete change of the former paradigm of the borrowed word. If it is a noun, it is certain to adopt, sooner or later, a new system of declension; if it is a verb, it will be conjugated according to the rules of the recipient language. Yet, this is also a lasting process. The Russian noun “пальто” was borrowed from French early in the 19th century and has not yet acquired the Rus­sian system of declension. The same can be said about such English Renaissance borrowings as “datum” (pl. da­ta), “phenomenon” (pl. phenomena), “criterion” (pl. crite­ria) whereas earlier Latin borrowings such as “cup”, “plum”, “street”, “wall” were fully adapted to the grammati­cal system of the language long ago.
By semantic adaptation is meant adjustment to the system of meanings of the vocabulary. Sometimes a word may be borrowed «blindly» for no obvious reason they are not want­ed because there is no gap in the vocabulary nor in the group of synonyms which it could fill. Quite a number of such «accidental» borrowings are very soon rejected by the vocabulary and forgotten. But some “blindly” borrowed words managed to estab­lish itself due to the pro­cess of semantic adaptation. The adjective “large”, for in­stance, was borrowed from French in the meaning of «wide». It was not actually wanted, because it fully co­incided with the English adjective “wide” without adding any new shades or aspects to its meaning. This could have led to its rejection. Yet, “large” managed to establish itself very firmly in the English vocabulary by se­mantic adjustment. It entered another synonymic group with .the general meaning of “big in size”. Still bearing some features of its former meaning it is successfully competing with “big” having approached it very closely, both in fre­quency and meaning.
International Words
It is often the case that a word is borrowed by several languages, not just by one. Such words usually convey concepts which are significant in the field of com­munication. Many of them are of Latin and Greek origin.
Most names of sciences are international (e. g. philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, linguistics, lexicology). There are also numerous terms of art in this group music, theatre, drama, tragedy, comedy, artist, primadonna, etc.; and the sports terms football, volley-ball, baseball, hockey, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, etc. It is quite natural that political terms frequently oc­cur in the international group of borrowings politics, policy, revolution, progress, democracy, communism, anti-militarism. 20th century scientific and technological advances brought a great number of new international words atomic, antibiotic, radio, television, sputnik (a Russian borrowing). Fruits and foodstuffs imported from exotic coun­tries often transport their names too and become inter­national coffee, cocoa, chocolate, banana, mango, avocado, grapefruit.
The similarity of such words as the English “son”, the German “Sohn” and the Russian “сын” should not lead one to the quite false conclusion that they are international words. They represent the Indo-European group of the native element in each respec­tive language and are cognates, i. e. words of the same etymological root, and not borrowings.
Etymological Doublets
The words originating from the same etymological source, but differing in phonemic shape and in meaning are called etymological doublets.
They may enter the vocabulary by different routes. Some of these pairs consist of a native word and a borrowed word “shrew”, n. (E.) – “screw”, n. (Sc.). Others are represented by two borrowings from dif­ferent languages “canal” (Lat.) — “channel” (Fr.), “captain” (Lat.) — “chieftain” (Fr.). Still others were borrowed from the same language twice, but in different periods “travel” (Norm. Fr.) — “tra­vail» (Par. Fr.), “cavalry” (Norm. Fr.) — “chivalry” (Par. Fr.), “gaol” (Norm. Fr.) — “jail” (Par. Fr.).
A doublet may also consist of a shortened word and the one from which it was derived “history” — “story”, “fantasy” — “fancy”, “defence” — “fence”, “shadow” — “shade”.
Etymological triplets (i. e. groups of three words of common root) occur rarer, but here are at least two ex­amples “hospital” (Lat.) — “hostel” (Norm. Fr.) — “hotel” (Par. Fr.), “to capture” (Lat.) — “to catch” (Norm. Fr.) — “to chase” (Par. Fr.).
By translation-loans we indicate borrowings of a special kind. They are not taken into the vocabulary of another language more or less in the same phonemic shape in which they have been functioning in their own lan­guage, but undergo the process of translation. It is quite obvious that it is only compound words (i. e. words of two or more stems). Each stem was translated separate­ly “masterpiece” (from Germ. “Meisterstuck”), “wonder child” (from Germ. “Wunderkind”), ”first dancer” (from Ital. “prima-ballerina”).
Are Etymological and Stylistic Characteristics
of Words Interrelated?
The answer must be affirma­tive. Among learned words and terminology the for­eign element dominates the native.
It also seems that the whole opposition of «formal versus informal» is based on the deeper underlying opposition of «bor­rowed versus native», as the informal style, especial­ly slang and dialect, abounds in native words even though it is possible to quote numerous exceptions.
In point of comparing the expressive and stylistic value of the French and the English words the French ones are usually more formal, more refined, and less emotional. “to begin” – “to commence”, “to wish” — “to desire”, “hap­piness» — “felicity”.
English words are much warmer than their Latin synonyms, they don’t sound cold and dry “motherly” — “maternal”, “fatherly” — “paternal”, “childish” — “infan­tile», “daughterly” — “filial”, etc.

1. Г.Б.Антрушина, О.В.Афанасьева. Лексикология английского языка. — М. Изд. Дрофа. 1999
2. F.R.Palmer. Semantics. A new outline. — M. V.Sh. 1982

[1] Roman invasion in Britain began in 43 A.D. Romans had held on the country for 400 years (till 407 A.D.).

[2] By a borrowing or loan-word we mean a word which came into the vocabulary of one language from another and was assimilated by the new language.

[3] Sc. “hus+bondi” means «inhabitant of the house».

[4] Sc. “vindauga” means «the eye of the wind».

[5] By the native element we mean words which were not borrowed from other languages but represent the original stock of this particular language.

[6] By etymology of words is understood their origin.

[7] “Autumn” is a French borrowing.

[8] Cognates — words of the same etymological root, of com­mon origin.

[9] By remnant suffixes are meant the ones that are only partially preserved in the structure of the word Lat. (-ctus) >Lat. (-ct).

[10] The term “loan-word” is equivalent to “borrowing”.