Dominic de Neuvillewww.transitweb.chEtymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages along with the long written history,etymologists make use of texts in these languages andtexts regarding the languages to collect knowledgeabout how words were used during earlier periods oftheir history and when they entered the languages inquestion. Etymologists also apply the methods ofcomparative linguistics to reconstruct informationabout languages that are too old for any directinformation to be available.
By analyzing related languages with a technique knownas the comparative method, linguists may makeinferences about their shared parent language and itsparticular vocabulary. In this way, word roots have beenfound that can be traced all the way back to the originof, for instance, the Indo-European language family.Even though etymological research originally grew fromthe philological tradition, currently much etymologicalresearch is done on language families where little or noearly documentation is available, such as Uralic andAustronesian.
MethodsEtymologists apply a number of methods to study theorigins of words, some of which are:• Philological research. Changes in the form and meaning of the word can be traced with the aid of older texts, if such are available.• Making use of dialectological data. The form or meaning of the word might show variations between dialects, which may yield clues about its earlier history.• The comparative method. By a systematic comparison of related languages, etymologists may often be able to detect which words derive from their common ancestor language and which were instead later borrowed from another language.
The study of semantic change. Etymologists must oftenmake hypotheses about changes in the meaning ofparticular words. Such hypotheses are tested againstthe general knowledge of semantic shifts. For example,the assumption of a particular change of meaning maybe substantiated by showing that the same type ofchange has occurred in other languages as well.
Types of word originsEtymological theory recognizes that words originatethrough a limited number of basic mechanisms, the mostimportant of which are borrowing (i.e., the adoption of"loanwords" from other languages); word formation such asderivation and compounding; and onomatopoeia andsound symbolism, (i.e., the creation of imitative words suchas "click").While the origin of newly emerged words is often moreor less transparent, it tends to become obscuredthrough time due to sound change or semantic change.Due to sound change, it is not readily obvious that theEnglish word set is related to the word sit (the former isoriginally a causative formation of the latter).
It is even less obvious that bless is related to blood (the former was originally a derivative with the meaning "to mark with blood"). Semantic change may also occur. For example, the English word bead originally meant "prayer". It acquired its modern meaning through the practice of counting the recitation of prayers by using beads.
English languageMain article: History of the English languageEnglish derives from Old English (sometimes referred to asAnglo-Saxon), a West Germanic variety, although its currentvocabulary includes words from many languages. The OldEnglish roots may be seen in the similarity of numbers in Englishand German, particularlyseven/sieben, eight/acht, nine/neun, and ten/zehn. Pronounsare also cognate: I/mine/me ich/mein/mich; thou/thine/theeand du/dein/dich; we/wir us/uns; she/sie. However, languagechange has eroded many grammatical elements, such as thenoun case system, which is greatly simplified in modernEnglish, and certain elements of vocabulary, some of which areborrowed from French. Although many of the words in theEnglish lexicon come from Romance languages, most of thecommon words used in English are of Germanic origin.
When the Normans conquered England in 1066 (seeNorman Conquest), they brought their Normanlanguage with them. During the Anglo-Normanperiod, which united insular and continentalterritories, the ruling class spoke Anglo-Norman, whilethe peasants spoke the vernacular English of the time.Anglo-Norman was the conduit for the introduction ofFrench into England, aided by the circulation of Languedoïl literature from France. This led to many pairedwords of French and English origin.
For example, beef is related, through borrowing, tomodern French bœuf, veal to veau, pork to porc, andpoultry to poulet. All these words, French and English,refer to the meat rather than to the animal. Words thatrefer to farm animals, on the other hand, tend to becognates of words in other Germanic languages. Forexample swine/Schwein, cow/Kuh, calf/Kalb, andsheep/Schaf. The variant usage has been explained bythe proposition that it was the Norman rulers whomostly ate meat (an expensive commodity) and theAnglo-Saxons who farmed the animals. Thisexplanation has passed into common folklore but hasbeen disputed.
English has proven accommodating to words frommany languages, as described in the followingexamples. Scientific terminology relies heavily onwords of Latin and Greek origin. Spanish hascontributed many words, particularly in thesouthwestern United States. Examples includebuckaroo from vaquero or "cowboy"; alligator from ellagarto or "lizard"; rodeo and savvy; states names suchas Colorado and Florida. Cuddle, eerie, and greed comefrom Scots; albino, palaver, lingo, verandah, andcoconut from Portuguese; diva, primadonna, pasta, pizza, paparazzi, and umbrella fromItalian;adobe, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, apricot, assassin, caliber, cotton, hazard, jacket, jar, julep, mosque, Muslim, orange, safari, sofa, and zero from Arabic; honcho,
sushi, and tsunami from Japanese; dim sum, gungho, kowtow, kumquat, ketchup, and typhoon fromCantonese; behemoth, hallelujah, Satan, jubilee, andrabbi from Hebrew; taiga, sable, and sputnik fromRussian; galore, whiskey, phoney, trousers, and Toryfrom Irish; brahman, guru, karma, and pandit fromSanskrit; kampong and amok from Malay; smorgasbordand ombudsman from Swedish, Danish, Norwegian;sauna from Finnish; and boondocks from the Tagalogword, bundok. (See also "loanword.")Dominic de Neuvillewww.transitweb.ch