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Etymology of English Words. Native and Borrowed Words in English

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Lecture III

Etymology is a branch of lexicology studying the origin of words. Etymologically, the English vocabulary is divided into native and loan words, or borrowed words. A native word is a word which belongs to the original English word stock and is known from the earliest available manuscripts of the Old English period. A borrowed word is a word taken over from another language and modified according to the standards of the English language.

Native words are subdivided into two groups:

1) words of the Common Indo-European word stock

2) words of the Common Germanic origin

Words of the Indo-European stock have cognates (parallels) in different Indo-European languages: Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Polish, Russian and others:

father (OE fæder, Gothic fadar, Swedish fader, German Vater, Greek patér, Latin páter, French pere, Persian pedær, Sanscrit pitr)

Words of the Common Germanic stock have cognates only in the Germanic group: in German, Norwegian, Dutch, Icelandic, etc.:

to sing (OE singan, Gothic siggwan, German singen)

Numerically the Germanic group is larger. Thematically these two groups do not differ very much. Words of both groups denote parts of the human body, animals, plants, phenomena of nature, physical properties, basic actions, etc. Terms of kinship, the most frequent verbs and the majority of numerals belong to the Common Indo-European word stock. Many adverbs and pronouns are of Germanic origin.

Native words constitute about 25 percent of the English vocabulary, but they make up 80 percent of the 500 most frequent words. Almost all native words belong to very important semantic groups. They include most of the auxiliary and modal verbs, pronouns, prepositions, numerals, conjunctions, articles. Besides high frequency value words of the native word stock are characterised by the following features:

· simple structure (they are often monosyllabic)

· developed polysemy

· great word-building power

· an ability to enter a great number of phraseological units

· a wide range of lexical and grammatical valency

· stability

Borrowings may be direct and indirect (via an intermediary language). The main intermediary languages for English are Latin and French. So it is necessary to distinguish between the “sourse of borrowing” and “origin of borrowing” – the language from which the word is taken and the language to which it may be traced (tablela table (Fr) ← tabula (Lat)).

There are two channels of borrowing: oral and written. Oral borrowings are the result of live communication of different nations. Written borrowings are words borrowed from foreign texts when they are translated into the target [ta:git] ]language.

Alongside borrowings proper, there are translation and semantic loans (кальки). Translation loans are words and word combinations formed from native elements according to foreign patterns, by way of literal morpheme-for-morpheme or word-for-word translation (wonderchildWunderkind (Germ), it goes without sayingcela va sans dire (Fr)). The term “semantic loan” denotes the process when native words develop new meanings under the influence of foreign languages (in OE the word bread meant “a piece” ; under the influence of the Scandinavian brand it acquired its modern meaning).

About 75 percent of the English vocabulary are borrowed words. Words were borrowed, first of all, from Latin, Scandinavian and French.

There are three layers of Latin borrowings in English.

The first layer goes back to the time of the Roman Conquest of the British Isles, the 5th century AD (нашей эры (ср.: BC)). The Romans brought with them some names of objects that were new to the population of Britain: names of food (wine, butter, cheese, pepper, pear, plum, etc.), words, naming objects of material culture such as household articles (kitchen, kettle, cup, dish), measures (pound, inch), civil and military constructions (mill, street, camp, port). Some Latin words of the last thematic group are retained in place names. Thus, such Latin words as colonia and castra are reflected in the following names: Lincoln, Manchester, Glouster, Leicester [lestə]. The borrowings of the first layer are known as spoken Latin borrowings.

The second layer of Latin borrowings is connected with Christianity which was introduced by the Latin clergy at the end of the 6th century AD. Latin was the language of the Catholic Church and contained a great number of words connected with religion: abbot, altar, angel, anthem, candle, canon, deacon, devil, martyr, mass, nun, pope, priest, psalm, rule, shrine, temple. Some of these words are actually Greek by their origin, but they came to English through the medium of Latin. Thus, the word devil, came from Greek and was latinized (Old English dēofol, from Latin diabolus , from Greek diabolos “enemy, accuser, slanderer”, from diaballein, literally: “to throw across”, hence, “to slander”). The word church also came through Latin, though, like many of the early Christian terms in Latin, it is of Greek origin (kuriakon “Lord’s house”).

Many Latin borrowings were related to education as churches and monasteries were the centre of education: school (Gk), verse, master, circle, grammatical, meter, etc. The second layer of Latin borrowings is known as Church Latin borrowings.

The third layer of Latin borrowings dates back to the 14th – 16th centuries AD, the Renaissance period. A lot of words with abstract meaning and of scientific character appeared in the English language. They were borrowed from written sourses and preserved their Latin form: accent, idea, effect, fate, history, memory, to adopt, to celebrate, to describe, to collect, to decorate, absent, accurate, direct, equal, fatal, future, humane, literary, neutral, solar, etc. These are the Renaissance Latin borrowings.

In modern times Latin continues to influence English in the sphere of scientific, technical, political and art terminology. New terms are often built on the basis of Latin morphemes: humanoid, multinational, microwave, transatlantic, etc. The fourth layer of Latin borrowings is never ending.

Latin borrowings have specific features by which they can be recognized. To Latin borrowings belong: 1) verbs ending in –ate, derived from Latin participles in –atum (narrate, separate, etc.), 2) verbs in –ute, derived from Latin participles in –utum (constitute, execute, prosecute, etc.), 3) verbs and verbal nouns, derived from Latin infinitival and participial forms (permit/permission, admit/admission, compel/compulsion, reduce/reduction, etc.), 4) adjectives in –ant, –ent (reluctunt, evident, obidient, etc.), 5) adjectives in –ior, formed from Latin stems of the comparative degree (superior, inferior, major, minor, senior, junior),6) words with x, pronounced [gz] (exam, exert), 7) words with beginning with v (they are either French or Latin, but never native: van, vocabulary.

As for Greek borrowings, the majority of them came into English through Latin. Many Greek words were borrowed in the epoch of the Renaissance. They are mostly bookish words such as: athlete, lexicon, idiom, scene, catastrophe, catalogue, myth, rhyme, theatre, drama, tragedy, geography, psychology, philosophy. Of Greek origin are also such indispensable personal names as Alexander, Catharine, Christopher, Dorothea, Eugene, George, Helen, Irene, Margaret, Myron, Nicholas, Peter, Philip, Sophia, Stephen, Theodore.

The peculiarities of Greek borrowings are as follows: 1) the sound [k] is rendered through the letter combination ch (Christ, character), 2) the letter p is mute before s (psychic) and n (pneumonia), 3) the sound [f] is rendered in writing through ph (alphabet, emphasis), 4) the sound [r] – by letter combinations rh, rrh (diarrhea, rhetoric), 5) in the middle of the word, instead of i, y is written (system, sympathy), 6) the letter x is read as [z] (xenophobia, xenon, Xerox).

Nowadays Greek morphemes, like Latin ones, are used in the formation of new terms: antiglobalist, hyperactive, paralinguistic, Pan-American, etc.

The first Scandinavian words began to penetrate into the English vocabulary at the beginning of our era during the occasional raids of the vikings. A great number of Scandinavian borrowings pertain to the period which lasted from the end of the 8th century to the middle of the 11th century. The languages and the cultures of the vikings and the Britons did not differ much which made the borrowing process easy. Many Scandinavian words used in everyday life entered the English language: egg, husband, root, wing, anger, weak, loose, wrong, happy, ugly, die, cut, take, give, call, want, they, their, them, both, same, till. Some Scandinavian words eventually replaced the native ones. Thus, the pronoun they (Þa) replaced the native pronoun hi, the verb take – the verb niman. Occasionally both the English and Scandinavian words were retained with a difference in meaning or use: no/nay (отказ, отрицательный ответ), hide/skin, craft/skill, etc.

The Viking invasion left its imprint in place names. The Scandinavian element is found in place names in –by: Derby [a:], Rugby; –thorp: Althrop, –toft: Eastoft, etc.

Scandinavian borrowings can be recognized by sound combination [sk] sk/sc (sky, skill, ski, scrape, scare), [i:], [i] and [e] after k (kettle, key, kilt, kid).

The French language is probably the third largest source of borrowings in English (after Latin and Scandinavian). French borrowings are subdivided into two main layers. The first layer is connected with the Norman conquest which started at the end of the 11th century (1066). At the time of the Norman conquest common people spoke Anglo-saxon, while the government, the military, the church – and therefore education – were all dominated by the French speaking Normans. The Norman dialect of the French language penetrated into every aspect of social life.

French borrowings can be divided into several major groups:

1) religious terms: religion, clergy, paradise, prayer, saint, sacrifice, vice, virtue, preach;

2) administrative terms: state, government, parliament, nation, reign, country, power, authority, peer, baron, duke, prince;

3) legal terms: court, judge, justice, jury, plaintiff, defendant, crime, penalty, prison, accuse, marry, marriage;

4) military terms: army, war, battle, officer, enemy

5) educational terms: pupil, lesson, library, pen, pencil

6) terms of art, architecture and literature: art, literature, architecture, poet, prose, story, to paint

7) words denoting pleasures: pleasure, joy, delight, comfort, flower, leisure, sport, cards;

8) words denoting food and ways of cooking: beaf, mutton, veal, pork, bacon, sausage, biscuit, cream, sugar, fruit, grape, orange, peach, pastry, tart, jelly, mustard, vinegar, soup, boil, fry, roast, stew, dinner, supper;


Words of the second layer of French borrowings pertain to the 17th century and are known as Parisian [z] French borrowings. They are borrowings from the Parisian dialect of the French language which preserved the peculiarities of their pronunciation and spelling: machine, bourgeois, ballet, naive, fatigue, grotesque. Among them are commercial terms (capital, manufacture), political terms (capitalism, regime, police), military terms (blockade, corp, marine), terms of literature and art (critique, miniature, memoir). Many of these borrowings denoted abstract notions and were borrowed from written texts, and therefore they were not completely assimilated unlike the words of the first layer of French borrowings which were borrowed in the process of oral communication.

The specific features of early French borrowings are the letters j, g [dз] or v at the beginning of the word (the latter is also found in Latin borrowings), the signs of late French borrowings are the letter combinations and letters ch [ ], ou [u:]; ps and t at the end of the word; the sound [zh], the sound combinations [bw], [lw], [mw], [nw] and the stress falling on the last syllable.

Unassimilated French borrowings are termed gallicisms.

Celtic borrowings. Celts were the original inhabitants of the British Isles before the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes came to the Isles in the 5th century. Celts were moved to Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. Celtic borrowings were not numerous in the English language: down, cradle [ei], bard, brat, druid, bald. But Celtic elements are well preserved in place-names. The names of some British rivers contain the Celtic word uisge (вoда): Exe, Esk, Usk. It is also contained in the word whiskey, formerly meaning “the water of life”. The Celtic dun (крепость) is found in the town names Dundee, Dunbar; cum (долина) – Duncombe, Boscombe; llan (церковь) – in Llandovery, Llanely, Llangefni. London is of Celtic origin, too: llyn (река) and dun (крепость).

Some male names are of Celtic origin: Arthur (благородный), Donald (гордый вождь), Evan (молодой воин).

Late Celtic borrowings are more numerous and they came into the English language from Scottish, Irish and Welsh: clan, flannel, lock, shamrock (трилистник), slogan, Tori, whiskey. Some Celtic words came into English via French: tunnel, carry, cargo, gravel, etc.

In the 15th – 16th centuries many words were borrowed by the English language from Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian and other languages.

The process of borrowing from Italian started in the epoch of the Renaissance. Borrowings from the Italian language can be divided into several groups:

1) words from the sphere of art, (music, theatre, literature, architecture): aria, baritone, concert, opera, piano, violin, sonata [a:], tempo, scenario, fresco, studio, novel, sonnet, balcony, arcade, corridor, villa

2) military terms: alarm, cartridge, cavalery, regimen, captain, colonel, pistol, campaign, brave, ambush, attack;

3) names of food: ravioli, spaghetti, macaroni, pizza, chianti.

4) festive terms: confetti, costume, masquerade, carnival, carrousel, tarantella;

5) religious terms (Madonna, nuncio, cardinal);

6) words denoting aspects of crime: vagabond, charlatan, ruffian, bandit, assassin, contraband, vendetta, mafia, stiletto;

7) banking terms: cash, debit, credit, deposit, bank, bankrupt;


Dutch borrowings. As early as the Middle Ages there were close contacts between the British and Dutch traders, fishermen and seamen. Dutch borrowings are connected with weaving (to gloss – придавать блеск ткани, rock – прялка, spool – шпулька, stripe – лоскут ткани), seafaring and shipbuilding (deck, yacht, skipper, dock, reef), art, especially painting (sketch, landscape, easel, to etch), and everyday matters (luck, wagon, brandy, boss, booze, snatch).

Spanish and Portuguese borrowings. Early Spanish borrowings are connected with fighting for domination on the sea and in the world in general which took place in the 16th – 17th centuries: armada, galleon, grenade, escalade, etc.

A great number of Hispanic words penetrated into the English language in the 16th – 19th centuries due to the American settling of the West and contacts between Americans and speakers of Mexican Spanish: cannibal, negro, mulatto, quadroon, alligator, mosquito, ananas, cockroach, turtle, vanilla, canyon, lasso, hurricane, etc.

In dealing with Spanish borrowings we must consider not merely words of originally Spanish and Portuguese stock, but also those which the Hispanic tongues themselves borrowed first from Arabic, later from the American Indian languages with which the Portuguese navigators and the Spanish conquistadors were the first to come in contact and which they later transmitted to English. Thus, such words as canoe, hammock, coyote, poncho were passed by Spanish from the Indian languages; the words carafe, alcove, tariff, bizarre were transmitted from Arabic.

Thematically, many Hispanic borrowings are connected with national traditions and activities (rodeo, corrida, torero, picador, matador, fiesta, bolero, flamenco) social and political reality (senor, caballero, don, dona, hidalgo, infanta, junta, guerilla). They also denote phenomena and objects of everyday life: cigarette, mantilla, sombrero, guitar, machete, mustang, potato, maize, tobacco, tomato, chocolate, banana, etc.

The most widespread Portuguese borrowings are fetish, mango, verandah, cobra, Madeira.

German borrowings. The process of borrowing from German bagan in the 16th century in connection with the establishment of cultural and economic ties between England and Germany. The Germans gave the English language a number of geological terms: zinc, quarz, calcit, cobalt, wolfram, nickel. Some biological, chemical, physical and terms of other sciences were borrowed as well: dahlia, kohlrabi, plankton, alkaloid, aspirin, polymer, function, monad, satellite, etc. A great number of German borrowings are words denoting social, political and philosophical terms: objective, determinism, intuition, dialectic, transcendental, class struggle, etc. During the Second World War some words characterizing the fascist army and regime entered the English vocabulary: wehrmacht, blitzkrig, gestapo, nazi, etc. Among German borrowings are also some words pertaining to the sphere of everyday life: sauerkraut, vermouth, schnaps, poodle, marzipan, waltz, swindler, lobby, iceberg, kindergarden, rucksack.

Arabic and Persian borrowings. In the Middle Ages the Arabs had a highly developed science which influenced the development of European science. Many medical, astronomical, mathematical, botanical, chemical and other terms were borrowd by the English language: elixir, hakeem, mummy, zenith, azimuth algebra, algorithm, zero, apricot, coffee, cotton, , sandal, spinach, alchemy, alcohol, arsenic, zircon, etc. Many other borrowings are connected with Arabian reality: harem, hashish, islam [ ́izla:m], Moslem, gazelle, giraffe, zebra, baldachin, mohair, muslin, sherbet, kibitka, sirocco, typhoon, chess, kalian, bedouin, nabob, etc. To Persian borrowings are usually referred such words as divan, lemon, shah, dervish, caravansary (большая гостиница).


Russian borrowings. The process of borrowing words from Russian started in the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Early Russian borrowings reflect the peculiarities of Russian reality: tsar, kvass, vodka, telega, shuba, rouble, muzhik, steppe, taiga, samovar, troika, etc. In the 19th century words of different semantic spheres penetrate into the English vocabulary: narodnik, nihilist, Decembrist, intelligentsia, Periodic law, chernozem. After the Great October Socialist Revolution a number of Sovietisms were borrowed by English: Soviet, Bolshevik, Komsomol (rendered also as Young Communist League), kolkhoz, etc. The new epoch of borrowing from Russian began in the 90s of the 20th century and still continues: perestroyka, uskoreniye, hozraschet, etc.

With the beginning of England’s colonial expansion in the 16th – 17th centuries many words penetrate into the English vocabulary from the languages of colonial countries.

From the Indian language came bandana, calico, cashmere, chintz, bungalow, jungle, khaki, nirvana, shampoo. Malayan – bamboo, gong, orang-outang; Chinese – ginseng, silk, nankeen, kaolin, serge; Japanese – geisha, harakiri, riksha, kimono, jiu-jitsu; Australian – boomerang, kangaroo; Polynesean – tattoo, taboo; African – baobab, chimpanzee, gorilla, guinea; the languages of North-American Indians – hickory, moccasin, oppossum, racoon, skunk, toboggan, tomahawk, etc.

English also contains a number of Hebrew words coming mostly due to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament (manna, Satan [ei], amen, Messiah, pharisee, halle luja, jubilee, etc.), Polish words (polka, mazurka), Hungarian words (goulash, tokay) and words of some other languages.

Borrowed words partially or totally conform to the phonetical, graphical and morphological standards and also the semantic system of the receiving language. This process is called assimilation of borrowings. The degree of assimilation of a borrowed word depends on the way of borrowing (oral or written), the word’s importance for communication, length of period of its usage. There are three degrees of assimilation according to which borrowed words are classified into:

1) completely assimilated words;

2) partially assimilated words;

3) unassimilated words, or barbarisms.

Completely assimilated words belong to the earliest Latin borrowings (wall, cup, wine, mile, pen), Scandinavian borrowings (give, take, get, fellow), French borrowings (face, table, chair). Completely assimilated words are not felt as foreign words in the language.

Partially assimilated borrowings are divided into the following groups:

a) words not assimilated semantically – words, denoting specific features of geography and culture: toreador, taiga, steppe, valenki, shah, minaret.

b) words not assimilated grammatically, which retain their original grammatical forms: phenomenon-phenomena, crisis-crises, etc.

c) words not assimilated phonetically (borrowed after the 17th century): machine, regime, fiancé.

d) words not assimilated graphically (mainly French or Greek by origin): corps, bouquet, ballet, chemistry, pneumonia.

Barbarisms are not assimilated in any respect. They are felt as foreign and are restricted in usage: alter ego (Lat), tête-a-tête (Fr), dolche vita, ciao (It), Fürher (Germ), Hausfrau (Germ).

The English vocabulary contains a great number of etymological hybrids. Etymological hybrids are words made up of elements which originate from different languages. There are thousands of hybrid words in English which are combinations of native morphemes with morphemes of Latin, French and Greek origin. A curious example of a hybrid word is the word unmistakable: un (N) + mis (N) + take (Scand) + able (Fr).

When a borrowed word becomes firmly established in English, it can be used as a stem combined with a native affix: colourless (Fr+N), fruitless (Fr+N). All the parts of an English word may be borrowed but for its grammatical endings. Thus, the word bicycle has a Latin prefix bi, a Greek root cycle, and it takes an English inflection s in the plural: bicycles.

The English language is also rich in etymological doublets. These are two words of the same language which were derived by different ways from the same word and differ in form, meaning and usage. Thus, the Latin verb facere gave rise to two different English words: fact and feat. Disk and dish go back to the Latin discus. The main source of doublets is borrowing: one and the same word may be borrowed twice at different times, from different languages and its different forms may be borrowed.

There are 4 groups of etymological doublets in English:

1) one word is native, the other is borrowed: share-scar, shirt-skirt (N+Sc);

2) both words are borrowed from different languages: canal (Lat)-channel (Fr); senior (Lat)-sir (Fr);

3) both words are borrowed from the variants of one language or are borrowed from one language twice, at different periods of the development of the English language: gaol (prison [dzeil]) (Norman French) – jail (Parisian French), catch (N. Fr)-chase (Par. Fr);

4) the words develop from one native (Old English) word: shade (тень, полумрак)-shadow(тень предмета). They go back to the OE sceadu which had both meanings. Shade developed from the Nominative case of this word, shadow – from the Dative case (OE sceadwe).

In a group of two words one word may be a shortened form of the other: history-story, fanatic-fan, fantasy-fancy, acute-cute.

Groups of three words of common origin are called etymological triplets: hospital (Lat)-hostel (Norman French)-hotel (Parisian French).

Some words are borrowed from one language into several other languages and become international: second, minute, professor, opera, jazz, sport – and some comparatively new words – laptop, DVD disc, genetic code, bionics. Most international words were either borrowed fron Latin and Greek (text, atom, symbol, logic, museum, zone (Gr)) or made from Latin and Greek elements in some language (or languages) and then borrowed by other languages (cf.: democratic (Fr), civilization (Fr), determinism (Germ), teology (Germ), etc.).

International words are especially important in terminology of politics, art, industry, science. A great number of international words are also among the names of sports (football, volleyball, hockey), clothes or cloths (pullover, sweater, leggins, jersey, silk, etc.), food and drinks (pizza, spagetti, vodka, martini, etc.), names of exotic fruits, animals and other objects (avocado, grapefruit, mango, anaconda, orang-outang, etc.).




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