Etymological survey of Old English vocabulary

8 August 2016

Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, sometime after the Norman invasion. Examination of the origin of words is of great interest in establishing the interrelations between languages and linguistic groups. Word etymology throws light on the history of the speaking community and on its contacts with other peoples. The Old English language, as is believed by many scholars, was formed during the period from the 5th century to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

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However, some of the scientists suppose that its beginning can be only taken as the 7th century when the first written evidence appeared. The object of our study is the vocabulary of the Old English language. The aims of this work are: 1. To learn the general overview of the Old English Vocabulary; 2. To explore Latin, Celtic, Norse influence on Old English; 3. To understand the process of word-formation. 1. History Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southern and eastern Scotland, more specifically in the England Old Period, between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon. It is a West Germanic language closely related to Old Frisian and Old Saxon. Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin. In most respects, including its grammar, it was much closer to modern German and Icelandic than to modern English.

It was fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), three grammatical numbers (singular, plural, and dual) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The dual forms occurred in the first and second persons only and referred to groups of two. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number. Nouns came in numerous declensions (with deep parallels in Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit).

Verbs came in nine main conjugations (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six “tenses” – really tense/aspect combinations – of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic). Gender in nouns was grammatical, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English.

That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, seo sunne (the Sun) was feminine, se mona (the Moon) was masculine, and ? at wif “the woman/wife” was neuter. (Compare German cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib. ) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted. From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic group of languages.

The Old English vocabulary was almost purely Germanic, except for a small number of borrowings, it consisted of native words inherited from PG or formed from native roots and affixes. 2. Native words Native Old English words can be subdivided into a number of etymological layers from different historical periods. The three main layers in the native OE words are: a) common Indo-European words; b) common Germanic words; c) specifically OE words. Words belonging to the common IE layer constitute the oldest part of the OE vocabulary.

Among these words we find names of some natural phenomena, plants and animals, agricultural terms, names of parts of the human body, terms of kinship, etc. ; this layer includes personal and demonstrative pronouns and most numerals. Verbs belonging to this layer denote the basic activities of man; adjectives indicate the most essential qualities. The common Germanic layer includes words which are shared by most Germanic languages, but do not occur outside the group. Being specifically Germanic, these words constitute an important distinctive mark of the Germanic languages at the lexical level.

This layer is certainly smaller than the layer of common IE words. Semantically these words are connected with nature, with the sea and everyday life. The third etymological layer of native words can be defined as specifically OE, that is words which do not occur in other Germanic or non-Germanic languages. These words are few, if we include here only the words whose roots have not been found outside English: OE clipian ‘call’, OE brid (NE bird) and several others. However, they are far more numerous if we include in this layer OE compounds and derived words formed from Germanic roots in England, e. g. OE wifman or wimman (NE woman) consists of two roots which occurred as separate words in other OG languages, but formed a compound only in OE. 3. Influence of other languages In the course of the Early Middle Ages, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen or “Danes” who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England, which came to be known as the Danelaw.

Latin influence A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca of Europe. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain.

The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details. The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066, when an enormous number of Norman (Old French) words began to influence the language. Most of these Oil language words were themselves derived from Old French and ultimately from classical Latin, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman form.

The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English. One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. [citation needed] This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet (also known as futhorc or fu? orc) to the Latin alphabet, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded.

The “silent” letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word’s spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer’s regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works.

Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond. 3. 2 Norse influence The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the lexicon of the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words. 3. 3 Celtic influence

Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in opposition to the Germanic languages.

Word-building means in Old English Word Structure According to their morphological structure OE words fell into three main types: 1) simple words (“root-words”) containing a root-morpheme and no derivational affixes, e. g. land. 2) derived words consisting of one root-morpheme and one or more affixes, e. g. be-зinnan. 3) compound words, whose stems were made up of more than one root-morpheme, e. g. mann-cynn. 5. Ways of word-formation OE employed two ways of word-formation: *derivation * word-composition Word-derivation

Derived words in OE were built with the help of: * affixes: prefixes and suffixes (Etymologically OE suffixes can be traced to several sources: old stem-suffixes, which had lost their productivity, but could still be distinguished in some words as dead or non-productive suffixes; derivational suffixes proper inherited from PIE and PG; new suffixes which developed from root-morphemes) *sound interchanges (The earliest source of root-vowel interchanges employed in OE word-building was ablaut or vowel gradation inherited from PG and IE.

Ablaut was used in OE as a distinctive feature between verbs and nouns and also between verbs derived from a single root). *word stress (The role of word accentuation in OE word-building was not great. Like sound interchanges, the shifting of word stress helped to differentiate between some parts of speech being used together with other means). Word-composition Word-composition was a highly productive way of developing the vocabulary in OE. Word-composition in OE was more productive in nominal parts of speech than in verbs. The pattern “noun plus noun” was probably the most efficient type of all: mann-cynn (NE mankind).

Compound nouns with adjective-stems as the first components were less productive, e. g. wid-s? ‘ocean’ (wide sea). Compound adjectives were formed by joining a noun-stem to an adjective: dom-зeorn (“eager for glory”). The most peculiar pattern of compound adjectives was the so-called “bahuvruhi type” – adjective plus noun stem as the second component of an adjective, e. g. mild-heort ‘merciful’. Conclusion This library research paper has given an account of some basic information about etymological survey of Old English vocabulary.

The main issues which occur are connected firstly, with the history of Old English and then in the work is considered the classification of OE vocabulary, that gives us information about native words and borrowing. And secondly, as a result, we understand how much of the vocabulary and what features have appeared as a consequence of the influence of the Old English language. Other paragraphs are related to the process of word formation, which helps us to realize the structure of words in old English and helps to get enough understanding of the language of that period.

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