The full extent of the oe vocabulary is not known to present-day scholars. There is no doubt that many words have not been recorded in the extant texts at all

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The full extent of the OE vocabulary is not known to present-day scholars. There is no doubt that many words have not been recorded in the extant texts at all. The evidence of the records has been supplemented from other sources: from the study of the words of closely related OG languages and from later, more extensive ME texts.

Modern estimates of the total vocabulary of OE range from about 30 000 words to almost 100 000 (A. I. Smirnitsky, M. Pei), — the latter figure being probably too high and unrealistic. (Among other causes the differences in the estimates depend on the treatment of polysemy and homonymy. But even the lowest estimates show that OE had already developed about as many words as used by a present-day cultured English speaker.) Despite the gaps in the accessible data, philological studies in the last centuries have given us a fairly complete outline of the OE vocabulary as regards its etymology, word-structure, word-building and stylistic differentiation.

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 OE 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.

  1. Native Words.

Native OE words can be subdivided into a number of etymological layers coming from different historical periods. ^ The three main layers in the native OE words are: a) common IE words, 2) common Germanic words, 3) specifically OE words.

  1. Common IE Words.

Words belonging to the common IE layer constitute the oldest part of the OE vocabulary. They go back to the days of the IE parent-language before its extension over the wide territories of Europe and Asia and before the appearance of the Germanic group. They were inherited by PG and passed into the Germanic languages of various subgroups, including English.

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.; verbs belonging to this layer denote the basic activities of man; adjectives indicate the most essential qualities; this layer includes personal and demonstrative pronouns and most numerals. In addition to roots, this portion of the OE (and Germanic) heritage includes word-building and form-building elements. OE examples of this layer are: eolh, mere, mōna, trēow, sāwan, næ3l, beard, brōθor, mōdor, sunu, dōn, bēon, nīwe, long, ic, mīn, þæt, twā, etc. (NE elk, 'sea', moon, tree, sow, nail, beard, brother, mother, son, do, be, new, long, I, my, that, two). Some words of this oldest layer are not shared by all the groups of the IE family but are found only in certain areas. In the early days of their separate history the Germanic tribes were more closely connected with their eastern neighbours, the Baltic and Slavonic tribes, while later they came into closer contact with the Italic and Celtic groups. These facts are borne out by the following lexical parallels: OE beard (NE beard) is found in the Germanic group (OHG bart) and has parallels in Latvian barda and in R борода. OE tun (NE town) belongs to the Germanic vocabulary (cf. O Icel tun) and is also found in Celtic: Old Irish dun; OE lippa (NE lip), and its OHG parallel leffur, appears in the Italic group as L labium; other examples of the same type are OE spere, NE spear, OHG sper, L sparus, OE 3emæne 'common', OHG gimeini, L communus.

  1. Common Germanic Words.

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. (The ratio between specifically Germanic and common IE words in the Germanic languages was estimated by 19th c. scholars as 1:2; since then it has been discovered that many more Germanic words have parallels outside the group and should be regarded as common IE.)

Common Germanic words originated in the common period of Germanic history, i.e. in PG when the Teutonic tribes lived close together. Semantically these words are connected with nature, with the sea and everyday life. OE examples of this layer are given together with parallels from other OG languages (Table 1).

Table 1

Common Germanic Words in Old English




O Icel










































Some of the words did not occur in all the OG languages. Their areal distribution reflects the contacts between the Germanic tribes at the beginning of their migrations: West and North Germanic languages (represented here by OE, OHG and O Icel) had many words in common, due to their rapprochement after the East Teutons (the Goths) left the coast of the Baltic Sea. The languages of the West Germanic subgroup had a number of words which must have appeared after the loss of contacts with the East and North Teutons but before the West Germanic tribes started on their migrations.

  1. Specifically OE Words.

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. For instance, 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 (cf. OHG wib, O Icel vif, NE wife; OE man, Gt mann(a), NE man). Other well-known examples are — OE hlāford, originally made of hlaf (NE loaf, cf. R xлeб) and weard 'keeper' (cf. Gt wards). This compound word was simplified and was ultimately shortened to NE lord. OE hlæfdi3e was a compound consisting of the same first component hlāf of the root *di3e which is related to parallels in other OG languages: Gt digan, O Icel deigja 'knead' lit. 'bread-kneading', later simplified to NE lady. Some compounds denoted posts and institutions in OE kingdoms: OE scir3erefa 'chief of the shire' (NE sheriff), OE witena3emōt, 'meeting of the elders, assembly'.

  1. Foreign Element in the Old English Vocabulary.

Although borrowed words constituted only a small portion of the OE vocabulary — all in all about 600 words, — they are of great interest for linguistic and historical study. The borrowings reflect the contacts of English with other tongues resulting from diverse political, economic, social and cultural events in the early periods of British history. OE borrowings come from two sources: Celtic and Latin.

  1. Borrowings from Celtic.

There are very few Celtic loan-words in the OE vocabulary, for there must have been little intermixture between the Germanic settlers and the Celtic ones in Britain. Though in some parts of the island the Celts population was not exterminated during the WG invasion, linguistic evidence of Celtic influence is small. Obviously there was little that the newcomers could learn from the subjugated Celts. Abundant borrowing from Celtic is to be found only in place-names. The OE kingdoms Kent, Deira and Bernicia derive their names from the names of Celtic tribes. The name of York, the Downs and perhaps London have been traced to Celtic sources (Celtic dun meant 'hill').

(Cучасна назва міста походить від римського «Лондініум» (лат. Londinium). Єдиної думки щодо походження цього слова немає, але вченими неодноразово висувалися гіпотези про етимологію назви. Ось чотири найбільш популярні припущення:

1) назва — латинського походження і утворена від римського власного імені, яке означає «шалений»;

2) назва — латинського походження і походить від слова Lond, що означає «Дике (тобто тут заросле лісом) місце»;

3) назва — кельтського походження і складається з двох слів: Llyn (озеро) і Dun (укріплення): у кельтський період місто називалося Llyndid;

4) назва походить от древньоєвропейського слова Plowonida, що означає «Річка, що розливається»).

Various Celtic designations of 'river' and 'water' were understood by the Germanic invaders as proper names: Ouse, Exe, Esk, Usk, Avon, Evan go back to Celtic amhuin 'river', uisge 'water'; Thames, Stour, Dover also come from Celtic. Some elements frequently occurring in Celtic place-names can help to identify them: -comb 'deep valley' in Batcombe, Duncombe, Winchcombe; -torr 'high rock' in Torr, Torcross; -llan 'church' in Llan-daff, Llanelly; -pill 'creek' in Pylle, Huntspill. Many place-names with Celtic elements are hybrids; the Celtic component, combined with a Latin or a Germanic component, make a compound place-name; e.g.

^ Celtic plus Latin Celtic plus Germanic

Man-chester York-shire

Win-chester Corn-wall

(It means ‘Cornubian Welsh’; the name Wealhas (Wales, Welsh) was a common noun, meaning ‘strangers’; it was given by the newcomers to the unfamiliar Celtic tribes)

Glou-cester Salis-bury

Wor-cester Lich-field

Devon-port Devon-shire

Lan-caster Canter-bury

Outside of place-names Celtic borrowings in OE were very few: no more than a dozen. Examples of common nouns are: OE binn (NE bin 'crib'), cradol (NE cradle), bratt 'cloak', dun (NE dun 'dark coloured'), dūn 'hill', cross (NE cross), probably through Celtic from the L crux. A few words must have entered OE from Celtic due to the activities of Irish missionaries in spreading Christianity, e.g. OE ancor 'hermit', dry "magician', cursian (NE curse). In later ages some of the Celtic borrowings have died out or have survived only in dialects, e.g. loch dial, 'lake', coomb dial. 'valley'.

  1. Latin Influence on the Old English Vocabulary.

The role of the Latin language in Medieval Britain is clearly manifest; it was determined by such historical events as the Roman occupation of Britain, the influence of the Roman civilisation and the introduction of Christianity. It is no wonder that the Latin language exerted considerable influence on different aspects of English: the OE alphabet, the growth of writing and literature. The impact of Latin on the OE vocabulary enables us to see the spheres of Roman influence on the life in Britain.

Latin words entered the English language at different stages of OE history. Chronologically they can be divided into several layers.

The earliest layer comprises words which the WG tribes brought from the continent when they came to settle in Britain. Contact with the Roman civilisation began a long time before the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

The adoption of Latin words continued in Britain after the invasion, since Britain had been under Roman occupation for almost 400 years. Though the Romans left Britain before the settlement of the West Teutons, Latin words could be transmitted to them by the Romanised Celts.

- Early OE Borrowings from Latin (Before the Roman Conquest).

Early OE borrowings from Latin indicate the new things and concepts which the Teutons had learnt from the Romans; they pertain to war, trade, agriculture, building and home life.

Words connected with trade indicate general concepts, units of measurements and articles of trade unknown to the Teutons before they came into contact with Rome: OE cēapian, cēap, cēapman and man3ian, man3un3, man3ere ('to trade', 'deal', 'trader', 'to trade', 'trading', 'trader') came from the Latin names for 'merchant' — caupo and mango.

Evidently, the words were soon assimilated by the language as they yielded many derivatives.

Units of measurement and containers were adopted with their Latin names: OE pund (NE pound), OE ynce (NE inch) from L pondo and uncia, OE mynet, mynetian ('coin', 'to coin'), OE flasce, ciest (NE flask, chest).

The following words denote articles of trade and agricultural products, introduced by the Romans: OE wīn (from L vinum), OE butere (from L būtyrum), OE plume (from L prunus), OE cīese (from L cāseus), OE pipor (from L piper), (NE wine, butter, plum, cheese, pepper).

Roman contribution to building can be perceived in words like OE cealc, ti3ele, coper (NE chalk, tile; copper). A group of words relating to domestic life is exemplified by OE cytel, disc, cuppe, pyle (NE kettle, dish, cup, pillow), etc.

Borrowings pertaining to military affairs are OE mīl (NE mile) from L millia passuum, which meant a thousand steps made to measure the distance; OE weall (NE wall) from L vallum, a wall of fortifications erected in the Roman provinces; OE stræt from Latin strata via, - a "paved road" (these "paved roads" were laid to connect Roman military ramps and colonies in Britain; the meaning of the word changed when houses began to be built along these roads, hence NE street); to this group of words belong also OE pīl 'javelin', OE pytt (NE pile, pit).

There is every reason to suppose that words of the latter group could be borrowed in Britain, for they look as direct traces of the Roman occupation (even though some of these words also occur in the continental Germanic tongues).

- The OE Borrowings from Latin as the Traces of the Roman Occupation.

Among the Latin loan-words adopted in Britain were some place-names or components of place-names used by the Celts. L castra in the shape caster, ceaster 'camp' formed OE place-names which survive today as Chester, Dorchester, Lancaster and the like (some of them with the first element coming from Celtic); L colonia 'settlement for retired soldiers' is found in Colchester and in the Latin-Celtic hybrid Lincoln; L vicus 'village' appears in Norwich, Woolwich, L portus — in Bridport and Devonport. Place-names made of Latin and Germanic components are: Portsmouth, Greenport, Greenwich and many others.

It should be noted that the distinction of two layers of early Latin borrowings is problematic, for it is next to impossible to assign precise dates to events so far back in history. Nevertheless, it seems more reasonable to assume that the earlier, continental layer of loan words was more numerous than the layer made in Britain. In the first place, most OE words quoted above have parallels in other OG languages, which is easily accounted for if the borrowings were made by the Teutons before their migrations. At that time transference of loan-words from tribe to tribe was easy, even if they were first adopted by one tribe. Secondly, we ought to recall that the relations between the Germanic conquerors and the subjugated Britons in Britain could hardly be favourable for extensive borrowing.

- Late OE Borrowings from Latin (After the Introduction of Christianity).

The third period of Latin influence on the OE vocabulary began with the introduction of Christianity in the late 6th c. and lasted to the end of OE.

Numerous Latin words which found their way into the English language during these five hundred years clearly fall into two main groups: (1) words pertaining to religion, (2) words connected with learning. The rest are miscellaneous words denoting various objects and concepts which the English learned from Latin books and from closer acquaintance with Roman culture. The total number of Latin loan-words in OE exceeds five hundred, this third layer accounting for over four hundred words.

The new religion introduced a large number of new conceptions which required new names; most of them were adopted from Latin, some of the words go back to Greek prototypes:
OE apostol NE apostle from L apostolus from Gr apóstolos

antefn anthem antiphona antíphona

biscop bishop episcopus episcopos

candel candle candēla

clerec clerk clēricus klerikós


dēofol devil diabolus diábolos

mæsse mass missa

mynster minster monastērium

munuc monk monachus monachos
To this list we may add many more modern English words from the same source: abbot, alms, altar, angel, ark, creed, disciple, hymn, idol, martyr, noon, nun, organ, palm, pine ('torment'), pope, prophet, psalm, psalter, shrine, relic, rule, temple and others.

After the introduction of Christianity many monastic schools were set up in Britain. The spread of education led to the wider use of Latin: teaching was conducted in Latin, or consisted of learning Latin. The written forms of OE developed in translations of Latin texts. These conditions are reflected in a large number of borrowings connected with education, and also words of a more academic, "bookish" character. Unlike the earlier borrowings scholarly words were largely adopted through books; they were first used in OE translations from Latin, e.g.:

OE scōl NE school L schola (Gr skhole)

scōlere scholar scholāris

mā3ister master, 'teacher' magister

fers verse versus

dihtan 'compose' dictare

Other modern descendants of this group are: accent, grammar, meter, gloss, notary, decline.

- Miscellaneous borrowings.

A great variety of miscellaneous borrowings came from Latin probably because they indicated new objects and new ideas, introduced into English life together with their Latin names by those who had a fair command of Latin: monks, priests, school-masters. Some of these scholarly words became part of everyday vocabulary. They belong to different semantic spheres: names of trees and plants — elm, lily, plant, pine; names of illnesses and words pertaining to medical treatment — cancer, fever, paralysis, plaster; names of animals — camel, elephant, tiger; names of clothes and household articles — cap, mat, sack, sock; names of foods — beet, caul, oyster, radish; miscellaneous words — crisp, fan, place, spend, turn.

- Translation-Loans.

The Latin impact on the OE vocabulary was not restricted to borrowing of words. There were also other aspects of influence. The most important of them is the appearance of the so-called "translation-loans" — words and phrases created on the pattern of Latin words as their literal translations. The earliest instances of translation-loans are names of the days of the week found not only in OE but also in other Old (and modern) Germanic languages:

OE ^ Monan-dæ3 (Monday) 'day of the moon', L Lunae dies;

Tiwes-dæ3 (Tuesday) 'day of Tiw' L Martis dies (Tiw — a Teutonic God corresponding to Roman Mars).

The procedure was to substitute the name of the corresponding Germanic god for the god of the Romans. Other translation-loans of the type were OE 3ōdspell (NE gospel) 'good tidings', L euangelium; OE þrīness (lit. 'three-ness'), NE Trinity.

In late OE, many new terms were coined from native elements according to Latin models as translation-loans: OE eorþbi3en3a 'inhabitant of the earth' (L terricola); OE 3oldsmiþ (NE goldsmith) ‘worker in gold’ (L aurifex); OE tun3olcræft 'astronomy', lit. 'the knowledge of stars (L astronomos).

Some grammatical terms in Ælfric's GRAMMAR are of the same origin: OE dælnimend 'participle', lit. 'taker of parts' (L participium); OE nemni3endlic (L Nominativus), OE wre3endlic 'Accusative', lit. ‘accusing, denouncing’ (L Accusativus). This way of replenishing the vocabulary may be regarded as a sort of resistance to foreign influence: instead of adopting a foreign word, an equivalent was produced from native resources in accordance with the structure of the term.

- Assimilation of Borrowings.

Another question which arises in considering borrowings from a foreign language is the extent of their assimilation. Most Latin words were treated in OE texts like native words, which means that they were already completely assimilated.

Judging by their spellings and by later phonetic changes they were naturalised as regards their sound form. Like native English early Latin loan-words participated in the sound changes, e.g. in disc and cīese the consonants [sk] and [k'] were palatalised and eventually changed into [ʃ] and [tʃ] (NE dish, cheese). Note that some later borrowings, e.g. scōl, scōlere did not participate in the change and [sk] was retained.

Loan-words acquired English grammatical forms and were inflected like respective parts of speech, e.g.' cirice, cuppe (NE church, cup nouns were declined as n-stems: munc, dēofol (NE monk, devil), Masc. — like a-stems, the verbs pīnian, temprian were conjugated like weak verbs of the second class ('torture', NE temper).

Important proofs of their assimilation are to be found in word-formation. Stems of some Latin borrowings were used in derivation; word compounding, e.g. the verbs fersian 'versify', plantian (NE plant) were derived from borrowed nouns fers, plant; many derivatives were formed from the early Latin loan-words caupo, mengo; abstract nouns — martyrdōm, martyrhad were built by attaching native suffixes to the loan-word martyr (NE martyrdom); compound words like cirice3eard (NE churchyard), mynster-hām (lit. ‘monastery home’), mynster-man 'monk' were Latin-English hybrids.

The grammatical form of several loan-words was misunderstood: pisum on losing -m was treated as a plural form and -s- was drop: produce the sg: OE pese, NE pl peas, hence sg pea; in the same way cerasum eventually became cherries pl, cherry — sg.
Borrowings (loan-words) – words borrowed from one language for use in another.

Translation-loans – 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).

A) Principal:

1. Rastorgueva T.A. A History of English. – M., 1983. – Chapter X (P. 131-147).

B) Supplementary:

1. Залесская Л.Д. Пособие по истории английского языка для заочных отделений факультетов английского языка педагогических институтов. – М., 1984. – С.43-48.

2. Иванова И.П., Чахоян Л.П., Беляева Т.М. История английского языка… – С. 15-18.


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