English Lexicology

The Etymology of English Words. Vocabulary as a system. Professional terminology. Etymological doublets. The main problems of lexicology. The historical circumstances which stimulate the borrowing process. The Object of Lexicology. The structure of word.

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3. R o m e o ... So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,

As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows. The measure2 done, I'll watch her place of stand, And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand. Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.

1 Usually in modern correspondence you will find the form re [ri:] without the in.

2 measure (here) -- dance.

3. The Etymology of English Words Are All English Words Really English?

As a matter of fact, they are -- if we regard them in the light of present-day English. If, however, their origins are looked into, the picture may seem somewhat bewildering. A person who does not know English but knows French (Italian, Latin, Spanish) is certain to recognise a great number of familiar-looking words when skipping through an English book.

It is true that English vocabulary, which is one of the most extensive amongst 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. In order to have a better understanding of the problem, it will be necessary to go through a brief survey of certain historical facts, relating to different epochs.

The first century В.С. Most of the territory now, known to us as Europe is occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the inhabitants of the continent are Germanic tribes, "barbarians" as the arrogant Romans call them. Theirs is really a rather primitive stage of development, especially if compared with the high civilisation and refinement of Rome. They are primitive cattle-

By etymology of words is understood their origin.

breeders and know almost nothing about land cultivation. Their tribal languages contain only Indo-European and Germanic elements. The latter fact is of some importance for the purposes of our survey.

Now comes an event which brings an important change. After a number of wars between the Germanic tribes and the Romans these two opposing peoples come into peaceful contact. 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 are 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 enter their vocabularies reflecting this new knowledge: cherry (Lat. cerasum), pear (Lat. pirum), plum (Lat. prunus), pea (Lat. pisum), beet (Lat. beta), pepper (Lat. piper). It is interesting to note that the word plant is also a Latin borrowing1 of this period (Lat. planta).

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 fact that all these borrowings occurred is in itself significant. It was certainly important that the Germanic tribal languages gained a considerable number of new words and were thus enriched. What was

1 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. (For more about the assimilation of borrowings see Ch. 4.)

even more significant was that all these Latin words were destined to become the earliest group of borrowings in the future English language which was -- much later -- built on the basis of the Germanic tribal languages. Which brings us to another epoch, much closer to the English language as we know it, both in geographical and chronological terms.

The fifth century A.D. Several of the Germanic tribes (the most numerous amongst them being the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes) migrated across the sea now known as the English Channel 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 they were no match for the military-minded Teutons and gradually yielded most of their territory. They retreated to the North and South-West (modern Scotland, Wales and Cornwall). Through their numerous contacts with the defeated Celts, the conquerors got to know and assimilated a number of Celtic words (Mod. E. bald, down, glen, druid, bard, cradle). Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of rivers, bills, etc. The Germanic tribes occupied the land, but the names of many parts and features 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 being "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 christianisation 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 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 (Lai. presbyter), bishop (Lai. episcopus), monk (Lat. monachus), nun (Lai. nonna), candle (Lai. candela).

Additionally, in a class of their own were educational terms. It was quite natural that these 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 (Lai. scholar(-is) and magister (Lat. ma-gister).

From the end of the 8th c. to the middle of the 11th c. England underwent several Scandinavian invasions which inevitably left their trace on English vocabulary. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian borrowings: call, v., take, v., cast, v., die, v., law, п., husband, n. (< Sc. hus + bondi, i. e. "inhabitant of the house"), window n. (< Sc. vindauga, i. e. "the eye of the wind"), ill, adj., loose, adj., low, adj., weak, adj.

Some of the words of this group are easily recognisable as Scandinavian borrowings 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 O. E. bread which meant "piece" acquired its modern meaning by association with the Scandinavian brand.

The О.Е. dream which meant "joy" assimilated the meaning of the Scandinavian draumr(cf. with the Germ. Traum "dream" and the R. дрёма).

With the famous Battle of Hastings, when the English were defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror, we come to the eventful epoch of the Norman Conquest. The epoch can well be called eventful not only in national, social, political and human terms, but also in linguistic terms. England became a bi-lingual 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.

Everyday life was not unaffected by the powerful influence of French words. Numerous terms of everyday life were also borrowed from French in this period: e. g. table, plate, saucer, 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 civilisations 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 с. В.С.), the Renaissance ones were rarely concrete names. They were mostly abstract words (e. g. major, minor, filial, moderate, intelligent, permanent, to elect, to create). There were naturally numerous scientific and artistic terms (datum, status, phenomenon, philosophy, method, music).1 The same is true of Greek Renaissance borrowings (e. g. atom, cycle, ethics, esthete).

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 once more were French borrowings. This time they came from the Parisian dialect of French and are known as Parisian borrowings. Examples: regime, routine, police, machine, ballet, matinee, scene, technique, bourgeois, etc. (One should note that these words of French origin sound and "look" very different from their Norman predecessors. We shall return to this question later (see Ch. 4).)

Italian also contributed a considerable number of words to English, e. g. piano, violin, opera, alarm, colonel.

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. You can also recognise words of Latin and French origin by certain suffixes, prefixes or endings. The two tables below will help you in this.

The historical survey above is far from complete. Its aim is just to give a very general idea of the ways in which English vocabulary developed and of the major events through which it acquired its vast modern resources.

1 Phenomenon, philosophy, method, music, etc. were borrowed into English from Latin and had earlier come into Latin from Greek.

I. Latin Affixes


The suffix -ion

communion, legion, opinion, session, union, etc.

The suffix -tion

relation, revolution, starvation, temptation, unification, etc.


The suffix -ate [eit]

appreciate, create, congratulate, etc.

The suffix -ute [ju:t]

attribute, contribute, constitute, distribute, etc.

The remnant suffix -ct

act, conduct, collect, connect, etc.

The remnant suffix -d(e)

applaud, divide, exclude, include, etc.

The prefix dis-

disable, distract, disown, disagree, etc.


The suffix -able

detestable, curable, etc.

The suffix -ate [it]

accurate, desperate, graduate, etc.

The suffix -ant

arrogant, constant, important, etc.

The suffix -ent

absent, convenient, decent, evident, etc.

The suffix -or

major, minor, junior, senior, etc.

The suffix -al

cordial, final, fraternal, maternal, etc.

The suffix -ar

lunar, solar, familiar, etc.

П. French Affixes


The suffix -ance

arrogance, endurance, hindrance, etc.

The suffix -ence

consequence, intelligence, patience, etc.

The suffix -ment

appointment, development, experiment, etc.

The suffix -age

courage, marriage, passage, village, etc.

The suffix -ess

tigress, lioness, actress, adventuress, etc.


The suffix -ous

curious, dangerous, joyous, serious, etc.


The prefix en-

enable, endear, enact, enfold, enslave, etc.

Notes. 1. The tables represent only the most typical and frequent structural elements of Latin and French borrowings.

Though all the affixes represented in the tables are Latin or French borrowings, some of the examples given in the third column are later formations derived from native roots and borrowed affixes (e. g. eatable, lovable).

By remnant suffixes are meant the ones that are only partially preserved in the structure of the word (e. g. Lat. -ct < Lat. -ctus).

It seems advisable to sum up what has been said in a table.

The Etymological Structure of English Vocabulary

The native element1

The borrowed element

I. Indo-European element

I. Celtic (5th -- 6th c. A. D.)

II. Germanic element

II. Latin 1st group: 1st с. В. С. 2nd group: 7th c. A. D. 3rd group: the Renaissance period

III. 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 table requires some explanation. Firstly, it should be pointed out that not only does the second column contain more groups, but it also implies a greater 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:

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

one would certainly expect the native element to prevail. This anomaly is explained by the country's eventful history and by its many international contacts.

On a straight vocabulary count, 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 relative frequency of occurrence of words, and it is under this heading that the native Anglo-Saxon heritage comes into its own. 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 having remained unaffected by foreign influence.

It is probably of some interest to mention that at various times purists have tried to purge the English language of foreign words, replacing them with Anglo-Saxon ones. One slogan created by these linguistic nationalists was: "Avoid Latin derivatives; use brief, terse Anglo-Saxon monosyllables". The irony is that the only Anglo-Saxon word in the entire slogan is "Anglo-Saxon". [31]

Now let us turn to the first column of the table representing the native element, the original stock of the English vocabulary. The column consists of three groups, only the third being dated: the words of this group appeared in the English vocabulary in the 5th c. or later, that is, after the Germanic tribes migrated to the British Isles. As to the Indo-European and Germanic groups, they are so old that they cannot be dated. It was mentioned in the historical survey opening this chapter that 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. English words of this group denote elementary concepts without which no human communication would be possible. The following groups can be identified.1

I. Family relations: father, mother, brother, son, daughter.

II. Parts of the human body: foot (cf. R. пядь), nose, lip, heart.

Animals: cow, swine, goose.

Plants: tree, birch (cf. R. береза), corn (cf. R. зерно).

V. Time of day: day, night. VI. Heavenly bodies: sun, moon, star. VII. Numerous adjectives: red (cf. Ukr. рудий, R. рыжий), new, glad (cf. R. гладкий), sad (cf. R. сыт).

VIII. The numerals from one to a hundred. IX. Pronouns -- personal (except they which is a

Scandinavian borrowing); demonstrative. X. Numerous verbs: be (cf. R. быть), stand (cf. R. стоять), sit (cf. R. сидеть), eat (cf. R. есть), know (cf. R. знать, знаю).

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.

I. Parts of the human body: head, hand, arm, finger, bone.

1 The classification and examples are taken from Ара-кип В. Д. Очерки по истории английского языка, с. 251.

II. Animals: bear, fox, calf.

Plants: oak, fir, grass.

Natural phenomena: rain, frost.

V. Seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer.1 VI. Landscape features: sea, land. VII. Human dwellings and furniture: house, room, bench.

VIII. Sea-going vessels: boat, ship. IX. Adjectives: green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, old, good.

X. Verbs: see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink.

It has been mentioned that the English proper element is, in certain respects, opposed to the first two groups. Not only can it be approximately dated, but these words have another distinctive feature: they are specifically English having no cognates2 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.

Sad: Germ, satt, Lat. satis, R. сыт, Snscr. sd-.

Stand: Germ, stehen, Lat. stare, R. стоять, Snscr. stha-.

Here are some examples of English proper words. These words stand quite alone in the vocabulary system of Indo-European languages: bird, boy, girl, lord, lady, woman, daisy, always.

Of course, one might remark that Russian vocabulary also has the words лорд, леди, бой (in the meaning

1 Autumn is a French borrowing.

2 Cognates -- words of the same etymological root, of common origin.

The explanation is simple: these words have been borrowed by Russian from English and therefore are not cognates of their English counterparts.

It should be taken into consideration that the English proper element also contains all the later formations, that is, words which were made after the 5th century according to English word-building patterns (see Ch. 5, 6) both from native and borrowed morphemes. For instance, the adjective 'beautiful' built from the French borrowed root and the native suffix belongs to the English proper element. It is natural, that the quantity of such words is immense.


I. Consider your answers to the following.

How can you account for the fact that English vocabulary contains such an immense number of words of foreign origin?

What is the earliest group of English borrowings? Date it.

What Celtic borrowings are there in English? Date them.

Which words were introduced into English vocabulary during the period of Christianization?

What are the characteristic features of Scandinavian borrowings?

When and under what circumstances did England become a bi-lingual country? What imprint features were left in English vocabulary by this period?

What are the characteristic features of words borrowed into English during the Renaissance?

What suffixes and prefixes can help you to recognise words of Latin and French origin?

What is meant by the native element of English vocabulary?

II. Subdivide all the following words of native origin into: a) Indo-european, b) Germanic, c) English proper.

Daughter, woman, room, land, cow, moon, sea, red, spring, three, I, lady, always, goose, bear, fox, lord, tree, nose, birch, grey, old, glad, daisy, heart, hand, night, to eat, to see, to make.

III. Read the following jokes. Explain the etymology of the italicized words. If necessary consult a dictionary.1

1. He dropped around to the girl's house and as he ran up the steps he was confronted by her little brother.

"Hi, Billy."

"Hi,"said the brat.

"Is your sister expecting me?"


"How do you know that?"

"She's gone out."

2. A man was at a theatre. He was sitting behind two women whose continuous chatter became more than he could bear. Leaning forward, he tapped one of them on the shoulder.

"Pardon me, madam," he said, "but I can't hear." "You are not supposed to -- this is a private conversation," she hit back.

3. Sonny: Father, what do they make asphalt roads of?

Father: That makes a thousand question you've asked today. Do give me a little peace. What do you think would happen if I had asked my father so many questions?

Sonny: You might have learnt how to answer some of mine.

1 Skeat W. A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford, 1961; Weckley E. An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. V. I--II. No 4, 19.

4. The Etymology of English Words (continued)

etymology vocabulary lexicology

Why Are Words Borrowed?

This question partially concerns the historical circumstances which stimulate the borrowing process. Each time two nations come into close contact, certain borrowings are a natural consequence. The nature of the contact may be different. It may be wars, invasions or conquests when foreign words are in effect imposed upon the reluctant conquered nation. There are also periods of peace when the process of borrowing is due to trade and international cultural relations.

These latter circumstances are certainly more favourable for stimulating the borrowing process, for during invasions and occupations the natural psychological reaction of the oppressed nation is to reject and condemn the language of the oppressor. In this respect the linguistic heritage of the Norman Conquest seems exceptional, especially if compared to the influence of the Mongol-Tartar Yoke on the Russian language. The Mongol-Tartar Yoke also represented a long period of cruel oppression, yet the imprint left by it on the Russian vocabulary is comparatively insignificant.

The difference in the consequences of these evidently similar historical events is usually explained by the divergence in the level of civilisation of the two conflicting nations. Russian civilisation and also the level of its language development at the time of the Mongol-Tartar invasion were superior to those of the invaders. That is why the Russian language successfully resisted the influence of a less developed language system. On the other hand, the Norman culture of the 11th c. was certainly superior to that of the Saxons. The result was that an immense number of French words forced their way into English vocabulary. Yet, linguistically speaking, this seeming defeat turned into a victory. 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.

But all this only serves to explain the conditions which encourage the borrowing process. The question of why words are borrowed by one language from another is still unanswered.

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. Yet, one more word is borrowed which means almost the same, -- almost, but not exactly. It is borrowed because it represents the same concept in some new aspect, supplies a new shade of meaning or a different emotional colouring (see Ch. 10). This type of borrowing enlarges groups of synonyms and greatly 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.

Do Borrowed Words Change or Do They Remain the Same?

The eminent scholar Maria Pei put the same question in a more colourful way: "Do words when they migrate from one language into another behave as people do under similar circumstances? Do they remain alien in appearance, or do they take out citizenship papers?" [39]

Most of them take the second way, that is, 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 unrecognisable. 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 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 15thc., still sound surprisingly French: regime, valise, matinee, cafe, ballet. In these cases phonetic adaptation is not completed.

The three stages of gradual phonetic assimilation of French borrowings can be illustrated by different phonetic variants of the word garage:


Grammatical adaptation consists in a complete change of the former paradigm of the borrowed word (i. e. system of the grammatical forms peculiar to it as a part of speech). 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 c. 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. It has been mentioned that borrowing is generally caused either by the necessity to fill a gap in the vocabulary or by a chance to add a synonym conveying an old concept in a new way. Yet, the process of borrowing is not always so purposeful, logical and efficient as it might seem at first sight. Sometimes a word may be borrowed "blindly", so to speak, for no obvious reason, to find that it is not wanted because there is no gap in the vocabulary nor in the group of synonyms which it could conveniently fill. Quite a number of such "accidental" borrowings are very soon rejected by the vocabulary and forgotten. But there are others which manage to take root by 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". At first it was applied to objects characterised by vast horizontal dimensions, thus retaining a trace of its former meaning, and now, though still bearing some features of that meaning, is successfully competing with big having approached it very closely, both in frequency and meaning.

The adjective gay was borrowed from French in several meanings at once: "noble of birth", "bright, shining", "multi-coloured". Rather soon it shifted its ground developing the meaning "joyful, high-spirited" in which sense it became a synonym of the native merry and in some time left it far behind in frequency and range of meaning. This change was again caused by the process of semantic adjustment: there was no place in the vocabulary for the former meanings of gay, but the group with the general meaning of "high spirits" obviously lacked certain shades which were successfully supplied by gay.

The adjective nice was a French borrowing meaning "silly" at first. The English change of meaning seems to have arisen with the use of the word in expressions like a nice distinction, meaning first "a silly, hair-splitting distinction", then a precise one, ultimately an attractive one. But the original necessity for change was caused once more by the fact that the meaning of "foolish" was not wanted in the vocabulary and therefore nice was obliged to look for a gap in another semantic field.

International Words

It is often the case that a word is borrowed by several languages, and 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.

It is quite natural that political terms frequently occur in the international group of borrowings: politics, policy, revolution, progress, democracy, communism, anti-militarism.

20th c. scientific and technological advances brought a great number of new international words: atomic, antibiotic, radio, television, sputnik. The latter is a Russian borrowing, and it became an international word (meaning a man-made satellite) in 1961, immediately after the first space flight by Yury Gagarin.

The English language also contributed a considerable number of international words to world languages. Among them the sports terms occupy a prominent position: football, volley-ball, baseball, hockey, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, etc.

Fruits and foodstuffs imported from exotic countries often transport their names too and, being simultaneously imported to many countries, become international: coffee, cocoa, chocolate, coca-cola, banana, mango, avocado, grapefruit.

It is important to note that international words are mainly borrowings. The outward similarity of such words as the E. son, the Germ. Sohn and the R. сын should not lead one to the quite false conclusion that they are international words. They represent the Indo-Euroреаn 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 shirt and skirt etymologically descend from the same root. Shirt is a native word, and skirt (as the initial sk suggests), is a Scandinavian borrowing. Their phonemic shape is different, and yet there is a certain resemblance which reflects their common origin. Their meanings are also different but easily associated: they both denote articles of clothing.

Such words as these two 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, like shirt and skirt, consist of a native word and a borrowed word: shrew, n. (E.) -- screw, n. (Sc.).

Others are represented by two borrowings from different languages which are historically descended from the same root: senior (Lat.) -- sir (Fr.), canal (Lat.) -- channel (Fr.), captain (Lat.) -- chieftan (Fr.).

Still others were borrowed from the same language twice, but in different periods: corpse [ko:ps] (Norm. Fr.) -- corps [ko:] (Par. Fr.), travel (Norm. Fr.) -- travail (Par. Fr.), cavalry (Norm. Fr.) -- chivalry (Par. Fr.), gaol (Norm. Fr.) -- jail (Par. Fr.).

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.).

A doublet may also consist of a shortened word and the one from which it was derived (see Ch. 6 for a description of shortening as a type of word-building): history -- story, fantasy -- fancy, fanatic -- fan, defence -- fence, courtesy -- curtsy, shadow -- shade.


The term loan-word is equivalent to borrowing. 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) which can be subjected to such an operation, each stem being translated separately: masterpiece (from Germ. Meisterstuck), wonder child (from Germ. Wunderkind), first dancer (from Ital. prima-ballerina), collective farm (from R. колхоз), five-year plan (from R. пятилетка).

The Russian колхоз was borrowed twice, by way of translation-loan (collective farm) and by way of direct borrowing (kolkhoz).

The case is not unique. During the 2nd World War the German word Blitzkrieg was also borrowed into English in two different forms: the translation-loan lightning-war and the direct borrowings blitzkrieg and blitz.

Are Etymological

and Stylistic Characteristics

of Words at All Interrelated?

Is it possible to establish regular associations between any of the groups of etymological classification (see p. 52) and the stylistic classification of English vocabulary (Ch. 2)? The answer must be in the affirmative.

It is quite natural to expect to find a considerable number of native words in the basic vocabulary, if we remember that the latter comprises words denoting essential objects and phenomena. Yet, one should keep in mind that among basic vocabulary words there are also rather numerous Latin and French borrowings.

In general, we should not be misled into thinking that all short common words are native, and that only three- and four-syllable words came from foreign sources. Words like very, air, hour, cry, oil, cat, pay, box, face, poor, dress are of foreign origin despite their native appearance and common use. So it would be correct to state that, though native words prevail in the basic vocabulary, this stratum also comprises a considerable number of old borrowings which have become so fully adapted to the English language system that they are practically indistinguishable from the native stock.

The centre of gravity of borrowed words in the stylistic classification is represented by two groups: learned words and terminology. In these strata 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 strata, especially slang and dialect, abound in native words even though it is possible to quote numerous exceptions.

Comparing the expressive and stylistic value of the French and the English words in such synonymic pairs as to begin -- to commence, to wish -- to desire, happiness -- felicity, O. Jespersen remarks: "The French word is usually more formal, more refined, and has a less strong hold on the emotional side of life." [29]

The truth of this observation becomes even more obvious if we regard certain pairs within which a native word may be compared with its Latin synonym: mother ly -- maternal, fatherly -- paternal, childish -- infan tile, daughterly -- filial, etc. Motherly love seems much warmer than maternal feelings -- which sounds dutiful but cold. The word childish is associated with all the wonder and vivid poetry of the earliest human age whereas infantile is quite dry. You may speak about childish games and childish charm, but about infantile diseases, whereas infantile mind implies criticism.

It is interesting to note that a similar pair of words sunny -- solar cannot even be regarded as synonyms though semantically they both pertain to the sun. Yet, if a fine day can be described as sunny, it certainly cannot be characterised by the word solar which is used in highly formal terminological senses (e. g. solar energy). The same is true about handy -- manual, toothy (e. g. a toothy grin) -- dental (term again), nosy (e. g. a nosy kind of person) -- nasal (e. g. nasal sounds, voice)1.


I. Consider your answers to the following.

Which conditions stimulate the borrowing process?

Why are words borrowed?

What stages of assimilation do borrowings go through?

In what spheres of communication do international words frequently occur?

What do we understand by etymological doublets?

What are the characteristic features of translation-loans?

How are the etymological and stylistic characteristics of words interrelated?

II. Explain the etymology of the following words. Write them out in three columns: a) fully assimilated words; b) partially assimilated words; c) unassimilated words. Explain the reasons for your choice in each case.

Pen, hors d'oeuvre, ballet, beet, butter, skin, take, cup, police, distance, monk, garage, phenomenon,

1 Also see Supplementary Material, p.p. 276.

5. How English Words Are Made. Word-Building

Before turning to the various processes of making words, it would be useful to analyse the related problem of the composition of words, i. e. of their constituent parts.

If viewed structurally, words appear to be divisible into smaller units which are called morphemes. Morphemes do not occur as free forms but only as constituents of words. Yet they possess meanings of their own.

All morphemes are subdivided into two large classes: roots (or radicals) and affixes. The latter, in their turn, fall into prefixes which precede the root in the structure of the word (as in re-read, mis-pronounce, unwell) and suffixes which follow the root (as in teach-er, cur-able, diet-ate).

Words which consist of a root and an affix (or several affixes) are called derived words or derivatives and are produced by the process of word-building known as affixation (or derivation).

Derived words are extremely numerous in the English vocabulary. Successfully competing with this structural type is the so-called root word which has only a root morpheme in its structure. This type is

1 By word-building are understood processes of producing new words from the resources of this particular language. Together with borrowing, word-building provides for enlarging and enriching the vocabulary of the language.

widely represented by a great number of words belonging to the original English stock or to earlier borrowings (house, room, book, work, port, street, table, etc.), and, in Modern English, has been greatly enlarged by the type of word-building called conversion (e. g. to hand, v. formed from the noun hand; to can, v. from can, п.; to pale, v. from pale, adj.; a find, n. from to find, v.; etc.).

Another wide-spread word-structure is a compound word consisting of two or more stems1 (e. g. dining-room, bluebell, mother-in-law, good-for-nothing). Words of this structural type are produced by the word-building process called composition.

The somewhat odd-looking words like flu, pram, lab, M. P., V-day, H-bomb are called shortenings, contractions or curtailed words and are produced by the way of word-building called shortening (contraction).

The four types (root words, derived words, compounds, shortenings) represent the main structural types of Modern English words, and conversion, derivation and composition the most productive ways of word-building.

To return to the question posed by the title of this chapter, of how words are made, let us try and get a more detailed picture of each of the major types of Modern English word-building and, also, of some minor types.


The process of affixation consists in coining a new word by adding an affix or several affixes to some root morpheme. The role of the affix in this procedure is very important and therefore it is necessary to consider certain facts about the main types of affixes. Stem is part of the word consisting of root and affix. In English words stern and root often coincide.

From the etymological point of view affixes are classified into the same two large groups as words: native and borrowed.

Some Native Suffixes1



worker, miner, teacher, painter, etc.


coldness, loneliness, loveliness, etc.


feeling, meaning, singing, reading, etc.


freedom, wisdom, kingdom, etc.


childhood, manhood, motherhood, etc.


friendship, companionship, master-ship, etc.


length, breadth, health, truth, etc.



careful, joyful, wonderful, sinful, skilful, etc.


careless, sleepless, cloudless, sense-less, etc.


cozy, tidy, merry, snowy, showy, etc.


English, Spanish, reddish, childish, etc.


lonely, lovely, ugly, likely, lordly, etc.


wooden, woollen, silken, golden, etc.


handsome, quarrelsome, tiresome, etc.



widen, redden, darken, sadden, etc.



warmly, hardly, simply, carefully, coldly, etc.

The table gives examples of especially frequent native affixes.

Borrowed affixes, especially of Romance origin are numerous in the English vocabulary (Ch. 3). It would be wrong, though, to suppose that affixes are borrowed in the same way and for the same reasons as words. An affix of foreign origin can be regarded as borrowed only after it has begun an independent and active life in the recipient language, that is, is taking part in the word-making processes of that language. This can only occur when the total of words with this affix is so great in the recipient language as to affect the native speakers' subconscious to the extent that they no longer realise its foreign flavour and accept it as their own.

Affixes can also be classified into productive and non-productive types. By productive affixes we mean the ones, which take part in deriving new words in this particular period of language development. The best way to identify productive affixes is to look for them among neologisms and so-called nonce-words, i. e. words coined and used only for this particular occasion. The latter are usually formed on the level of living speech and reflect the most productive and progressive patterns in word-building. When a literary critic writes about a certain book that it is an unputdownable thriller, we will seek in vain this strange and impressive adjective in dictionaries, for it is a nonce-word coined on the current pattern of Modern English and is evidence of the high productivity of the adjective-forming borrowed suffix -able and the native prefix un-.

Consider, for example, the following:

Professor Pringle was a thinnish, baldish, dispeptic-lookingish cove with an eye like a haddock.

The adjectives thinnish and baldish bring to mind dozens of other adjectives made with the same suffix: oldish, youngish, mannish, girlish, fattish, longish, yellowish, etc. But dispeptic-lookingish is the author's creation aimed at a humorous effect, and, at the same time, proving beyond doubt that the suffix -ish is a live and active one.

The same is well illustrated by the following popular statement: "/ don't like Sunday evenings: I feel so Mondayish". (Mondayish is certainly a nonce-word.)

One should not confuse the productivity of affixes with their frequency of occurrence. There are quite a number of high-frequency affixes which, nevertheless, are no longer used in word-derivation (e. g. the adjective-forming native suffixes -ful, -ly; the adjective-forming suffixes of Latin origin -ant, -ent, -al which are quite frequent).

Some Productive Affixes

Noun-forming suffixes

-er, -ing, -ness, -ism1 (materialism), -ist1 (impressionist), -ance

Adjective-forming suffixes

-y, -ish, -ed (learned), -able, -less

Adverb-forming suffixes


Verb-forming suffixes

-ize/-ise (realise), -ate


un- (unhappy), re- (reconstruct), dis- (disappoint)

Note. Examples are given only for the affixes which are not listed in the tables at p. 82 and p. 83.

International suffixes.

Some Non-Productive Affixes

Noun-forming suffixes

-th, -hood

Adjective-forming suffixes

-ly, -some, -en, -ous

Verb-forming suffix


Note. The native noun-forming suffixes -dom and -ship ceased to be productive centuries ago. Yet, Professor I. V. Arnold in The English Word gives some examples of comparatively new formations with the suffix -dom: boredom, serfdom, slavedom [15]. The same is true about -ship (e. g. salesmanship). The adjective-forming -ish, which leaves no doubt as to its productivity nowadays, has comparatively recently regained it, after having been non-productive for many centuries.

Semantics of Affixes

The morpheme, and therefore affix, which is a type of morpheme, is generally defined as the smallest indivisible component of the word possessing a meaning of its own. Meanings of affixes are specific and considerably differ from those of root morphemes. Affixes have widely generalised meanings and refer the concept conveyed by the whole word to a certain category, which is vast and all-embracing. So, the noun-forming suffix -er could be roughly defined as designating persons from the object of their occupation or labour (painter -- the one who paints) or from their place of origin or abode (southerner -- the one living in the South). The adjective-forming suffix -ful has the meaning of "full of", "characterised by" (beautiful, careful) whereas -ish may often imply insufficiency of quality (greenish -- green, but not quite; youngish -- not quite young but looking it).

Such examples might lead one to the somewhat hasty conclusion that the meaning of a derived word is always a sum of the meanings of its morphemes: un/eat/able = "not fit to eat" where not stands for un- and fit for -able.

There are numerous derived words whose meanings can really be easily deduced from the meanings of their constituent parts. Yet, such cases represent only the first and simplest stage of semantic readjustment within derived words. The constituent morphemes within derivatives do not always preserve their current meanings and are open to subtle and complicated semantic shifts.

Let us take at random some of the adjectives formed with the same productive suffix -y, and try to deduce the meaning of the suffix from their dictionary definitions:

brainy (inform.) -- intelligent, intellectual, i. e. characterised by brains

catty -- quietly or slyly malicious, spiteful, i. e. characterised by features ascribed to a cat

chatty -- given to chat, inclined to chat

dressy (inform.) -- showy in dress, i. e. inclined to dress well or to be overdressed

fishy (e. g. in a fishy story, inform.) -- improbable, hard to believe (like stories told by fishermen)

foxy -- foxlike, cunning or crafty, i. e. characterised by features ascribed to a fox

stagy -- theatrical, unnatural, i. e. inclined to affectation, to unnatural theatrical manners

touchy -- apt to take offence on slight provocation, i. e. resenting a touch or contact (not at all inclined to be touched)1

The Random-House Dictionary defines the meaning of the -y suffix as "characterised by or inclined to the substance or action of the root to which the affix is attached". [46] Yet, even the few given examples show that, on the one hand, there are cases, like touchy or fishy that are not covered by the definition. On the other hand, even those cases that are roughly covered, show a wide variety of subtle shades of meaning. It is not only the suffix that adds its own meaning to the meaning of the root, but the suffix is, in its turn, affected by the root and undergoes certain semantic changes, so that the mutual influence of root and affix creates a wide range of subtle nuances.

But is the suffix -y probably exceptional in this respect? It is sufficient to examine further examples to see that other affixes also offer an interesting variety of semantic shades. Compare, for instance, the meanings of adjective-forming suffixes in each of these groups of adjectives.

eatable (fit or good to eat)1 lovable (worthy of loving) questionable (open to doubt, to question) imaginable (capable of being imagined)

lovely (charming, beautiful, i. e. inspiring love) lonely (solitary, without company; lone; the meaning of the suffix does not seem to add any thing to that of the root)

friendly (characteristic of or befitting a friend) heavenly (resembling or befitting heaven; beautiful, splendid)

3. childish (resembling or befitting a child)

tallish (rather tall, but not quite, i. e. approaching the quality of big size)

girlish (like a girl, but, often, in a bad imitation of one)

bookish (1) given or devoted to reading or study; (2) more acquainted with books than with real

1 The italicised words roughly convey the meanings of the suffixes in each adjective.

The semantic distinctions of words produced from the same root by means of different affixes are also of considerable interest, both for language studies and research work. Compare: womanly -- womanish, flowery -- flowered -- flowering, starry -- starred, reddened -- reddish, shortened -- shortish.

The semantic difference between the members of these groups is very obvious: the meanings of the suffixes are so distinct that they colour the whole words.

Womanly is used in a complimentary manner about girls and women, whereas womanish is used to indicate an effeminate man and certainly implies criticism.

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