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Loan and native words relation


Through centuries of borrowing words from other languages, English has acquired a larger and more varied vocabulary. Scholars estimate that in modern English there are about one million words, and they are diverse in their origin. Yet, there are some losses, too.


Borrowings not only extended the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary; they also pushed many native words into oblivion. About two-thirds of all original Anglo-Saxon words died out.“It seems extraordinary, for example, that the Old English words foruncle, nephew, body, skin, face, take, breakfast, vegetables, fruit, money, number, war, touch, window and furniture should have been ousted from the vocabulary entirely, or survive only in remote, recondite catches” /Hughes 1988:4-5/.


First to disappear and to be replaced by borrowed words were many compounds and derivatives that were characteristic of Old English (witanagemot ‘council-meeting’, wergild ‘man-money’ — the financial penalty for killing a man; a verb settan comes into ME, but in OE it was used with lots of suffixes and prefixes: asettan ‘to place’, forsettan ‘obstruct’, foresettan ‘to place before’, gesettan ‘to populate’, tosettan ‘to dispose’, unsettan ‘to put down’). Only some derived words survived (friendship, kingdom, and childhood)/Pei 1967:21/.

Borrowings, except Scandinavian loans, spoken mainly by upper echelons of society, made another radical change in the Old English Anglo-Saxon lexicon — they shifted many native words to a lower stylistic register, to the layer of words spoken mainly by common people (cf.: veil and calf, beef and cow, pork and pig).


Lots of borrowed words influenced not only the lexical but even the grammatical system of English. Borrowings led to the loss of inflection. Under the influence of French some construction typical of that language were used in English, too. For example, the preposition ofbefore a noun phrase became more widely used in modern English than it had been in Old English to express possession (the leg of the table).


Yet, surviving words belonging to the native word-stock are characterized by a high frequency of usage and developed polysemy; they have great word-building potential and enter a number of set-expressions. Thus, in spite of their relatively small number, native words make up a core of the English vocabulary without which the English language cannot function.



Assimilation of borrowings


The life of word-immigrants in English is not easy. They have always been considered alien unless they were borrowings from a kindred language like Old Scandinavian.


Usually they go through a very long process of assimilation: they change to conform to pronunciation patterns and grammar forms of the English language and finally become indistinguishable from native words. Some unconventional sounds and sound combinations are replaced (cf.: Bach [ba:k] in English and [bah] in German; psyche [`saiki] and [psuchē] in Greek, psalm [sa:m] in English and [psalmos] in Greek), devil in English and diabolos in Latin, bishop in English and episcopos in Latin,etc.). The accent in French words is usually transferred to the first syllable as in`honour. Borrowed words lose their former grammatical paradigm as does the Russian borrowing sputnik that acquired in English the regular plural form sputnik-s.


Changes are still taking place in the way words are stressed: in two syllable words the stress has a tendency to be moved from the second syllable to the first (`adult, `garage, `alloy).


So, gradually the border between loan and native words becomes less rigid. Some lexemes, completely or partially assimilated, are able to form hybrids— words of foreign origin but with a native affix (artless, falsehood, and uninteresting) or vice versa, words of native origin but with a borrowed affix (dislike, eatable, lovable, leakage).


Recent loans that came into English through written speech still retain their peculiarities in pronunciation, spelling, morphology and meaning (phenomenon, charisma, and coup d’etate.). They also have a very low derivational potential and low frequency of occurrence.


Today relatively few words are being borrowed into English from foreign languages compared with previous periods (absurd, ivory tower, paparazzo). But the number ofinternal loans — words borrowed from other dialects and variants of the same language — is constantly increasing (gas from American English for petrol, movie for film, radio for wireless, some specific words like OK and Uncle Sam). Some people believe that these internal loans may endanger the British variant of the English language.



Etymological doublets


Etymological doubletsare words with the same etymological origin but which have different phonemic structure and meaning because they were borrowed from different sources or during different periods or as the result of specific historical development of a word in a language.


The major source for etymological doublets in English is words of Latin origin that came into English in two ways: directly from Latin and via French (fragile [L] — frail [Fr], canal [L] — channel [Fr], cavalry [L] — chivalry [Fr]), grammar [L] — glamour[Fr], liquor [L] — liqueur [Fr], major[L]) — mayor [Fr]; senior [L] — sir [Fr].


Some etymological doublets came into English from different dialects of a language (like assay and essay from different French dialects), or from the same language at different periods of its development (like dish and disc (or disk) are both borrowings from Latin; the word dish, however, is an early continental Latin borrowing [OE disc ‘plate’; akin to OHG tisk ‘plate, table’], but the word disc is a new English borrowing from Latin).


The Scandinavian influence is also responsible for many doublets in English, like bathe [OE] — bask [Sc], no [OE] — nay [Sc], rear [OE] — raise [Sc], from [OE]— fro [Sc], shatter [OE] — scatter [Sc], shirt [OE]— skirt [Sc], shift [OE] — skip [Sc], whole [OE] — hale [Sc].


Some doublets may be traced to common Indo-European roots. Thus, guest ‘enemy, stranger’ and host ‘army; multitude’ (the same root is in hostile) both go back to Indo-European ghosti-s, but guest is a native English word that was registered in common Germanic (gasti-z) and host is a Latin borrowing.


The loss of associations between meanings in polysemantic words (‘split polysemy’) supported by further divergence in spelling and sound form may also create etymological doublets as is the case with person and parson (the meaning ‘a non-resident clergyman, who has the function of a parish priest’ in the word personne of Latin origin but the Old French source of borrowing appeared in English, and later came to be spelled differently.


English is especially rich in etymological doublets due to the great influx of words through borrowing. Walter W. Skeat in A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (Oxford, 1955) lists 543 pairs of doublets.


Three words of the same origin make up an etymological triplet(cattle — chattel — capital[fr. L capitale]). These are not as common as etymological doublets.



7. ‘Translator’s false friends’. International words.


In the process of word borrowing only one meaning of a polysemantic word appears in a new language, and even this meaning may be changed. That is why loan words may be tricky for a language learner: a native and foreign words may be similar in form but be radically different in meaning. For example, the central meaning of the noun magazine is not ‘магазин’, as a Russian speaker may assume, but ‘периодический журнал, обычно с иллюстрациями’; the central meaning of the word routine is not only ‘рутина’ but ‘заведенный порядок’, though the word may be translated in this way in some contexts; adventure may not necessarily be ‘авантюра’.


The difference in meaning between correlative words with similar forms is not always illustrated even in the best English-Russian dictionaries. Thus, the main meaning of the word angina is not ‘ангина’ as is stated in the English-Russian Dictionary by V.K. Muller (M., 1977) but ‘грудная жаба’. The adjective Caucasianmeans not only ‘кавказский’ but ‘относящийся к белой расе’. When the adjective eclectic is translated as ‘эклектический’, ‘эклектичный’ as it is in this dictionary, a native Russian speaker would never guess the neutral or even positive connotations of this English word (as in ‘eclectic and thorough introduction to ...’), because in Russian it has only negative connotations: ‘относящийся к эклектизму, проникнутый эклектизмом’ (эклектизм ‘отсутствие единства, целостности, последовательности в убеждениях, теориях; беспринципное сочетание разнородных, противоположных воззрений, например, идеализма с материализмом; в искусстве — формальное, механическое соединение различных стилей’ /Словарь иностранных слов, 1985/). The English word invalid is not fully equivalent to the Russian word инвалид because it is used most frequently as an adjective meaning ‘not valid’, retaining its etymological meaning from the borrowed Latin word.


If words are borrowed from a less prestigious language, their positive connotations may change negatively in the language of borrowing (cf.: uroda ‘a beauty’ in Polish andурод, уродина ‘ugly person’ in Russian, saray ‘palace, mansion’ in Turkish and сарай ‘shed, barn’ in Russian).


The words that have similar forms in different languages but different meanings are referred to be ‘translator’s false friends’.


International wordsdiffer from other borrowings in that they reflect relationships among a number of countries and not relations between two countries as in the case with borrowed words. International words are the result of simultaneous or successive borrowings in many languages (sputnik, perestroika, killer, aria, and opera).


International words and borrowings should not be mixed with words of common Indo-European stock like cat, mother or father, as they always have been in the genetically related languages.


Though the number of loan names in English is great, borrowing has never been the major means of naming and replenishing the English vocabulary. Word-formation and lexical-semantic derivationof a name were much more productive in English through all periods of its historical development.



Further reading:


Амосова Н.Н. Этимологические основы словарного состава современного английского языка. – М.: Издательство иностранной литературы, 1958.

Заботкина В.И. Новая лексика современного английского языка. – М.: Высшая школа, 1989.

Секирин В.П. Заимствования в английском языке. – Kиев, Издательство Киевского университета, 1964.

Barber, Charles. The English language: a historical introduction. – Cambridge: CUP, 1994.

Baugh, Albert C., Cable, Thomas. A History of the English Language. Third Edition (Revised). – Redwood Burn Limited, Towbridge & Esher, 1978.

Hughes, Geoffrey. Words in time. – Oxford: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1988.

McCrum, Robert; Cran, William; MacNeil, Robert. The Story of English. New and Revised Edition. – London, Boston: BBC Books, 1992.

Pei, Mario. The story of the English language. – Philadelphia and New York: J.B.Lippincott Co., 1967.




It is meaning that makes language useful.

— George A. Miller, The science of word, 1991:146.

Lexical semantics


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