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The vocabulary and word-building means in Old English

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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.

Native words

Native OE 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 IE 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 wīfman or wimman (NE woman) consists of two roots which occurred as separate words in other OG languages, but formed a compound only in OE.

Foreign elements in the OE vocabulary

Although borrowed words constituted only a small portion of the OE vocabulary – all in all about six hundred words, - they are of great interest for linguistic and historical study. OE borrowings come from two sources: Celtic and Latin.

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 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 meager. 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. Various Celtic designations of ‘river’ and ‘water’ were understood by the Germanic invaders as proper names: Ouse, Esk, Exe, Avon; Thames, Stour, Dover also come from Celtic. Many place-names with Celtic elements are hybrids; the Celtic component, combined with a Latin or a Germanic component, makes a compound place-name, e.g.: Celtic plus Latin: Man-chester, Win-chester, Lan-caster; Celtic plus Germanic: York-shire, Corn-wall, Devon-shire, Canter-bury.

Latin influence on the OE vocabulary

Latin words entered the English language at different stages of OE history. Chronologically they can be devided 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 civilization began a long time before the Anglo-Saxon invasion. 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. Among the Latin loan-words adopted in Britain were some place-names made of Latin and Germanic components, e.g. Portsmouth, Greenport, Greenwich. The next 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 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 Germanic languages. OE Mōnan-dæз (Monday) ‘day of the moon’, L Lunae dies.

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, зōd.

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.

Ways of word-formation

OE employed two ways of word-formation: derivation and word-composition.

Word-derivation

Derived words in OE were built with the help of affixes: prefixes and suffixes; in addition to these principal means of derivation, words were distinguished with the help of sound interchanges and word stress.

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. The gradation series were similar to those employed in the strong verbs: rīdan v – rād n [i:~a:], NE ride, raid. Many vowel interchanges arose due to palatal mutation; the element [i/j] in the derivational suffix caused the mutation of the root-vowel; the same root without the suffix retained the original non-mutated vowel, e.g.:

a) nouns and verbs: fōd – fēdan (NE food – feed)

b) adjectives and verbs: full – fyllan (NE full – fill)

c) nouns and adjectives: long – lenзþu (NE long, length).

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. The verb had unaccented prefixes while the corresponding nouns had stressed prefixes, so that the position of stress served as an additional distinctive feature between them.

Prefixation

Genetically, some OE prefixes go back to IE prototypes, e.g. OE un-, a negative prefix. Many more prefixes sprang in PG and OE from prepositions and adverbs, e.g. mis-, be-, ofer-. Prefixes were widely used with verbs but were far less productive with other parts of speech. The most frequent and probably the most productive OE prefixes were: ā-, be-, for-, fore-, зe-, ofer-, un-. The prefix modified the lexical meaning of the word, usually without changing its reference to a part of speech, e.g. spēdiз – unspēdiз. Some prefixes, both verbal and nominal, gave a more special sense to the word and changed its meaning very considerably, e.g.: weorðan – for-weorðan v, forwyrð n (become, perish, destruction). Some prefixes had a very weak of general meaning bordering on grammatical, e.g. зe-, the commonest verb orefix, conveyed the meaning of result or completion and was therefore often used as a marker of the Past Participle – sittan - зe-sett.

Suffixation

Suffixation was by far the most productive means of word derivation in OE. Suffixes not only modified the lexical meaning of the word but could refer it to another part of speech. Suffixes were mostly applied in forming nouns and adjectives, seldom – in forming verbs. 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 in Late PG and OE in the course of morphological simplification of the word. The old stem-suffixes cannot be regarded as means of derivation in OE. Their application in word derivation can be best shown in reconstructed, pre-written forms of weak verbs. Weak verbs of Class I were originally derived from nominal or verbal roots with the help of the stem-forming suffix –i/j-, e.g. tæl-i-an, mōt-i-an, OE tellan, mētan – from the roots of OE talu, зe-mot; verbs of Class II were formed with the help of the most productive stem-suffix -ō-, or -ōj-, e.g.: hop-ō-jan, luf-ō-jan, OE hopian, lufian from corresponding nouns hopa, lufu. Suffixes are usually classified according to the part of speech which they can form. In OE there were two large groups of suffixes: suffixes of nouns and suffixes of adjectives.

Noun suffixes are divided into suffixes of “agent nouns” (“nomina agentis”) and those of abstract nouns. Among the suffixes of “agent nouns” there were some dead, unproductive suffixes, e.g.: -a, as in the Masc. a-stem hunta; -end, originally the suffix of the Present Participle, e.g. OE fīend. Later it was replaced by -ere. OE agent nouns in -ere were derived from nouns and verbs: bōcere, fiscere. The nouns in -ere were Masc.; the corresponding suffix of Fem. nouns -estre was less common: spinnestre. Among suffixes of abstract nouns we can trace a productive suffix –nes/-nis: blindnis, beorhtnes. Another productive suffix, -ung/-ing, was used to build abstract nouns from verbs, e.g. earnian earnung (NE earn, earning). A most important feature of OE suffixation is the growth of new suffixes from root-morphemes. To this group belong OE -dōm, -hād, -lāc and some others, e.g. frēodōm (NE freedom), cīldhād (NE childhood), wedlāc (NE wedlock). Adjectives were usually derived from nouns, rarely from verb stems or other adjectives. The most productive suffixes were -iз, an -isc, e.g. mōdiз ‘proud’(from mōd NE mood); mennisc ‘human’ (from man with the root-vowel [a]).

Word-composition

Word-composition was a highly productive way of developing the vocabulary in OE. As in other OG languages, 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. wīd-sǽ ‘ocean’ (wide sea). Compound adjectives were formed by joining a noun-stem to an adjective: dōm-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’.


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linguist55
Дата: 15.11.2008 20:39
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The article is written in good plain English and makes it possible for the reader to get a good idea of what the OE vocabulary was like and how it was formed.

Alexandra
Дата: 02.05.2011 16:49
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Dear Sir/Madam, Could you please give me the source which you used writing this article? I need it for my diploma work! I'm looking forward to hearing from you as soon as possible, Yours faithfully, Alex

Вусал
Дата: 07.06.2012 01:04
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Красота! Спасибо огромное, спасли.

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