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 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:
- common IE words;
- common Germanic words;
- specifically OE
Words belonging to
the common IE layer
constitute the oldest part
of the OE vocabulary. Among these words we find names of some natural
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.
foeder – Vater; bropor –
Bruder; modor – Mutter; dohtor – Tochter; sunu – Sohn;
mona – Mond; niht –
Nacht; woeter – Wasser; fyr – Feuer;
Germanic layer includes words which are
shared by most Germanic languages. 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.
screap – sheep; macian –
make; hus – house; drincan – drink; land – land; safe – sea;
wisdom – wisdom;
OE, that is words which do not occur in
other Germanic or non-Germanic languages. These words are few: OE
clipian - call, OE brid – bird, wifman – woman and several
Foreign elements in
the OE vocabulary.
OE borrowings come from
two sources: Celtic and Latin.
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. 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
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.
influence on the OE vocabulary.
borrowings from Latin belong 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.
belt - belt; butere -
butter; camp - field, battle; candel - candle; catt - cat; ceaster -
city; cetel - kettle; cupp - cup; cycene - kitchen; cyse - cheese;
introduction of Christianity in the
late 6th c. Numerous Latin words which found their way into the
English language during these five hundred years clearly fall into
two main groups: words pertaining to religion; words connected with
orgel – organ; papa –
pope; regol – religious rule;
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, Lunae dies.
means in Old English.
According to their morphological structure
OE words fell into three main types:
- simple words
(root-words) containing a root-morpheme and
no derivational affixes, e.g. land, зōd.
derived words consisting of one root-morpheme and one or more
affixes, e.g. be-зinnan.
compound words, whose stems were made up of more than one
root-morpheme, e.g. mann-cynn.