Etymology and Motivation of Some Loans in English

Essay, 2010

9 Pages

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Over the years English has been absorbing words from other languages at a pretty smart pace, sometimes giving something in return, sometimes capitalizing on the loan lexemes. As is known, the process of borrowing can be stimulated by various factors, both linguistic and extra-linguistic ones. In the present paper we shall predominantly focus on the latter type of reasons, when a word is borrowed either together with the object it denotes or because the recipient language lacks a lexeme that would render the phenomenon succinctly and accurately. The number of borrowed, that is, non-native words, in English has been estimated as veering between 60 and 80 %, the exact figure, however, is hard to arrive at, partly, because it is not settled when one should stop counting and what date (day) should be deemed as one which registers the quantity of foreign element precisely. Most of the borrowed words in the English word-stock are of Romance origin, which is explained by the historical contacts with Romans, the Norman French, as well as the sway of the Renaissance period in the European cultural tradition. Due to the perceived higher level of development, the conquering nations did not encounter much resistance in terms of the acceptance and absorption of their words, partly because the words were not really imposed on the Britons: their assimilation was a natural and an inevitable consequence of either lacking designations for some phenomena or of the necessity to be understood by the nobility.

Most of the foreign words we discuss here have undergone the process of either partial or complete assimilation, and/or have been subject to the processes of demotivation and morphological simplification. The former term means that in the course of the development of the word and in the course of its semantic readjustment the recipient native speakers no longer associate the word with what it meant originally or with what it meant in the source language. The latter process, which is frequently combined with the former, presupposes that an originally compound word due to the phonetic development is no longer deemed as a compound, but as a “simple” one-stem word. The result is that many of the words that were borrowed into the English language may not be recognized as coming from a foreign source or as belonging to a particular language.

The present paper is also concerned with disclosing the motivation and the rationale behind loans that are familiar to the absolute majority of native speakers. We were partially inspired by the romantic view of the meaning of words and the knowledge of language, according to which a speaker cannot be regarded as fully linguistically competent or knowledgeable if he/she is not aware of the etymology of words and their motivation, because only then can he truly enjoy all the nuances of meaning, can he feel the potential for word play. In other words, knowing what a word means or even how it is used does not amount to knowing why it was chosen as the designation for a particular referent. From a more pragmatic and ultimately credible point of view, which was in particular upheld by A.A. Potebnja, to be a competent and a confident speaker of any language it is not at all necessary to know the etymology of every single word or the motivation behind it, what’s more, one could probably go as far as to say that one can be a confident and a (more or less) competent speaker without knowing the etymology of any word. Children’s virtuoso application of words and usage of language can serve a good proof of it. The present paper does not attempt to denounce this highly pragmatic and down-to-earth view of language competence; however, I do believe that investigating words’ etymology may ultimately enrich the theory of nomination, help to get an insight into cognition and facilitate understanding peoples’ mentality. After all, it is not completely erratic or accidental that one chooses a particular mode of nomination, discarding, whether consciously or subconsciously, the rest of them. Most of the words we chose to analyze here do seem to be compounds in the source language, based on metaphorical or metonymic transference. The result is that the word represents a vaguely descriptive rather than a terminological nomination. Preference for such designations can be accounted for by the perception specifics or by the lack of knowledge about the properties of the referent, or by the striking, vivid image the referent forms in the mind of the speaker, therefore only one, in all probability, irrelevant from the point of view the referent’s essence, feature is chosen as the basis for nomination.

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Etymology and Motivation of Some Loans in English
Moscow State Pedagogical University
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Moscow State Pedagogical University
etymology, motivation, loans, foreign element
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Natalie Lavrova (Author), 2010, Etymology and Motivation of Some Loans in English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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