English Words: History and Structure

English Words: History and Structure

English Words: History and Structure

English Words: History and Structure

Synopsis

English Words: History and Structure is concerned primarily with the learned vocabulary of English, the words borrowed from the classical languages and French. It is both an introduction to some of the basic principles of linguistic analysis and a helpful manual for vocabulary discernment and enrichment. Designed to deepen and strengthen the knowledge acquired in the classroom, exercises to accompany each chapter and further readings on recent loans and the legal and medical vocabulary of English are available online at http://uk.cambridge.org/linguistics/resources/englishwor ds.

Excerpt

The two general themes of this book are the historical origins and the structure of English words. Our word stock is huge. It is useful to divide it up between words that belong to the common language that everybody knows from an early age and words that are learned in the course of our education. The former, the core vocabulary, is nearly the same for everyone. The latter, the learned vocabulary, is peripheral and certainly not shared by everyone. The core vocabulary is not an area where we need special instruction – the core vocabulary is acquired at a pre-educational stage. Our learned vocabulary is a different matter. It varies greatly in size and composition from one individual to another, depending on education and fields of specialization. No single individual ever controls more than a fraction of the learned vocabulary. Often the extent of one's vocabulary becomes a measure of intellect. Knowledge about the history and structure of our words – both the core and the learned vocabulary – is a valuable asset.

The vocabulary of English is not an unchanging list of words. New words enter the language every day, and words cease to be used. The two sources of new words are borrowing and word-creation. In fields of higher learning, like the life sciences, physical sciences, medicine, law, and the social sciences, English has usually borrowed words from other languages to get new words to cover new concepts or new material or abstract phenomena. Words referring to notions and objects specific to other cultures are often borrowed wholesale. We may borrow a word as a whole, or just its central parts (the roots). We have borrowed mainly from Latin, Greek, and French. We will leave the discussion of borrowing for later chapters. In this chapter, we will focus on the patterns of vocabulary innovation – the creation of new words – that occur within English.

We now address this topic: where do our new words originate – how do they get created – when we don't borrow them? Other than borrowing, we can count ten main sources of words in English. All but the first involve the creation of new words. These are by inheritance, by creative imagination, by blending, by joining initial letters of a phrase, by shortening, derivation, conversion, compounding, by using names as ordinary words, and by some rare echoic processes.

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