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Derivation Op Modern English

Think of the meaning of the words arranged below in pairs.

give, present; climb, ascend; go down, descend; mislead, deceive; stick, adhere; come back, return; sweat, perspire; free, deliver; might, power; gown, dress; sin, trespass; happiness, felicity; forefather, progenitor; bloom, flower; forerunner, precursor; drawback, obstacle; fellow-feeling, sympathy; heavenly, celestial; earthly, terrestrial; motherly, maternal; fatherly, paternal; brotherly, fraternal.

These words show that the English language has more than one word to express nearly or quite the same idea. This is true because of the history of England and of the English people.

Before England was conquered by William the Norman, in the eleventh century, the language of England was Anglo-Saxon. The Normans brought in their French, a language derived from the Latin. The two chief elements of the language after the coming of the Normans were therefore Anglo-Saxon and Latin.

These two languages were used side by side for a time; but each had its effect upon the other until early in the fifteenth century, when the two languages had become practically one. This language was, however, quite different from either of its original elements.

Languages change with use; new elements are introduced from time to time; and words formerly used disappear or change their meaning. This is especially true of the English language.

Such pairs of words as ox, beef; calf, veal; sheep, mutton; sweat, perspire, - show a slight difference pf meaning of the words in the same pair. Some of these differences have come from the differences in occupation of the two peoples, - the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans.

In the pairs of words used above the Anglo-Saxon words are italicized; the French are in Roman type. The Normans were the rich, the powerful, the titled; the Saxons tended the cattle, were the herdsmen, the farmers, the laborers; so we find Saxon words used for the cattle the Saxon herdsmen tended, and the Norman words used for the meat when it was served to the Norman lord.

Differences of this kind hold good throughout the language. The words designating common things, like plow, furrow, hearth and home, are Anglo-Saxon words; the words designating the rich and the things they alone used, like chevalier, falcon, and castle, are the words introduced by the Normans.

Yet in spite of the number of French words the Normans succeeded in introducing into the English, it is still an Anglo-Saxon language. All the pronouns, most of the conjunctions, and prepositions, are Anglo-Saxon. All the irregular verbs, all nouns having irregular plurals, all adjectives and adverbs irregularly compared, and in general all words belonging to common every-day things or thoughts, are Anglo-Saxon words.

It is quite possible to speak or to write well using only Anglo-Saxon words. In fact, the best writers in English use from seventy to ninety per cent of Anglo-Saxon words. It would thus seem that while the Normans conquered the Saxons for the time being, the Saxons were the true conquerors; for the English people to-day, not only in their language, but in their manners and customs, in their thoughts, feelings, and actions, in short, in their chief characteristics, are Anglo-Saxon. Every grammatical form of the language is Anglo-Saxon. Our language in its grammar, therefore, is Anglo-Saxon.

When the Normans were obliged to use an Anglo-Saxon word to make the people understand what they wanted, they did not trouble themselves about the ending or the inflection for person, number, gender, and case, but used the word without regard to ending or inflection; and the Saxons treated the Norman words in exactly the same way. This is how it happens that we have so few inflections in English.

While the Latin language is full of inflections and endings, the English language of to-day is almost un-inflected. If it is remembered how few forms the English has for its verbs, nouns, and adjectives, as compared with other languages, it will be readily understood why the English is sometimes called a grammarless language.

As the English language is capable of expressing every shade of thought that can be expressed by other languages, and often has two or more words to choose from, to convey the same idea, it will be seen that we have lost nothing in losing our inflections, and have gained much in richness and flexibility in our synonyms by absorption from other languages.

The English-speaking people have never hesitated to borrow a word from any language whenever it seemed desirable or convenient. All our scientific and technical terms are Latin or Greek.

Such words as man, boy, child, dog, bird, cow, house, tree, stone, and book have their first or original meaning; they are primitive words, that is, they are not derived from other words.

A primitive word is a word that is not derived from another word.

Notice how the following words differ from the primitive words just studied: inclose, enthrone, interfere, prefix, suffix, kindness, lovely, beautiful. These are derivative words.

A derivative word is a word that is derived from another word.

The following words, man, child, herd, sheep, hen, barn, well, rail, school, motor, and church are simple words.

A simple word is one not composed of other words.

Such words as mankind, childhood, herdsman, sheep-fold, hencoop, barnyard, wellcurb, railroad, schoolhouse, motorman, and churchyard are formed by joining other words. They are compound words.

A compound word is one made by joining two or more simple words.

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