Etymology ( word origin ) in the understanding of modern linguistics is the explanation of the origin of a word or morpheme in a given shape and meaning. As a language history ( diachronic ) oriented mode of explanation, it is part of historical linguistics, their results are collected in etymological dictionaries and included as additional information in dictionaries and encyclopedias of another kind.

Older eras was the etymology as an explanation of an applied in the word " truth" ( το ἔτυμον ), which was using similarities of the word form accessible to other words and understood as a statement about the authority designated by word thing and / or as actual, original meaning of the word. As a rhetorical argument ( argumentum a nomine ) is the etymology in the form of a notice or an appeal to the assumed origin and original meaning of a word traditionally the purpose to support their own arguments by an objective linguistic facts and give it so special persuasion.

Term origin

Etymology is a Greek and foreign word derives from ancient Greek ἐτυμολογία etymología, the ἔτυμος his hand on the components étymos true " and λόγος lógos 'word' back and in a broader sense means" explanation of each word inherent truth "means. The similar cars synonym word -Her - Coming refers to the origin, the origin, the arrival (formerly referred to as " coming" ) of the word.

The connection of the components is in Greek since the 1st century BC occupied ( Dionysius of Halicarnassus ), as already borrowing etymologus into Latin ( Varro ), but is after the later testimony of Diogenes Laertius ( VII.7 ) already Chrysippus have written in the 3rd century BC works with the title Περὶ τῶν ἐτυμολογικῶν, About etymological issues ' and ἐτυμολογικόν, etymological '.

History of the etymology


Already in ancient Greece, there were philosophical currents, going about the " correctness " of the " name ", but this activity was not usually the term " etymology " be used. So already asked Heraclitus of Ephesus ( 500 BC ) to assess the name of a thing reflects the truth of a matter. So, how the name actually corresponds to the designated by him subject. Later, Plato in his dialogue Cratylus dealt in detail with the accuracy of the names. In this dialogue Plato leaves a representative of the mystical- religious thesis, according to which all words have their meaning by nature and no definition need to compete against a representative of the more modern, first attested in the Cratylus counter-thesis, according to which the relationship between words and their importance to the arbitrary decision by the people based. ( For discussion of the clear language in antiquity see Seven Born 1976). The etymology was a part of the ancient grammar, and was mainly operated in addition to the philosophers of the so-called grammarians, but from today's perspective without reliable methodology, so that on mere speculation based under vague analogies in sound or typeface derivations of a critical examination by modern linguistics usually have not held up. We therefore speak of Pseudetymologien (also pseudo - etymologies ), which do not significantly differ from the so-called Vulgäretymologien or folk etymologies, a phenomenon that is still in the non-scientific field plays a significant role and often even find argumentative use, eg the erroneous derivation of densities of closely held by Latin dictare. The etymology of a word was regarded in ancient times as the more important part of the meaning statement that even encyclopedias as that of the late antique grammarian Isidore of Seville, the title Etymologiarum immersive originum libri ( etymologies or origins [ the words ], in short: Etymologiae ) bear could.

Other cultures, particularly those with long scriptural tradition, such as India and China, have engaged in early etymology, which should enable them, among others, a deeper understanding of traditional texts.

Middle Ages

The highlight of the " truth-seeking etymology " we find in Isidore of Seville beginning of the 7th century AD, ie in the early Middle Ages. In his major work Etymologiae libri viginti he gives numerous examples of etymologies, the truth of which, however, is in doubt. Also Isidore of Seville named many etymologies to explain things of course that are historically doubtful. For example: " persona est exegesis, Physiologus " ( to explain the animal name from the word shape is looking for), or the Legenda aurea, the first dedicated wide attention before the vita of a saint 's name. Peter Heliae also understands the etymological meaning of words as a synonym for a " verdict " in itself ( veriloquium ): " because who etymologisiert, shows the true, that is the first origin of the word at. " (Translation: Arens 1969 39)


Nowadays etymology is within the historical comparative linguistics, the discipline that development and historical change tracking of individual words and holds in etymological dictionaries. Historical Linguistics searches for recurring phenomena of language change and derives from them from sound laws, which in turn make it easier to observe changes of a word in the course of history. In addition to purely linguistic study of etymology brings the philological research also benefits for the detailed understanding of texts and words or phrases. Another field of application is the transfer of results to the archeology. Here spoke historical circumstances can provide guidance for various archaeological issues, such as in the case of the reconstruction of prehistoric migration. Also sociolinguistic conclusions about social and cultural history are at the fore.

Etymology in science and society

In the context of linguistics etymology want to find out about the individual phenomena of historical change in a language more. From the knowledge thus gained should generally follow a broader understanding of the development history of a single language, the circumstances of language change. The classical understanding of the etymology and practical applications as mentioned above stands mostly in the background. In the everyday, non-scientific study of etymology, however, the normative character of the early etymology has remained more or less pronounced. So is demonstrated as the basis of the history of a word, that a certain modern manner of use is wrong because they do not correspond to the historical and is not geared to the word in the story apparently becoming the literal meaning.

Representative of a weakened variant of this argument reject this modern view from not basically hoping for but from the study of the evolutionary history of a word new and additional, in-depth aspects to an understanding of its meaning. Here it is assumed that these aspects are gone, as it lost over time and can be made aware again by philological studies. The reason given is that thinking could take place as a reflection of reality only in the images of perception and thus alone the perception and consequently also the thinking is influenced by both the conscious as well as the unconscious content of a concept as well as its shape. The etymology is seen here as a way to make these unconscious parts perceptible and so the perception and thinking to tap into this lost content again. So should - in the tradition of ancient thinkers - a contribution to the richness of language and thought are made.

Irrespective of the question whether each cited word historical derivation is factually correct or not advised representatives of both views then in contradiction to modern linguistic assumptions when applied to a close and direct relationship between a mental concept and the shape of the word with which it is expressed, exist. This view is opposed by the functional view of linguistics that a specific word form get their meaning only by arbitrariness and convention. Arbitrariness and convention are key concepts of the understanding of characters in linguistics since the early 20th century; one refers to on Ferdinand de Saussure (French 1916; German translator's 1931/1967 ). They state that the relationship between the form and the meaning of signs, ie, is conditioned by words, arbitrary (arbitrarily ) and by social convention. Have taken for a word therefore no proper meaning and effect except that which is noted in the respective presence of the customary use. The existence of a beyond the word in any way additionally attached importance that you could find in any form or should be, doubts here. Under such assumption, the concerns raised by the " normative " etymologists interpretations of the meaning of the word can no longer lay claim validity than any alternative proposed interpretation also.

The view of the arbitrariness of the sign shall be supplemented by the naturalness theory in modern linguistics by the discovery that many aspects of language iconic ( mapping ) are, so not only arbitrary (arbitrarily ).

Etymological explanations are also often used in support of ideologies of every stripe, such as esoteric, political religions, and v. a m. For example, try nationalists the supposed superiority of their culture through their effect on the vocabulary of another language to "prove" or reconstruct desired family relationships of two cultures from a suspected linguistic relationship. The etymological explanation seems to be a special, immediately obvious " probative value " to be his own, by familiar topics (one word) is represented by previously unknown side.