Heuristic Strategies For Identifying Etymology

Note: I will expand this file some more, with more examples from other languages, when I get around to it.

1. Introduction To Etymology

Etymology can help us learn languages faster.

2. General Heuristics

  • Know characteristics of the languages from which most of the words in the current language that you are looking at.
  • Another strategy is translating the word into another language.
    • Words that are from Indo-European are often going to be very simple and you will often find their cognates within very distantly related languages like Sanskrit, Pashto, Kurdish, Welsh, Hindi, or Russian since they are within the Indo-European language family
  • Know which words “look” very characteristic of which languages, including the given language’s “native” stock.
  • Know which kinds of words are more likely to be from a very specific language. I know that in french, a lot of the Gaulish words are those that referenced rural, landscape objects and that in English, words that are commonly used in very scientific studies are more likely to be romantic instead of Germanic. The more frequent words in English are more likely to be Germanic
  • Just look it up. I have a built-in dictionary application in my computer that is capable of telling me the etymology of a word. If I want a more sophisticated description of the word’s etymology, I will go to etymonline
  • Be careful of false etymology
    • -er and -est tend to only attach to Germanic adjectives, but they can occasionally attach to the roots of adjectives of foreign origin if it is more phonologically optimal than preceding those adjectives with more.

3. Pronunciations Heuristics

  • Germanic words follow Grimm’s Law, but the Greek, Latin, and French words do not
  • Words using ʃ tend to be of Germanic/Old English origin (never from Old Norse)
    • This is because German, Old English, and the other western Germanic languages underwent a sound change where sk innovated into ʃ
    • Hence words using sk tend to be of Old Norse origin
  • Words that use g + a front vowel tend to be of Old Norse origin (e.g. get, give, gear, etc.)
    • g + front vowel innovated into j + front vowel in the western Germanic languages (e.g. yet, yell, etc.)
  • If a word contains “ch” and is pronounced ʃ, then it is typically of french origin (charlatan, champagne, chateau, etc.)
  • Words that break the rules:
    • ojalá: is Arabic in Spanish because it can only be used for “I”; the accent is on the last syllable instead of the penultimate
    • azúcar: The accent is not on the last syllable and it ends with -ar even though that -ar is typically reserved for verbs in Spanish.
    • Any other words that break the traditional rules for stress

4. Spelling Heuristics

  • Greek “ph” “y”-consonant, “th”, other common/less common digraphs
    • e.g.: alphabet, sophisticated, system, type, python, -ology, phrase, theory, thesis, sophomore, etc.
  • If the digraph “ch” makes the \/k\/ sound, then over 9.5 times out of 10 the word that it is in is of Greek origin.
    • Exceptions might include words of Italian origin (e.g. zucchini)
  • Words that look “weird” to say and have lots of silent letters are often french. Like rendezvous, escargot, sorbet, renaissance, coup d’état
  • English words that have accents like: piñata, déjà dup, coup d’état, jalapeño, café

Chinese Words In English

5. Syllables / Morphemes Heuristics

  • Spanish words that are of Arabic origin often begin with “al” because to my understanding “al” means the in Arabic and “al” often gets clipped onto the beginning of the word.
  • Words of Latin/Romantic origin will often use the digraph “qu”
  • In English, characteristics like being short, monosyllable, simple meanings, and common everyday words are more likely to be of Germanic origin. On the other hand, words that are long, multi-syllable, and have sophisticated
    • Germanic words will often be used in compound words that combine nouns with other nouns like: firetruck, selfie-stick, wheelbarrow, highchair, haircut, homestead and etc.
  • Noting root words that are characteristic of the languages. ex: port, aqua/agua, pre-, re-, pseudo-, -phobia, -ology, nav-
  • Meanings usually tend to be of French, Latin, or Romantic origin.

6. Grammar Heuristics

  • Spanish Ma, Pa, & Ta nouns that end with a: el artista, el problema, el papa
  • The Japanese adjective classes…
  • Note words that have odd plurals. in German you can often tell that a word is from English or a romance language if an “s” is used to indicate the plural form of the word. also, languages that do not indicate plurals like Japanese and Indonesian will have the plural form of a word be the same as the word’s singular form. often times when words from languages like those are borrowed into other languages their plurals will be the same and will therefore be a read flag that they come from one of the those languages

Last Modified: 2024 May 08, 15:36

Author: Zero Contradictions