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(ĕtĭmŏl`əjē), branch of linguistics that investigates the history, development, and origin of words. It was this study that chiefly revealed the regular relations of sounds in the Indo-European languages (as described in Grimm's lawGrimm's law,
principle of relationships in Indo-European languages, first formulated by Jakob Grimm in 1822 and a continuing subject of interest and investigation to 20th-century linguists.
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) and led to the historical investigation of language in the 19th cent. In the 20th cent. linguists continued to use etymology to learn how meanings change, but they came to consider that the meaning of a form at a given time must be understood without reference to its history if it is to be understood at all. The term etymology has been replaced by the term derivation for the creation of combinations in a language, such as new nouns formed with the ending -ness. See grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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; dictionarydictionary,
published list, in alphabetical order, of the words of a language. In monolingual dictionaries the words are explained and defined in the same language; in bilingual dictionaries they are translated into another language.
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inquiry into and accounts of sources and development of words. In modern linguistics, a distinction is drawn between the diachronic study of language (etymology), and its synchronic study (structural analysis) (see SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC). Etymology 's concern is with the origins and changes in meaning of particular words, and also with the historical ancestry of groups or ‘families’ of languages, e.g. Indo-European, Amerindian, etc.



the branch of linguistics that investigates the origins of words, their original structures, and their semantic relationships.

The term “etymology” was introduced more than 2,000 years ago by the classical philosophers. In the broad sense, etymology is the reconstruction of the phonetic and derivational elements of a word. In addition to demonstrating relationships between sounds and identifying identical morphemes, it accounts for the selection of morpheme combinations in specific derivational patterns. The term “etymology” is also applied to an account of the derivation of a word.

Characterized by a multiplicity of possible solutions, etymological study makes extensive use of hypothesis and seldom arrives at definitive results. Etymology is a special case of the explanatory sciences, whose constructs, unlike those of the descriptive sciences, are markedly hypothetical in nature.

The basis for etymological research is provided by comparative-historical linguistics. Consequently, etymology has proved most successful in dealing with the languages that have undergone the most extensive comparative-historical study—for example, the Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages. Cases of secondary etymological interpretation or the linking of words that do not come from the same source are called folk, or false, etymologies.


Pisani, V. Etimologiia. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from Italian.)
Toporov, V. N. “O nekotorykh teoreticheskikh osnovaniiakh etimologicheskogo analiza.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1960, no. 3.
Trubachev, O. N. “Zadacha etimologicheskikh issledovanii v oblasti slavianskikh iazykov.” Kratkie soobshcheniia lnstituta slavianovedeniia AN SSSR, 1961, issues 33–34.
Etymologic Edited by R. Schmitt. Darmstadt, 1977.


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