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Thread: Paucity of Germanic adjectives in English

  1. #1
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    Post Paucity of Germanic adjectives in English



    English is generally classified as Germanic language, despite having less than a third of its vocabulary from Germanic roots.

    One of the principal reasons why English is considered a Germanic rather than Romance language is that most of its basic everyday words are Germanic. Let's see if that is true of adjectives. Here is the list of the 25 most common adjectives in English:

    1. good => Germanic
    2. new => PIE (Latin novus, Old English neowe)
    3. first => Germanic
    4. last => Germanic
    5. long => Latin
    6. great => PIE (Latin grandis, West Germanic *grautaz)
    7. little => Germanic but quite rare in other modern Germanic languages
    8. own => Germanic
    9. other => PIE (Latin alter, Proto-Germanic *antharaz)
    10. old => Germanic
    11. right => Germanic
    12. big => unique to English
    13. high => PIE (French haut, Latin altus, Old English heh, Proto-Germanic *haukhaz)
    14. different => Latin
    15. small => Germanic
    16. large => Latin
    17. next => Germanic
    18. early => Germanic but unique to English nowadays
    19. young => Germanic
    20. important => Latin
    21. few => PIE (*pau 'little, few'), but only survived in English and Romance languages (Latin paucus, French peu)
    22. public => Latin
    23. bad => unique to English
    24. same => Germanic but unique to English
    25. able => Latin


    Only 10 of the top 25 adjectives are of purely Germanic origin and have cognates in other modern Germanic languages.

    This oddity is even more apparent when one looks at the most basic adjectives in English. Lots of them have no cognate in other modern Germanic languages, and the etymology of some is so mysterious that nobody knows where they come from. A few examples:

    English adjectives of unclear/unknown origin

    - average
    - bad
    - big
    - crazy
    - funny
    - lazy
    - tired

    English adjectives of Proto-Indo-European origin but unique to English

    - cheap => English coinage
    - evil
    - healthy
    - hollow
    - mad => derived from a PIE and Germanic root, but meaning(s) unique to English.
    - quick => based on a Proto-Germanic and PIE root, but sense of 'fast' unique to English.
    - sad => based on a Proto-Germanic and PIE root for 'satiated'

    English adjectives probably based on a Germanic root but unique to English

    - blunt => cognates vaguely with Old Norse, but ultimately of unknown origin.
    - clever
    - dark
    - dirty
    - empty => found in Old English, but of unknown origin.
    - happy
    - tall
    - scary => derived from Old Norse, but of unknown origin.
    - smooth => found in Old English, but of unknown origin.
    - steep => probably Germanic, but of unknown origin.
    - stingy => English coinage
    - straight => derived from Old English but origin unknown
    - swift => English coinage
    - wicked => English coinage from the Old English noun wicca. Unique to English.


    English adjectives with ancient Germanic cognates but no modern ones

    - angry => only found in Old English and Gothic
    - back => only found in Old English and Old Frisian
    - early => only found in Old English or Old Norse
    - fair
    - flat
    - guilty => only found in Old English
    - hilly
    - ill => vaguely cognates with Old Norse
    - naughty => only found in Old English
    - shallow => only found in Old English
    - together => only found in Old English


    English adjectives with a few modern Germanic cognates but of unknown, probably non-Germanic origin

    - busy => only related to Old Dutch bezich, Low GerMan besig.
    - lean => vaguely related to the East Frisian luf, Dutch dialectal loof.
    - narrow => sole cognates in Dutch and Frisian; probably not from Proto-Germanic.


    English adjectives of Germanic origin but with a unique sense/usage in English

    - clean => distantly related to the West Germanic term for small, but English sense not found elsewhere.
    - creepy
    - kind => derived from the Germanic word for 'kin'.
    - mean => derived from the Old English gemæne (common, public), from the Germanic root *ga-mainiz meaning 'possessed jointly'.
    - pretty => of West Germanic origin, but English meaning not found elsewhere.
    - ready => derived from the Germanic word for 'arranged'.
    - same => derived from the Germanic word for 'together'.
    - silly => derived from the Germanic word for 'happy'.
    - tiny
    - wrong => derived from the Germanic word for 'crooked'.
    - ugly => derived fom Old Norse, but unique to English with this meaning.


    English adjectives of Romance origin but with a unique sense/usage in English

    - cheerful => Anglo-Fr. chere and Latin cara, both meaning 'face'.
    - cute => perhaps derived from the Romance word 'acute', but otherwise unique to English.
    - nice => derived many times from Latin nescius ('ignorant'); unique to English.
    - proud => derived from the Old French prud (brave, valiant), itself from Latin prode (profitable).


    All the above (57 words listed so far) could be considered coinages of English or Old English, or words that have died out in other modern languages. The fact that they are unique to English makes me want to count them separately from true Germanic words.


    Examples of adjectives that have obvious equivalent in other modern Germanic languages and can therefore truly be classified in the modern Germanic family include:

    1. bitter
    2. broad
    3. cold
    4. cool
    5. dead
    6. deep
    7. dull
    8. dusty
    9. dry
    10. even
    11. far
    12. fast
    13. fat
    14. fierce
    15. first
    16. free
    17. friendly
    18. full
    19. good
    20. hard
    21. high
    22. hot
    23. hungry
    24. late
    25. last
    26. light
    27. lively
    28. loud
    29. lovely
    30. low
    31. lucky
    32. next
    33. old
    34. open
    35. right
    36. ripe
    37. rotten
    38. sharp
    39. shiny
    40. shy
    41. sick
    42. slow
    43. soft
    44. sour
    45. strong
    46. sweet
    47. thick
    48. thin
    49. thirsty
    50. true
    51. young
    52. warm
    53. weak
    54. well
    55. wet
    56. wild
    57. wise
    58. witty
    59. wonderful


    Some single- or double-syllable adjectives may have a Germanic look to them (at least for people not well versed in Latin or Romance languages), but are actually derived from Latin or Old French:

    1. afraid
    2. bland
    3. clear
    4. close
    5. eager
    6. easy
    7. faithful
    8. faint
    9. fancy
    10. fine
    11. foolish
    12. fresh
    13. huge
    14. miser
    15. mute
    16. noisy
    17. nasty
    18. poor
    19. powerful
    20. quaint
    21. quiet
    22. safe
    23. spicy
    24. square
    25. tasty


    The vast remainder of common adjectives in English are all from French or Latin.

    1. able
    2. acid
    3. adorable
    4. agreeable
    5. alert
    6. amused
    7. ancient
    8. annoyed
    9. automatic
    10. anxious
    11. arrogant
    12. beautiful
    13. brave
    14. brief
    15. calm
    16. careful
    17. cautious
    18. charming
    19. chemical
    20. colourful
    21. comfortable
    22. common
    23. complete
    24. complex
    25. complicated
    26. concerned
    27. condemned
    28. confused
    29. conscious
    30. cooperative
    31. courageous
    32. cruel
    33. curious
    34. damaged
    35. dangerous
    36. defeated
    37. defiant
    38. delicate
    39. delightful
    40. dependent
    41. depressed
    42. determined
    43. different
    44. difficult
    45. disgusted
    46. distinct
    47. disturbed
    48. doubtful
    49. elated
    50. elegant
    51. embarrassed
    52. enchanting
    53. encouraging
    54. energetic
    55. enthusiastic
    56. envious
    57. excited
    58. expensive
    59. exuberant
    60. false
    61. famous
    62. fantastic
    63. feeble
    64. female
    65. fertile
    66. fixed
    67. fragile
    68. frantic
    69. frequent
    70. future
    71. general
    72. gentle
    73. gigantic
    74. glorious
    75. graceful
    76. greasy
    77. grotesque
    78. hilarious
    79. important
    80. impossible
    81. infamous
    82. innocent
    83. inquisitive
    84. large
    85. long
    86. male
    87. married
    88. massive
    89. material
    90. medical
    91. medium
    92. military
    93. miniature
    94. mixed
    95. modern
    96. necessary
    97. nervous
    98. normal
    99. obedient
    100. obnoxious
    101. opposite
    102. outrageous
    103. panicky
    104. parallel
    105. past
    106. perfect
    107. physical
    108. plain
    109. pleasant
    110. poised
    111. polite
    112. political
    113. possible
    114. present
    115. private
    116. probable
    117. public
    118. rapid
    119. real
    120. repulsive
    121. rich
    122. round
    123. second
    124. secret
    125. separate
    126. serious
    127. silent
    128. simple
    129. sociable
    130. solid
    131. special
    132. splendid
    133. strange
    134. stupid
    135. successful
    136. sudden
    137. terrible
    138. terrific
    139. usual
    140. victorious
    141. violent
    142. vivacious



    All in all, I have listed 57 adjectives unique to English, 59 of Germanic origin, and 167 of Romance origin. Out of a total of 283 common adjectives, only 20% have cognates in modern Germanic languages.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 01-11-12 at 14:29.
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    Only 10 of the top 25 adjectives are of purely Germanic origin and have cognates in other modern Germanic languages.
    IMHO that standard is too high. I think we should instead focus on words that have apparent Germanic transmission, i.e., they got into English via Germanic speech. Otherwise, you're dismissing words that apparently come from a Germanic source, just because they haven't changed much in the Germanic family or the rest of IE over time.

    Then we get:


    1. good => Germanic
    2. new => Germanic (O.E. neowe, A.S. niwe, Proto-Germanic *newjaz)
    3. first => Germanic
    4. last => Germanic
    5. long => Germanic (O.E. lang, Proto-Germanic *langgaz)
    6. great => Germanic (O.E. great, Proto-Western-Germanic *grautaz)
    7. little => Germanic
    8. own => Germanic
    9. other => Germanic (O.E oþer, Proto-Germanic *antharaz)
    10. old => Germanic
    11. right => Germanic
    12. big => Germanic (originated in a Germanic context possibly from Norse bugge)
    13. high => Germanic (O.E. heh, A.S. heah, Proto-Germanic *haukhaz)
    14. different => Latin
    15. small => Germanic
    16. large => Latin
    17. next => Germanic
    18. early => Germanic
    19. young => Germanic
    20. important => Latin
    21. few => Germanic (O.E. feawe, Proto-Germanic *faw-)
    22. public => Latin
    23. bad => Germanic (originated in a Germanic context possibly from O.E. bæddel)
    24. same => Germanic
    25. able => Latin


    I get 20/25.

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    I couldn't finish writing everything I wanted last night, so I have expanded and reorganised my original post.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I couldn't finish writing everything I wanted last night, so I have expanded and reorganised my original post.
    interesting
    without checking I could say that:
    right is not only germanic but shared with latin rect-us + breton reizh surely from latin sources?
    for high I see not link with latin alt-us nor french haut << aut (the 'h' is from a frankish influence)
    lazy could be link to french loisir (ancient dialects leisir)???
    straight maybe strict-us ???
    very uncertain: health-y from a brittonic calet ? welsh caled breton kaled : "hard" + "resistant" ???
    just bets

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    Quote Originally Posted by MOESAN View Post
    interesting
    without checking I could say that:
    right is not only germanic but shared with latin rect-us + breton reizh surely from latin sources?
    for high I see not link with latin alt-us nor french haut << aut (the 'h' is from a frankish influence)
    lazy could be link to french loisir (ancient dialects leisir)???
    straight maybe strict-us ???
    very uncertain: health-y from a brittonic calet ? welsh caled breton kaled : "hard" + "resistant" ???
    just bets
    You are correct for right and high. The others are debatable though.

    I will create a separate list for adjectives shared by both Germanic and Romance languages, since English is a hybrid of these two families and could have inherited the word from either or both. I actually think that English did attempt to merge the pronunciations of the Old/Middle English and French/Latin terms whenever these were similar. That would explain why English has an intermediary spelling and pronunciation for many words. For example :

    - one : in between the French un and the Dutch een ; 'one' used to be pronounced 'on', just like the Walloon word, which is also a hybrid of Romance and Germanic. It would be interesting to know what the Anglo-French and Norman French dialect word for one is.

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    you are right and I just made some propositions without going farther
    for intermediary phonetic forms, I'm not sure... perhaps?

    for the word 'one' I don't know: the southern english pronounciation for a lot of germanic words with previous long 'E' /éé/ which gave long /éé/ too in netherlandish, "frisic" and scandinavian , but a lot of diphtongs or new monophtongd in german dialects: /ai/+/äi//èi//èè//ää//öö//oi//wa//aa//ââ/ -
    english (southern) has a 'o' 'oa' spelling /oo//ëo//ëw/ pronounciation (approximative, I have no phonetic fonts)
    as in 'stone' ('stein') / 'oak' ('eich') / 'broad' ('breit') / 'more' ('mehr') ... when scot english has 'stane', 'ake'/'aik' / 'braid' / 'mare' etc... we can figure out an evolution /éé/>>/èi/>>/ai/>>/aa/>>/oo/ ?
    I know 'one' is pronounced /won//wën/ in place of expected /ëon//ëwn/or /oon/ but ?!? no french nor walloon pronounciation has /wo/ in 'un' but only /ö~/ or /o~???/ fémi. /ün//un/
    just to bet too

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    for the number of adjectives compared by source, I believe that the most necessary (urgent) are germanic and that maybe the first pure anglo-saxon elite societies had more germanic adjectives but that in future high level language, for precise and specific meanings, the french and latin adjectives took the strong side upon the genuine anglo-saxon ones - almost in every language I know the low level language uses often periphrases or other idiomatic ways to express some uncommon meanings and that high level language tries ti do with the minimum of words andwith the most possible precise words - for more "ground" life meanings, the low level language can express things very quickly and directly, at the contrary - the competition between the two sources of language for english was not a "fair play one", speaking about social classes languages ?

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