Language of Origin

Jeanne Fahnestock

in Rhetorical Style

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764129
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918928 | DOI:
Language of Origin

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The English language has a unique history, the result of successive invasions and population change in the British Isles and the global dispersion of English speakers. This history has created a layered language with special affordances. It is rich in synonyms with diverse connotations, offering arguers nuanced options in word choice. This chapter demonstrates how arguers use these layers, noted by rhetoricians in the eighteenth century, from the Old English core containing frequently used common words to the elevated French additions brought in by the Normans to the Latinate and Greek terms borrowed as the language of learning. English remains porous to words from any language. Examining the origins of words helps to capture the settings in which users encounter them, and that history of usage and context can give words a certain argumentative force. Everyday core words, heard from childhood in informal settings, often suggest sincerity and clear explanations; French words, clustered in certain areas of meaning, can add elevation; Latin/Greek terms provide abstractions and formality. Word origins can be used in text analysis in two ways: first by the quantitative profile of the distribution of usage among the three main source languages (e.g., what percent of the keywords come from what sources?) and second by the strategic use of keywords from each of the three layers (e.g. what are the sources of the critical terms in an argument?)

Keywords: language history; Old English; French; Latin; synonym; homonym; sincerity; elegance; formality

Chapter.  8946 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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