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Etymology is the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term "the etymology of [a word]" means the origin of the particular word.
For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during earlier periods of their history and when they entered the languages in question. Etymologists also apply the methods of comparative linguistics to reconstruct information about languages that are too old for any direct information to be available.
By analyzing related languages with a technique known as the comparative method, linguists can make inferences about their shared parent language and its vocabulary. In this way, word roots have been found that can be traced all the way back to the origin of, for instance, the Indo-European language family.
Even though etymological research originally grew from the philological tradition, currently much etymological research is done on language families where little or no early documentation is available, such as Uralic and Austronesian.
The word etymology is derived from the Greek word ἐτυμολογία, etymologia, itself from ἔτυμον, etymon, meaning "true sense" and the suffix -logia, denoting "the study of".
Etymon is also used in English to refer to the source word of a given word. For example, Latin candidus, which means "white", is the etymon of English candid.
Etymological theory recognises that words originate through a limited number of basic mechanisms, the most important of which are borrowing (i.e., the adoption of "loanwords" from other languages); word formation such as derivation and compounding; and onomatopoeia and sound symbolism, (i.e., the creation of imitative words such as "click").
While the origin of newly emerged words is often more or less transparent, it tends to become obscured through time due to sound change or semantic change. Due to sound change, it is not readily obvious that the English word set is related to the word sit (the former is originally a causative formation of the latter). It is even less obvious that bless is related to blood (the former was originally a derivative with the meaning "to mark with blood").
Semantic change may also occur. For example, the English word bead originally meant "prayer". It acquired its modern meaning through the practice of counting the recitation of prayers by using beads.
nglish derives from Old English (sometimes referred to as Anglo-Saxon), a West Germanic variety, although its current vocabulary includes words from many languages. The Old English roots may be seen in the similarity of numbers in English and German, particularly seven/sieben, eight/acht, nine/neun, and ten/zehn. Pronouns are also cognate: I/mine/me ich/mein/mich; thou/thine/thee and du/dein/dich; we/wir us/uns; she/her sie/ihr(?).
However, language change has eroded many grammatical elements, such as the noun case system, which is greatly simplified in modern English, and certain elements of vocabulary, some of which are borrowed from French. Although many of the words in the English lexicon come from Romance languages, most of the common words used in English are of Germanic origin.
When the Normans conquered England in 1066 (see Norman Conquest), they brought their Norman language with them. During the Anglo-Norman period, which united insular and continental territories, the ruling class spoke Anglo-Norman, while the peasants spoke the vernacular English of the time. Anglo-Norman was the conduit for the introduction of French into England, aided by the circulation of Langue d'oïl literature from France.
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