Common Words in Everyday Use for Fundamental Concepts

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1. General characteristics
The surviving vocabulary of Old English (OE) is relatively small. The Thesaurus of Old English (TOE), with which you will be working, contains almost 34,000 different word forms, whereas a modern desk dictionary might contain 80,000. Some of these words have more than one meaning, i.e. they are polysemous: TOE contains just over 50,000 meanings altogether. An example of multiple meaning or polysemy is OE ecg, pronounced in the same way as its Modern English (Mod. E.) descendant ‘edge’. In addition to meaning ‘edge’, it also means ‘blade’, the part of an object that has a sharp edge, and ‘sword’, an object distinguished by having a sharp edge or blade. This is an example of metonymy, the identification of an object by one of its attributes, as when the Prime Minister is referred to as ‘No. 10’. ‘Edge’ in Mod. E. also has a metaphorical sense, where an abstract idea is conveyed by referring to something concrete, as in ‘her voice had an edge to it’. Much of the vocabulary of Mod. E. derives from OE. This applies particularly to our core vocabulary: common words in everyday use for fundamental concepts. Examples include the natural world (earth, sea, wind, fire, water; sun, moon, star); people (man, woman, child, father, mother, brother, daughter); the body (hand, arm, elbow, finger, foot, nose, mouth); and other basic concepts such as food, drink; heaven, hell; friend, neighbour; love, good, evil; hot, cold; after, over, under. However, not all words which look alike necessarily refer to the same thing – such misleading words are often called false friends. An example pair is OE bēor / Mod. E. beer. Although both refer to alcoholic drinks, the nature of the drink is quite different. The examples above are all typical of OE words in being one or two syllables in length. Where there are two syllables, the stress is on the first. Initial stress is a characteristic feature of the Germanic languages as a group and remains the most common...
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