Anglo-Saxon and Latinate Synonyms: The Case of Speed vs. Velocity


  •  Daniele Franceschi    

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to provide an initial analysis of the semantic relations holding between Anglo-Saxon and Latinate synonyms in present-day English. It is an acknowledged fact that the lexicon of English consists of a basic indigenous vocabulary of Germanic origin with many foreign borrowings especially from French, Latin and Greek. This has produced an etymologically diverse word-stock characterized by distinct features. Near-synonymous words with a different etymology can be a source of confusion and dictionaries often fail to clearly distinguish between them. Pairs of Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate words, such as speed/velocity, sweat/perspire, lunatic/insane, etc., are often said to be equivalent in meaning, with differences only in terms of style and register. The scenario, however, is more subtle, complex and interesting than this. A finer-grained analysis of speed and velocity, for instance, shows, on the one hand, that there is a high degree of interchangeability between the two words. On the other hand, though, the semantics of speed is more generic, neutral and broader in scope, while velocity expresses specific and restricted meanings. In addition to this generic-specific relation between the two words, velocity appears to undergo metaphoric extension.



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