ENGL 4301:501
Winter 1998-99

back to the syllabus


Both these assignments are based on the following passage from Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima. Both are due on Mon. 4 January.

#4: For each word in the passage, use the Oxford English Dictionary to discover how the word entered the English language. Note two things: the source language and the date of entry into English. Note: if a dictionary gives the source of a word simply as "Old English," with no ultimate source indicated, the ultimate source is probably prehistoric West Germanic.

Make a chart. What percentage of these words entered Old English from earlier West Germanic? What percentage entered from other languages?

Note very carefully the distinction between sources and cognates. Many English words are cognate to words in Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Gothic, and Old High German, but did not enter the English language from those languages. Others did enter from Latin or Greek and therefore truly trace their source to those languages. Almost no English words come from Old High German or from Gothic. Where historical dictionaries note forms in those Germanic languages, they are cognates.

#5: Go back and study, with the OED, as many words in the passage as you can, particularly the long and/or interesting words. Trace the historical changes in meaning that the words have undergone. Most words have several different but related meanings, and most have undergone semantic shifts during their history in English. Note borrowed words that have changed in meaning from their source language meanings.

PASSAGE (from Bless Me, Ultima):

I ran up the steps and entered the dark, musky church. I genuflected at the font of holy water, wet my fingertips, and made the sign of the cross. . . . I could hear whisperings from the confessional on the other side. My eyes grew accustomed to the gloom and I saw a small crucifix nailed to the side of the window. I kissed the feet of the hanging Jesus. The confessional smelled of old wood. I thought of the million sins that had been revealed in this small, dark space. Then abruptly my thoughts were scattered.