On the importance of noting uncertainty in etymological research

MyBook is a cheap paperback edition of the original book and will be sold at uniform, low price.
This Chapter is currently unavailable for purchase.

The traditional view of the etymology of modern English <i>road</i> is that it shows a semantic development of the reflex of Old English <i>r&#257;d</i>, Middle English (southern) <i>r&#333;d</i>, (northern) <i>r&#257;d</i>, recorded in senses including &#8216;action or an act of riding&#8217; (related to Old English <i>r&#299;dan</i> &#8216;to ride&#8217;). The etymology of <i>road</i> is not, however, so secure as is often assumed. In particular, the types <i>rod</i> and <i>rode</i> that are found from an early date in Older Scots in the meaning &#8216;path or way&#8217; are very difficult to reconcile with the southern English word, either assuming the traditional etymology or (as I will show here) if alternative etymological hypotheses are also tested closely. It is here that the methodological implications of this example are found: all etymologies are ultimately hypotheses, but while some rest on a very secure evidential basis, others are much less certain; such examples must be treated with caution when used as evidence for sound change or as examples of pathways of semantic change, and it is crucial that such uncertainty is flagged clearly in the historical linguistic literature.&#42;


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address