ENGL 4301
Winter 2009-10

back to the syllabus


This assignment is based on the following passage from Philip Larkin's poem "Church Going." Due on Fri 18 Dec.

For each word in the passage, use the Oxford English Dictionary to discover how the word entered the English language. Note two things: (1) the immediate source language (which the OED will usually preface with "a." for "ab," "from"), and (2) the date of entry into English. Note: if a dictionary gives the source of a word simply as "Old English," then that's the immediate source for that word. The date of entry in that case is not "entry" per se but of first attestation in an Old English text. We usually figure that such words are simply undatably ancient in English.

Make a (very simple) chart. What percentage of these words are originally Old English? 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 Gothic. Where historical dictionaries note forms in those Germanic languages, they are cognates.

Superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation