Folk goes along with sematic and phonetic reduction.











Folk Etymology in

Jessica Bhatia

San Diego State











Folk Etymology

            Miller (2014) acknowledges the role
of folk etymology in development of languages in various parts of the world.

The author establishes the relationship between folk etymology and the word
forming process. According to Miller (2014), there are various factors that
interact to cause changes in language and sound. However, he asserts that folk
etymology is the core aspect that affects language and sound change. To expound
on how folk etymology results in change in language and sound, he first
recognizes the fact that change in language mostly goes along with sematic and
phonetic reduction. With respect to grammar, the process of grammaticalization
indicate that reduction in complexities of sematic and phonetic are fundamental
stages of raising the status of grammatical constructions. The article adds
that in relation to lexicalization, sematic and phonetic reduction causes the
formerly transparent, analytic, and motivated words to lose motivation and the
end result is holistic formations as well as none-transparent developments
(Miller, 2014). Theories are also used to explain the role of folk etymology on
changes in language and sound. Gorrell (1994) applied the naturalness theory to
explain the connection.  According to
Gorrell (1994), the sematic complexity ought to correspond to formal
convolution. On the other hand, the formal intricacy must as well match to
sematic complexity. Despite the fact that lexicalization and grammaticalization
are capable of restoring constructional iconism through giving function and
form to semantics, Gorrell (1994) engages in trying to establish an explanation
on how de-lexicalization and de-gramaticalization can be applied to achieve
similar outcomes. In reference to Gorrell’s explanations, de-lexicalization
goes along with restoration of motivation as well as segmentation of lexical
units and opaque morphological. According to Gorrell (1994), the process is
prototypically and conventionally embodied in folk etymology (Gorrell, 1994).

            According to Rundblad and Kronenfeld
(2003), acquisition of language plays a core role in folk etymology and the
etymology can be considered as language acquisition. The authors relies on the
language acquisition process in children to establish how acquiring new
language is significant to folk etymology. It can also take place among adults
as they acquire new words or when they learn a second language. At some point,
Miller (2014) also recognizes the role of first language attainment in folk
etymology. Rundblad and Kronenfeld seem to have a similar line of thinking as
Miller in relation to the association between acquisition of first language and
folk etymology. In reference to the combined thinking of the authors,
acquisition of first language is fundamental in regard to folk etymology
because it mirrors the need of a speaker to create natural form meaning
associations as well as demonstrating such perfect signs in chain structures that
do not use marked sounds through selecting fragments that are easier to
pronounce. Acquisition of new language acquisition stands a crucial proof for
propensities of languages to re-establish constructional iconism. All the same,
the general challenge of restricted power for children to initiate language
change should as well be well thought-out as an obstructive force behind the
establishment of the particular folk etymologies (Rundblad & Kronenfeld,

            Bauer (2006) narrates about certain
aspects that cause misunderstandings in regard to folk etymology and its
effects on sound and language change. The author asserts that people might fail
to clearly understand how folk etymology affects the change in language and
sound because of the few facets that cause confusion. One of the things that
Bauer (2006) points out is the difference between phonetic or else sematic
change and word formation change. An understanding of the two factions is
fundamental to understanding how folk etymology is responsible for language and
sound transformation. Change in word formation is concerned with changes of
patterns in meaning and form. On the other hand, sematic and phonetic change
concentrates on meaning of words and forms. However, Bauer (2006) insists that
the differences do not apply to to the differentiation between sematic or
phonetic and folk etymology change because there are many phonetic and sematic
changes that are caused by process of folk etymology. As a way of clearly
bringing out his explanation, the author says that there is a wide variation
between changes in natural language for instance sematic or phonetic language
and changes that go back to folk etymology. According to the author, the main
difference is based on the domains on which the two sections operate. Sematic
and phonetic transformations operate in specific domains; sematic developments
or the changes in the internal sounds of words. Folk etymology functions
between two spheres; particular changes that occur as a result of word external
annexation to varied fields of words. The analysis of the process of language
and sound changes by the author indicates that folk etymology causes
transformation in languages and sounds by fashioning the essential isolation of
the elements of words and leading to homonymy with words and phrases that are
already in existence. Bauer (2006) says his position on the effects of folk
etymology on language and sound changes is supported by the fact that the
significance of analogy as a force that causes change in natural language is
extremely borderline for folk etymology.

            Gorrell (1994) and Miller (2014)
indicate similar views on how folk etymology is wrongfully applied to refer to
other means that do not reflect its effects in language development and change.

Gorrell (1994) points out how many linguists give folk etymology a same meaning
as blending. Gorrell recognizes the role of blending in language and sound
change but its effect is different from folk etymology. The author describes
blending as mere contamination of words by mixing two words to form one word.

Blending comprises two words that fuse semantically and formerly to form a
single word for example formation of the word smog as a result of mixing the
words smoke and fog. On the contrary, the words involved in folk etymology do
not fuse semantically or phonetically. The author adds that unlike folk
etymology, blending does not result in transparency to make archetypal blends
simplexes (Gorrell 1994).

            The existing research studies focus
majorly on general issues that are behind change in language and sounds. It is
recommended that future research be more detailed and establish the exact
mechanisms that cause language change and how the change occurs. Most
researchers concur with each other on the causes of language change but fail to
give a clear description of how the aspects change language and sounds. Future
research need to find detailed answers on questions like; how does articulatory
simplification cause change in language? Can spelling pronunciation change the
meaning of a word, if yes, how? The studies must also establish how a
combination of multiple factors known to change language and sounds affect the
change in language and sounds.  














Bauer, L.

(2006). Folk Etymology. Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics,
520-521. doi:10.1016/b0-08-044854-2/04250-4

Gorrell, R. M.

(1994). Watch your language!: Mother tongue and her wayward children.

Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.

Miller, D. G.

(2014). Folk etymology and tabu. English Lexicogenesis, 117-124.


Rundblad, G.,
& Kronenfeld, D. B. (2003). The inevitability of folk etymology:
a case of collective reality and invisible hands. Journal of Pragmatics, 35(1),
119-138. doi:10.1016/s0378-2166(02)00059-0