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Linguistics: Etymology

  • By: Ted Supalla & Betsy Hicks McDonald
  • In: The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia
  • Edited by: Genie Gertz & Patrick Boudreault
  • Subject:Physical Disabilities, Otorhinolaryngology (Ears, Nose, & Throat)

The science of etymology involves tracing the history of words through a study of the changes across time in their form and analysis. Variation in current sign language use provides us with a window onto the past: We can use modern variants in signs, through linguistic reconstruction and assisted by historical research regarding linguistic contact within and across the Deaf communities of earlier eras, to determine what the antecedent forms were and how they were passed on to result in current variants.

In the scientific study of language change, the examination of data within a given time period is called a synchronic study. The comparison of data across time periods is called a diachronic study. Etymological research requires background information—or metadata—to provide information about sign ...

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