[Smt-talk] Words

Michele Ignelzi m.ignelzi at tin.it
Sat Dec 7 04:13:40 PST 2013

Dear Ildar and List,

Words are multi-faceted things. Linguists, semioticians, and philosophers of language have produced many theories about them and do not agree about their definition (in fact, one could even doubt that they are things). If we accept that words are linguistic signs, one of the most influential linguist in continental Europe, Ferdinand de Saussure, thought that signs could be viewed as made of two parts, the signifier (“signifiant”), their sound, graphic, etc. image, and the signified (“signifié”), their meaning.

In Saussurian terms, my question about the claimed Greek origin of some words pertained their signifier, their physical form. Charles Smith has magnificently answered by quoting “C. T. Onions, Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, supplemented by the Online Etymological Dictionary”, in a perspective that goes back to a discipline that flourished in 19th century (!), comparative linguistics (philology) --  in German: vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft -- and Saussure would have categorized as diachronic.

Your perspective is different, and pertains to the meaning of words. In your post, you relate for instance English “sense” (and, consequently, Latin “sensus”) with Greek “nous”, a very fascinating idea, but difficult to be sustained in etymological terms. Latin “sensus” is the perfect passive participle of “sēntiō (“feel, perceive”) [as Charles pointed out] from Proto-Indo-European *sent- (“to head for, go”). Cognate with Lithuanian sintėti (“to think”), Old High German sinnan (“to go; desire”), Old Irish sét (“path, way”)” (I quote from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sentio#Latin).

A cognate of Greek “nous” is perhaps to ascertain (Wharton, _Etyma Graeca_) in Latin “nota”, perfect passive participle of “nōscō”, in turn “From Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃-" (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nosco); as you can see, a different root.

Best regards,
Michele Ignelzi
m.ignelzi at tin.it
Conservatorio Statale di Musica, Florence, Italy

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