USAGE: The strange case of "cell"
|From:||John Cowan <cowan@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, October 31, 2001, 12:13|
Borrowing is a funny thing.
Old English borrowed "cell" from Latin CELLA, in the sense of a small
room (e.g. a monk's cell). Modern English, too, has the word "cell"
in the same sense; the more frequent sense "least unit of an organism"
is derived from it. But ModE "cell" cannot be the descendant of OE
OE "c" was originally always /k/, but underwent palatalization before
front vowels to /tS/. This happened within the OE period itself,
though not reflected in the spelling, and can be seen with the
analogous OE borrowing "cist" < Latin CISTA, which appears in
ModE as "chest". So if OE "cell" had survived into ModE, it
would be spelled "chell" and pronounced accordingly: /tSEl/.
In French, of course, original Latin /k/ was similarly palatalized,
probably /k/ > /tS/ > /ts/ > /s/, the position today. Since
English "cell" is /sEl/, it must be a French borrowing that
replaced the inherited form /tSel/.
"Every word has its own story."
John Cowan http://www.ccil.org/~cowan email@example.com
Please leave your values | Check your assumptions. In fact,
at the front desk. | check your assumptions at the door.
--sign in Paris hotel | --Miles Vorkosigan