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Academic Paper

Title: Reassessing the semantic history of OE brēad / ME brēd
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics
Subject Language: English, Old
English, Middle
Abstract: Our etymological understanding of PDE bread has been influenced, to a considerable extent, by Otto Jespersen's comment that ‘An Englishman cannot thrive or be ill or die without Scandinavian words; they are to the language what bread and eggs are to the daily fare.’ This article analyses the evidence behind the possibility that PDE bread might represent a Norse-derived semantic loan, i.e. that OE brēad acquired the meaning ‘bread’, which was more frequently expressed by OE hlāf, because of the influence of its Viking Age Norse cognate (cp. OIc brauð ‘bread’). On the basis of an in-depth study of the attestations of OE brēad and hlāf and their early Middle English reflexes, as well as the use of their cognates in various Germanic languages, the article challenges the traditional view that OE brēad originally meant ‘piece, morsel of bread’ and concludes that Norse influence is not needed in order to account for the semantic history of PDE bread.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 21, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .

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