British toponymy

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{language, word, form}
{land, century, early}
{island, water, area}
{country, population, people}
{area, part, region}
{church, century, christian}
{town, population, incorporate}

Toponymy in Great Britain examines the linguistic origin of place names in Great Britain, their origins and trends in naming. Toponymy is distinct from the study of etymology, which is concerned mainly with the origin of the words themselves. British toponymy is rich, complex and diverse.[who?] Modern interpretations are apt to be inexact and non-empirical. Many British forms and names have been corrupted and broken down over the years due to changes in language and culture which caused the original meanings to be lost. In some cases words used in place names are derived from languages that are extinct, and of which there are no extant known definitions. Place names may be compounds between two languages from different periods.

Place names typically have meanings which were significant to the settlers of a locality (not necessarily the first settlers). Sometimes these meanings are relatively clear (for instance Newcastle, Three Oaks), but more often elucidating them requires study of ancient languages. In general, place names in Great Britain contain three broad elements: personal names (or pre-existing names of natural features), natural features and settlement functions. However, these elements derive from ancient languages which have been spoken in the British Isles, and the combinations in a single name may not all date from the same period, or same language. Much of the inferred development of British place name relies on the breaking down and corruption of place names. As the names lose their original meaning (because a new or modified language becomes spoken), the names are either changed, or drift to new forms, or are added to. An example is Torpenhow Hill, in Cumbria; the name seems to have grown by addition of new elements by people who did not understand the original name. The first syllables "tor" and "pen" being Brythonic, while "how" is derived from the Old Norse haugr and "hill" is Old English, all meaning 'hill'.

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