How do words become archaic?


As archaism is a word that disappears from language because it is no longer needed and that is generally perceived as old-fashioned. If archaisms are consciously used in rhetoric, they are considered stylistic devices. Archaism can be used in a distancing, ironic or pathetic way, i.e. exaggerated and artificial.

The term can be derived from ancient Greek (ἀρχαῖος ~ archaĩos) and with old or former translate, with the ending mus has a Latin origin. As a result, the translation shows us what is fundamentally about in connection with the stylistic figure: namely something Old one or Formerwhat is referred to here in terms of words. Let's look at an example to illustrate this.

MyUncleis with child andconefled.

The above example unites two archaisms: namely Uncle and cone. Both terms seem rather old-fashioned to us in modern parlance. Here is Uncle an old word for uncle, whereas the cone meant an illegitimate child and in modern language only in the phrase Child and cone exists. So cone is a lost word.

Note: Archaism is a term that no longer belongs to the current vocabulary of the language. The use of such words seems old-fashioned, antiquated and is sometimes no longer understood by some speakers or only opened up in context.

When is archaism a stylistic device?

Not every old-fashioned word can be counted as archaism. After all, we logically encounter ancient words in ancient writings. Still, not every old-fashioned term is archaism, as it depends on whether the term is intended to sound old-fashioned.

That meansthat archaisms must be consciously used by the author as a stylistic device in order to be considered such at all. So they are already considered ancient when writing a text and are used to develop a certain effect. If Walther von Vogelweide, a poet of the Middle Ages, uses words that seem old-fashioned to us, then of course they weren't necessarily so for him too.

So if a word is not antiquated, i.e. old-fashioned, for the writer or speaker, it is not to be interpreted as archaism in the written product, but belongs to the active vocabulary of the author. Only when this no longer applies do we speak of archaism as a stylistic figure (→ literary epochs).

Note: As a result, it is hardly possible to recognize such archaisms in an exam situation. This is only possible if modern literature is discussed and used in these terms that can be reliably identified as extinct. Everything else is mostly speculative.

Origin of archaisms

Words come and go as our language is constantly changing. This means that new words are formed, what is known as neologism, and others disappear. Most of the time there are causes for words to appear and disappear.

  • Internal reasons: The internal reason is the fact that the reason for the disappearance lies in the language itself. This can either be due to the fact that the word is replaced by a modern expression, as in the case of uncle and uncle, or because it has been replaced by homonymy. Homonymy is a word that stands for different terms. For example, terms that mean nach, What to means from the language (e.g. after speech), because of homonymy to anus (Anus, outlet opening of the intestine).
  • External reasons: Here the reason lies outside the language. This means that a word disappears because what it is designated no longer exists in everyday life (Example: liege lord). It is important that these words count as historicisms and not archaisms. This means that although they no longer appear in linguistic usage, we always fall back on the word when we talk about what is meant. The word is therefore not old-fashioned, but has merely been suppressed because it is no longer used.

Effect and function of archaisms

In principle, it is very difficult to ascribe an effect to a style figure that always applies. We quickly run the risk of reducing the stylistic device to this effect every time and not checking whether it actually behaves like this. Nevertheless, we would like to give some pointers.

Overview of the meaning, effect and function of archaism ‘
  • Archaism refers to terms that no longer appear in the active vocabulary of a language and consequently appear antiquated and old-fashioned. In order to designate an archaism as a stylistic figure, those who use such a word must be aware of the old-fashioned effect. Ancient texts therefore do not consist directly of archaisms.
  • If archaism is used as a stylistic device, i.e. consciously used by the speaker, this can create an ironic, comical or even pathetic impression. Who instead Hello! the word order Greetings, fair maiden! used, of course, relies on the strange effect
  • Furthermore, archaisms can be used quite deliberately to achieve a parodic effect and to give a text a linguistic-historical touch, as happens, for example, in historical novels, or to present modern texts as old.
  • If archaisms are used in a speech, an educated audience must be present. Otherwise, the effect of the stylistic device evaporates and presumably bypasses the recipient.
  • The linguistic counterpart of the figure are, by the way Neologisms. These do not describe the extinction of words, but new terms that have found their way into the active vocabulary and thus displace other words or designate new objects.
  • Further examples: Minne (love), stund (stand), Buhlin (girlfriend), aunt, cousin (aunt) or Histrione (actor)