Lexicography and the Evolution of Consciousness
A study of Owen Barfield’s History in English Words
Owen Barfield (1898–1997), a cultural critic and historian, has been appreciated by literary scholars and artists including C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden, but he has been relatively unnoticed by linguists despite the fact that he advanced a thoughtfully reasoned and documented theory of language history throughout his many writings. In his theory of etymological semantics, Barfield asserted that the etymology of words reveals an evolution of human consciousness. Barfield’s relationship between language and consciousness is significant to the history of linguistics because he not only described what changed in a language’s history, but he also explained why it changed. In his seminal History in English Words (1926), a book written at the beginning of his nearly 70-year career as a scholar and writer, Barfield initially presented his theory with examples from the history of English beginning with its origins in Indo-European. This theory became a central and unifying theme in all of his work – a theory which he refined and expanded in many later writings, especially in Poetic Diction (1928), Speaker’s Meaning (1967), and History, Guilt, and Habit (1979).
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