The Old English meaning of "to dwell" (dwellan) is to mislead.
Can we trace the gradual shift from this original sense to that of Modern English: to reside, to inhabit ?
You are correct to be confused Alain. The history is more complicated than The Online Etymological Dictionary makes it out to be; I discovered the complications merely by happy chance.
Let's mentally situate ourselves first. The time we're concerned with is the opening of the 9th century; the place is the North Sea, where Charlemagne had just finished submitting the Frisians to his will, destroying their naval power, and hence opening Europe to the raids of the fierce people known as the Vikings.
But I'm sure you already knew that. And I'm sure you knew already that the Vikings' first incursions into England began in 800, and that by 865 they were staying on longer and longer sojourns, to eventually set up kingdoms from Northumberland to East Anglia, collectively known as the Danelaw. They would not be forced out of England till the middle of the 10th century, in 945. In other words, the Viking Norsemen were intimate with the Saxons, in their own land, for more than a 100 years — ample time to influence English in many ways, since after all the Old Norse the Vikings spoke was reasonably cognate to it, both being of Proto-Germanic.
As the book I am just reading, A Historical Introduction to the English Language, writes:
According to the book, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, by a certain Winfred P. Lehmann, the above linguistic process is known as extension, and it is apparently precisely what happened to the word dwellan, to which Old English bequeathed us dwell. From p. 264:
As to the etymology of dvelja itself? Well, the forbidding An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology (ed. Anatoly Liberman) offers the following, from a scholar's reconstruction of the PIE root from a hypothesized Greek cognate:
I personally favor the etymology. *dwal- could have developed into dveljan 'delay, linger', by being transformed into a meaning like "to be in the state of blindly groping in the dark", while dwellan 'to mislead' might have been developed in the sense of "to put someone in the dark" / "pull the wool over their eyes".
Absolutely. Etymology Online offers:
The Old English usage of dwellan meant "to mislead".
By the 12th century, dwell meant "hinder, delay, or to linger". The phrase to dwell upon also dates from this period.
By the mid-13th century dwell meant "to make a home".
By the mid-14th century, dwelling was being used as a noun to mean "place of residence".
Let us trace the word's etymology back from the very beginning, so we can explain why the meaning changed.
The word originally came from the Old High German word twellen, which meant 'to prevent.'.
From this word, the Old Norse word dvelja was derived, which meant 'to delay, tarry.'
The meaning for dwellen to mean 'to abide', was taken from the Old English dwellan's meaning of 'to hinder'. From there, we can now derive today's meaning of 'to abide, reside.'
We can now clearly see the slow change of the meaning of 'dwell' through the ages.