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Why did English borrow verbs ending in -ish, but not in anything else, from French?
This seems quite obscure because it didn't import the verbs from the infinitive French forms, but through some sorts of obscure stems. I mean wouldn't it be more straightforward to use finir than finish?
As the etymology section of Wiktionary suggests, -ish comes from some sort of obscure French stem -iss. English borrowed change from Old French changier, why didn't it use the same deriving method with -ish verbs?
Dropping the -r, adding the -en, then dropping it again in Modern English. I'm not sure what that'd make an English verb from finir look like, but it seems like a more natural and straightforward route.

closed as too broad by FumbleFingers, Chenmunka, Helmar, Scott, curiousdannii Sep 29 '16 at 5:29

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  • I would suggest that this is due to pronounciation and modifications that took place over time. Try imagining an English-native trying to pronounce finir. – jera Sep 26 '16 at 13:16
  • I suspect we borrowed the present form, not the infinitive. So finiss and poliss. How and why did that get changed to -ish? I don't know. – Peter Shor Sep 26 '16 at 13:18
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    Can you give more examples than 'finish'? Are you saying that English borrowed no other verbs from French than those ending in '-ish'? – Mitch Sep 26 '16 at 13:24
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    I advisish that you reconsiderish your claim about importished French verbs. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 26 '16 at 13:44
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    Vun-Hugh: many words ending in -ish in English come from the '-ir' verbs in French, like 'finir', which have a present participle '-iss-' used in some forms 'vous finissez' (but 'il finit'). Latin did not have '-iss-' in those cognate positions: 'finitis'; the addition of '-iss-' in later Romance is supposedly similar to English 'X-ize' suffix 'to make X', sterilize = to make sterile. As to your assumption that English didn't borrow any other verbs at all from French, that is entirely mistaken. Most verb borrowing into English from French are not the '-ish' kind. – Mitch Sep 26 '16 at 14:20
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There are a number of verbs ending -ir in modern French, where the corresponding English forms end with -ish. Some of them are établir, finir, nourrir, polir, punir. These are all conjugated the same way, so I'll just use finir as an example.

In modern French: finir is conjugated je finis, tu finis, il finit, nous finissons, vous finissez, ils finissent. So every form except 3rd person singular has an "s", and all these "s"s used to be pronounced. Borrowing the form finis rather than finir is quite understandable, since it probably occurs just as often in ordinary conversation. And having /s/ turn to /sh/ is a very common sound change in many languages.

What I don't know is whether the change from /s/ to /sh/ happened in Middle English or in Anglo-Norman French. (It didn't happen in the French currently spoken in Paris.) Maybe a linguist could tell us.

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    The -ss- in the French conjugation derives ultimately from the Latin inchoative suffix -sc-; i.e., Fr. finir < Lat. fīnīre, but Fr. finiss- < Lat. fīnisc- (with fīniscō being the inchoative of fīniō in Latin). Since Latin ⟨sc⟩ (= /sk/) became [stʃ] and then [ʃ] before front vowels already in Proto-Romance and then later on [sː] and eventually [s] in French, I would think it more likely that the stem actually ended in [iʃ] when English started borrowing the French verbs. French then lost [ʃ] later on (and then regained it when /tʃ/ > [ʃ]), but English did not. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '16 at 16:30
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    [s] > [ʃ] is common enough in quite a lot of languages—but not in Romance- or English-speaking areas. Modern German does it in certain positions before consonants, but that’s about the only place in Germanic languages that change happens regularly. [ʃ] > [s], on the other hand, is known to have happened in most of the Romance-speaking area (except Italian and Romanian). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '16 at 16:32
  • We see the [s] > [ʃ] change also in "leash." – sumelic Sep 26 '16 at 16:50
  • @suməlic Or the other way around there as well: it’s ultimately from laxus (I’m guessing probably with metathesis of /ks/ to /sk/), and in Italian we have lasciare with [ʃ]. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '16 at 17:08
  • I think the change here was vocalization of /k/ to /j/, yielding /js/ (like how /kt/ became /jt/), rather than metathesis. But I'm not sure. French has a different reflex of /sk/ in "fraîche." I don't think French had [ʃ] > [s] historically; my impression was that fronting of the reflex of vulgar Latin palatalized /c/ occured while it was still an affricate, so [tʃ] > [ts]. – sumelic Sep 26 '16 at 17:22

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