6

Foundation has its origins in the Latin:

OED

fundātiōn-em. < Latin fundātiōn-em, noun of action < fundāre

6
  • Did found come from the Latin through the French fonder? As shown by the Online Etymology Dictionary. Aug 24, 2023 at 23:20
  • Probably just one of those curious accidents of history. I assume it shares history with "fund", but that didn't get the vowel shift.
    – Barmar
    Aug 24, 2023 at 23:31
  • 1
    English spelling is not Latin spelling. And there is no /o/ in /faun'deʃən/. Aug 24, 2023 at 23:36
  • A meta-question has been raised about the closing of this question.
    – jsw29
    Aug 27, 2023 at 15:58
  • 1
    @Greybeard What makes you think the vowel in the first syllable of Latin "fundāre" was /ʌ/? As far as I know, it was something close to /ʊ/. Aug 28, 2023 at 11:26

3 Answers 3

16

It is probably there by influence from the verb found, as in "they founded a foundation." The diphthong [aʊ] developed regularly in English from the Middle English long vowel [uː], which was used pretty often in words borrowed from French, especially in stressed syllables.

Foundation and found ultimately come from the Latin verb fundō, fundāre. The verb found was taken into Middle English (first attested around 1290 per the OED) from Anglo-Norman French.

In the forms where it was stressed on the first syllable, the first part of this verb developed as follows:

  • Latin [fund] (e.g. in fundat)
  • Proto-Western-Romance: *[fond]
  • Anglo-Norman French: [fũd] or [fũːd] (e.g. in funde)
  • Middle English: [fuːnd] (maybe also [fund] and [fond] as variants)

In Anglo-Norman French, the word had a nasal vowel ũ, which was probably long (as nasal vowels tend to be in modern French), so it would make sense for Middle English speakers to adopt the word with a long vowel. Compare count, mount, fount, round, pronounce and many other English words spelled with "oun" that were taken from Anglo-Norman French.1

The digraph "ou" (not just in this word, but in general) comes from Anglo-Norman French, where it was used, in variation with "o" and "u", to represent the vowel [u]. That is, in Anglo-Norman French, any of the spellings "fund", "fonde", "founde" might be used, with no difference in meaning or pronunciation. Per the Oxford English Dictionary, spellings starting with "fund" and "fond" also were used for some time in Middle English.

But English writers eventually came to use "ou" (and the variant "ow") specifically as a means of representing the long vowel [uː] as opposed to the short vowel [u] spelled "u". It seems the in the case of "found", the pronunciation with [uː]—and corresponding spelling with "ou"—ended up as the standard form.

Middle English long [uː] developed into the modern English diphthong [aʊ], which we have continued to spell with the digraphs "ou" and "ow".


1 I've discussed Anglo-Norman ũ in a few previous answers: Why is the spelling of "company" different from the pronunciation?, Why do "bomb" and "tomb" have different pronunciations?, Why is "country" not pronounced like "count-tree"?

2
  • Took me a minute to realize that when you said it shares etymology with "found" you weren't talking about the past participle of "find".
    – Barmar
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:48
  • @Barmar You foundered on the difference between 'found' and 'found'.
    – Mitch
    Aug 25, 2023 at 16:17
4

The verb found as in “build or establish the basis for “ is, per Merriam-Webster “[from] Middle English founden, borrowed from Anglo-French fonder, funder, going back to Latin fundāre, derivative of fundus ‘bottom, base, foundation’.”

Meanwhile, foundation is “[from] Middle English fundacioun, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin.” So likely the route to Modern English foundation —and the spelling that includes the o —was influenced by founden and/or found.

0

The etymology of "foundation" as given by The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

[(O)Fr. fondation f. L. fundatio(n-) f. fundat pa. ppl stem of fundare: see FOUND v1, -ATION.]

The o from French has been combined with the u from Latin.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.