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Tofu is an English loanword from Japanese, in which it is itself a loanword from Chinese. 20140909-0248 Costa Mesa Mitsuwa.JPG
Tofu is an English loanword from Japanese, in which it is itself a loanword from Chinese.

A loanword (also a loan word, loan-word, or borrowing) is a word at least partly assimilated from one language (the donor language) into another language (the recipient language, also called the target language). [1] [2] This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because they share an etymological origin; and calques, which involve translation. Loanwords from languages with different scripts are usually transliterated (between scripts), but they are not translated. Additionally, loanwords may be adapted to the phonology, phonotactics, orthography, and morphology of the target language (as for example through the law of Hobson-Jobson). When a loanword is fully adapted to the rules of the target language, it is distinguished from native words of the target language only by its origin. However, often the adaptation is incomplete, so loanwords may conserve specific features distinguishing them from native words of the target language: loaned phonemes and sound combinations, partial or total conserving of the original spelling, foreign plural or case forms or indeclinability.


A loanword is distinguished from a calque (or loan translation), which is a word or phrase whose meaning or idiom is adopted from another language by word-for-word translation into existing words or word-forming roots of the recipient language. [3] Loanwords, in contrast, are not translated.

Examples of loanwords in the English language include café (from French café, which means "coffee"), bazaar (from Persian bāzār, which means "market"), and kindergarten (from German Kindergarten, which literally means "children's garden"). The word calque is a loanword, while the word loanword is a calque: calque comes from the French noun calque ("tracing; imitation; close copy"); [4] while the word loanword and the phrase loan translation are translated from German nouns Lehnwort [5] and Lehnübersetzung (German: [ˈleːnʔybɐˌzɛt͡sʊŋ] ). [6]

Loans of multi-word phrases, such as the English use of the French term déjà vu , are known as adoptions, adaptations, or lexical borrowings. [7] [8]

Although colloquial and informal register loanwords are typically spread by word-of-mouth, technical or academic loanwords tend to be first used in written language, often for scholarly, scientific, or literary purposes. [9] [10]

The terms substrate and superstrate are often used when two languages interact. However, the meaning of these terms is reasonably well-defined only in second language acquisition or language replacement events, when the native speakers of a certain source language (the substrate) are somehow compelled to abandon it for another target language (the superstrate). [11] [ relevant? ]

Most of the technical vocabulary of classical music (such as concerto, allegro, tempo, aria, opera, and soprano) is borrowed from Italian, [12] and that of ballet from French. [13] Much of the terminology of the sport of fencing also comes from French. Many loanwords come from prepared food, drink, fruits, vegetables, seafood and more from languages around the world. In particular, many come from French cuisine (crêpe, Chantilly, crème brûlée), Italian (pasta, linguine, pizza, espresso), and Chinese (dim sum, chow mein, wonton).

Linguistic classification

Loanwords are adapted from one language to another in a variety of ways. [14] The studies by Werner Betz (1971, 1901), Einar Haugen (1958, also 1956), and Uriel Weinreich (1963) are regarded as the classical theoretical works on loan influence. [15] The basic theoretical statements all take Betz's nomenclature as their starting point. Duckworth (1977) enlarges Betz's scheme by the type "partial substitution" and supplements the system with English terms. A schematic illustration of these classifications is given below. [16]

The phrase "foreign word" used in the image below is a mistranslation of the German Fremdwort, which refers to loanwords whose pronunciation, spelling, inflection or gender have not been adapted to the new language such that they no longer seem foreign. Such a separation of loanwords into two distinct categories is not used by linguists in English in talking about any language. Basing such a separation mainly on spelling is (or, in fact, was) not common except amongst German linguists, and only when talking about German and sometimes other languages that tend to adapt foreign spellings, which is rare in English unless the word has been widely used for a long time.

According to the linguist Suzanne Kemmer, the expression "foreign word" can be defined as follows in English: "[W]hen most speakers do not know the word and if they hear it think it is from another language, the word can be called a foreign word. There are many foreign words and phrases used in English such as bon vivant (French), mutatis mutandis (Latin), and Schadenfreude (German)." [17] This is not how the term is used in this illustration:

Loanword classification tree 3.gif

On the basis of an importation-substitution distinction, Haugen (1950: 214f.) distinguishes three basic groups of borrowings: "(1) Loanwords show morphemic importation without substitution.... (2) Loanblends show morphemic substitution as well as importation.... (3) Loanshifts show morphemic substitution without importation". Haugen later refined (1956) his model in a review of Gneuss's (1955) book on Old English loan coinages, whose classification, in turn, is the one by Betz (1949) again.

Weinreich (1953: 47ff.) differentiates between two mechanisms of lexical interference, namely those initiated by simple words and those initiated by compound words and phrases. Weinreich (1953: 47) defines simple words "from the point of view of the bilinguals who perform the transfer, rather than that of the descriptive linguist. Accordingly, the category 'simple' words also includes compounds that are transferred in unanalysed form". After this general classification, Weinreich then resorts to Betz's (1949) terminology.

In English

The English language has borrowed many words from other cultures or languages. For examples, see Lists of English words by country or language of origin and Anglicisation.

Some English loanwords remain relatively faithful to the original phonology even though a particular phoneme might not exist or have contrastive status in English. For example, the Hawaiian word ʻaʻā is used by geologists to specify lava that is thick, chunky, and rough. The Hawaiian spelling indicates the two glottal stops in the word, but the English pronunciation, /ˈɑː(ʔ)ɑː/ , contains at most one. The English spelling usually removes the ʻokina and macron diacritics. [18]

Most English affixes, such as un-, -ing, and -ly, were used in Old English. However, a few English affixes are borrowed. For example, the verbal suffix -ize (American English) or ise (British English) comes from Greek -ιζειν (-izein) through Latin -izare.

Pronunciation often differs from the original language, occasionally dramatically, especially when dealing with place names. This often leads to divergence when many speakers anglicize pronunciations as other speakers try to maintain the way the name would sound in the original language, as in the pronunciation of Louisville.

Languages other than English

Transmission in the Ottoman Empire

Backgammon and Dominos numbers in Ottoman Turkish, 1907 (see Tables game#Languages) Backgammon and Dominos numbers in Ottoman Turkish, 1907.jpg
Backgammon and Dominos numbers in Ottoman Turkish, 1907 (see Tables game#Languages)

During more than 600 years of the Ottoman Empire, the literary and administrative language of the empire was Turkish, with many Persian, and Arabic loanwords, called Ottoman Turkish, considerably differing from the everyday spoken Turkish of the time. Many such words were adopted by other languages of the empire, such as Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Ladino, Macedonian, Montenegrin and Serbian. After the empire fell after World War I and the Republic of Turkey was founded, the Turkish language underwent an extensive language reform led by the newly founded Turkish Language Association, during which many adopted words were replaced with new formations derived from Turkic roots. That was part of the ongoing cultural reform of the time, in turn a part in the broader framework of Atatürk's Reforms, which also included the introduction of the new Turkish alphabet.

Turkish also has taken many words from French, such as pantolon for trousers (from French pantalon) and komik for funny (from French comique), most of them pronounced very similarly. Word usage in modern Turkey has acquired a political tinge: right-wing publications tend to use more Arabic or Persian originated words, left-wing ones use more adopted from European languages, while centrist ones use more native Turkish root words. [19]

Dutch words in Indonesian

Almost 350 years of Dutch presence in what is now Indonesia have left significant linguistic traces. Though very few Indonesians have a fluent knowledge of Dutch, the Indonesian language inherited many words from Dutch, both in words for everyday life (e.g., buncis from Dutch boontjes for (green) beans) and as well in administrative, scientific or technological terminology (e.g., kantor from Dutch kantoor for office). [20] The Professor of Indonesian Literature at Leiden University, [21] and of Comparative Literature at UCR, [22] argues that roughly 20% of Indonesian words can be traced back to Dutch words. [23]

Dutch words in Russian

In the late 17th century, the Dutch Republic had a leading position in shipbuilding. Czar Peter the Great, eager to improve his navy, studied shipbuilding in Zaandam and Amsterdam. Many Dutch naval terms have been incorporated in the Russian vocabulary, such as бра́мсель (brámselʹ) from Dutch bramzeil for the topgallant sail, домкра́т (domkrát) from Dutch dommekracht for jack, and матро́с (matrós) from Dutch matroos for sailor.

Romance languages

A large percentage of the lexicon of Romance languages, themselves descended from Vulgar Latin, consists of loanwords (later learned or scholarly borrowings) from Latin. These words can be distinguished by lack of typical sound changes and other transformations found in descended words, or by meanings taken directly from Classical or Ecclesiastical Latin that did not evolve or change over time as expected; in addition, there are also semi-learned terms which were adapted partially to the Romance language's character. Latin borrowings can be known by several names in Romance languages: in Spanish, for example, they are usually referred to as "cultismos", [24] [25] and in Italian as "latinismi".

Latin is usually the most common source of loanwords in these languages, such as in Italian, Spanish, French, etc., [26] [27] and in some cases the total number of loans may even outnumber inherited terms [28] [29] (although the learned borrowings are less often used in common speech, with the most common vocabulary being of inherited, orally transmitted origin from Vulgar Latin). This has led to many cases of etymological doublets in these languages.

For most Romance languages, these loans were initiated by scholars, clergy, or other learned people and occurred in Medieval times, peaking in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance era [27] - in Italian, the 14th century had the highest number of loans.[ citation needed ] In the case of Romanian, the language underwent a "re-Latinization" process later than the others (see Romanian lexis, Romanian language § French, Italian, and English loanwords), in the 18th and 19th centuries, partially using French and Italian words (many of these themselves being earlier borrowings from Latin) as intermediaries, [30] in an effort to modernize the language, often adding concepts that did not exist until then, or replacing words of other origins. These common borrowings and features also essentially serve to raise mutual intelligibility of the Romance languages, particularly in academic/scholarly, literary, technical, and scientific domains. Many of these same words are also found in English (through its numerous borrowings from Latin and French) and other European languages.

In addition to Latin loanwords, many words of Ancient Greek origin were also borrowed into Romance languages, often in part through scholarly Latin intermediates, and these also often pertained to academic, scientific, literary, and technical topics. Furthermore, to a lesser extent, Romance languages borrowed from a variety of other languages; in particular English has become an important source in more recent times. The study of the origin of these words and their function and context within the language can illuminate some important aspects and characteristics of the language, and it can reveal insights on the phenomenon of lexical borrowing in linguistics as a method of enriching a language. [31]

Cultural aspects

According to Hans Henrich Hock and Brian Joseph, "languages and dialects ... do not exist in a vacuum": there is always linguistic contact between groups. [32] The contact influences what loanwords are integrated into the lexicon and which certain words are chosen over others.

Leaps in meaning

In some cases, the original meaning shifts considerably through unexpected logical leaps. The English word Viking became Japanese バイキング (baikingu), meaning "buffet", because the first restaurant in Japan to offer buffet-style meals, inspired by the Nordic smörgåsbord, was opened in 1958 by the Imperial Hotel under the name "Viking". [33] The German word Kachel , meaning "tile", became the Dutch word kachel meaning "stove", as a shortening of kacheloven , from German Kachelofen , a cocklestove.

See also

Related Research Articles

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A lexicon is the vocabulary of a language or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word lexicon derives from Greek word λεξικόν, neuter of λεξικός meaning 'of or for words'.

Lexicology is the branch of linguistics that analyzes the lexicon of a specific language. A word is the smallest meaningful unit of a language that can stand on its own, and is made up of small components called morphemes and even smaller elements known as phonemes, or distinguishing sounds. Lexicology examines every feature of a word – including formation, spelling, origin, usage, and definition.

In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal word-for-word or root-for-root translation. When used as a verb, "to calque" means to borrow a word or phrase from another language while translating its components, so as to create a new lexeme in the target language. For instance, the English word "skyscraper" has been calqued in dozens of other languages, combining words for "sky" and "scrape" in each language. Another notable example is the Latin weekday names, which came to be associated by ancient Germanic speakers with their own gods following a practice known as interpretatio germanica: the Latin "Day of Mercury", Mercurii dies, was borrowed into Late Proto-Germanic as the "Day of Wōđanaz" (Wodanesdag), which became Wōdnesdæg in Old English, then "Wednesday" in Modern English.

A pseudo-anglicism is a word in another language that is formed from English elements and may appear to be English, but that does not exist as an English word with the same meaning.

In linguistics, a stratum or strate is a historical layer of language that influences or is influenced by another language through contact. The notion of "strata" was first developed by the Italian linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli (1829–1907), and became known in the English-speaking world through the work of two different authors in 1932.

Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is the incorporation of a word into one language from another, often creating a neologism, where the word's non-native quality is hidden by replacing it with phonetically and semantically similar words or roots from the adopting language. Thus the approximate sound and meaning of the original expression in the source language are preserved, though the new expression in the target language may sound native.

Language contact occurs when speakers of two or more languages or varieties interact with and influence each other. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics. When speakers of different languages interact closely, it is typical for their languages to influence each other. Language contact can occur at language borders, between adstratum languages, or as the result of migration, with an intrusive language acting as either a superstratum or a substratum.

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The re-latinization of Romanian was the reinforcement of the Romance features of the Romanian language during the 18th and 19th centuries. In this period, Romanian adopted a Latin-based alphabet to replace the Cyrillic script and borrowed many words from French as well as from Latin and Italian, in order to acquire the lexical tools necessary for modernization. This process coined words for recently introduced objects or concepts (neologisms), added Latinate synonyms for some Slavic and other loanwords, and strengthened some Romance syntactic features.

In linguistics, specifically the sub-field of lexical semantics, the concept of lexical innovation includes the use of neologism or new meanings in order to introduce new terms into a language's lexicon. Most commonly, this is found in technical disciplines where new concepts require names, which often takes the form of jargon. For example, in the subjects of sociology or philosophy, there is an increased technicalization in terminology in the English language for different concepts over time. Many novel terms or meanings in a language are created as a result of translation from a source language, in which certain concepts were first introduced.


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  17. Loanwords by S. Kemmer, Rice University
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