Lexical borrowing: some general principles (Jan 2003)

two lectures


Plundered from historical linguistics books (Hock, McMahon, Campbell)


Distinguish from codeswitching:

·         authority:

·         Latin epigraphs

·         untranslated quotations in academic articles

·         secrecy:

·         parents talking in front of children

·         Pepys: “Here did I endeavour to see my pretty woman that I did bauser in las tenebras a little while depuis” (in addition to code!)



·         other languages

·         other varieties of the same language

·         e.g., other registers (metaphorical use of trauma)

·         e.g., other dialects (vat, vixen from southern dialects of OE)

·         e.g., older stages of the language. By

·         religious language

·         poets



·         some bilingualism (read McMahon 204 on banana!)

·         projected gain (social or linguistic)


Motivations for borrowing usually lumped as

·         prestige

·         individual

·         collective: subjective desire to enrich the potential of the vernacular

·         when EModE period opened, English was extending its functions

·         borrowed words from the languages that had those functions: Latin, French

·         it’s been said that most words tend to move from the more prestigious language

·         need

·         objective need to express new ideas

·         when EModE period opened, intellectual and physical barriers were coming down

·         scientific and technological discoveries

·         but old words could also be used (e.g. trunk)

·         travel

·         native life and culture

·         unfamiliar flora and fauna

·         indigenous languages had lower prestige for English-speakers

·         borrowings not necessarily directly from the indigenous language

·         and also competed with old words (e.g. robin)


I’d like you to think about this with your words: what kinds of cultural contact/assumptions are reflected by the borrowings you’re looking at?

·         might be quite straightforward with a commodity-word

·         perhaps most interesting with “learned” synonyms of existing words

Nativization process



·         word italicized/quoted/glossed

·         word in wider use but still felt to be foreign

·         word completely integrated (and used metaphorically, i.e. kamikaze)


Adoption vs Adaptation


Adoption (importation)

·         word not modified at all; features foreign to the borrowing language maintained (phonology, morphology, orthography)

·         e.g. Bach [x]


Adaptation (or phoneme substitution)

·         sounds that aren’t in the borrowing language get substituted with a similar sound, e.g. Bach [k]

·         e.g., [x] is a voiceless velar fricative

·         e.g., [k] is a voiceless velar stop

·         spelling is often influential

·         the <th> and <ch> in Rothschild /rotšilt/ end up getting pronounced

·         e.g. the first letter of rouge ends up getting pronounced as /r/ when /g/ might be closer

·         e.g., Don Quixote in English ends up as [kwIks...]

·         morphological reanalysis might happen

·         Greek singular forms in –os get reanalyzed as plurals, and new singulars formed: heros

·         morphological complexity of donor language lost

·         el lagarto “alligator”

·         la reata “lariat”

·         vin aigre “vinegar, sour wine”

·         aard vark “earth pig”

·         sometimes the word’s pronunciation gets changed quite drastically as the result of some sort of rationalization: folk etymology

·         ME berfray “moveable wooden tower used to besiege forts” -> belfry “bell tower”

·         once they contained bells, word reanalyzed to include morpheme bell

·         results in false morphological complexity

·         ME souverain (from French, from Latin superánus) respelled sovereign as if related to Latin regnum

·         Algonguin otček -> PDE woodchuck (what’s a chuck?)

·         French chaise longue -> PDE chaise lounge

·         can sometimes relatively date words

·         ME: chair

·         alveopalatal voiceless affricate has become a fricative



·         depends upon conditions

·         more likely earlier (first users more likely to know the language)

·         more likely if the speaker knows the language

·         more likely if the speaker is trying to show off (or accommodate others in the know)

·         easier when it’s from a related language

·         easier when the donor language’s inflectional morphology isn’t complicated

·         Latin nouns delirium and investigator don’t have any weird endings

·         Latin inflectional morphology usually more complicated

·         e.g., verbs have various principal parts: do you use the present stem (revolve, convince, esteem) or the participle (revolute, convict, estimate)?

·         easier when there have already been lots of loanwords from the same source



What can be borrowed? (didn’t give this, but made many of the points after your reports!)

·         words

·         usually nouns

·         usually not basic vocabulary (late OE and eME borrowing of words like skin, skull, leg from ON along with prepositions and pronouns shows unusually close contact)

·         collocations

·         court(s) martial -> court martial

·         new meanings for old words (usually cognates of each other, share an ancestor)

·         e.g. Latin re + sentire “to feel”) -> French -> English

·         English resent temporarily acquired the French (historical) meaning of “feel”

·         C18th novels

·         derivational morphemes (prefixes and suffixes)

·         e.g., first edible and visible were borrowed

·         then –ible was attached to other Romance bases: palatable, maybe legible (disputed etym?)

·         then –able attached to native bases: eatable, readable, unputdownable

·         some inflectional morphemes (learned plurals)

·         e.g. Latin –us, plural –i

·         comes in with words like cactus

·         sometimes wrongly attached to words like hippopotamus

·         new graphemes

·         e.g. <ae> in words from Latin

·         now varies with <e>: medieval, encyclopedia

·         new environments for old graphs

·         e.g. final <-i> in sushi, spaghetti

·         new phonemes

·         e.g., in OE, [v] was the allophone or variant of /f/ between vowels

·         you couldn’t have [v] if it wasn’t between vowels, i.e. at the beginning of a word

·         in ME, with borrowing of vat and vixen from southern dialects and borrowing of veal and vine from French, /v/ became phonemic (smallest meaningful unit of sound: veal/feel)

·         e.g., in OE, the sound Ž didn’t exist

·         came in with words from French like rouge, beige (tended to be word-final)

·         reinforced with an EModE sound change /zy/ in measure, leisure, etc. (medial)

·         new environments for old phonemes

·         e.g., in OE, the sound /ĵ/ was medial or final: secgan, ecg

·         initial sound, came in from French: gem, gentle

·         new phonological rules

·         palatalization in French has caused alternation in pairs like electric, electricity, edification, edifice; allegation vs allege

·         has borrowed enough pairs to entrench it


Grey area: calques/loan-translations

·         language uses its own elements to “translate” foreign word or phrase

·         word: OE translated Latin omni-potent as eall+mihtig; Latin ev-angelium (“good + news, message”; from Greek eu...) as godspell -> gospel

·         idiom: il va sans dire -> “it goes without saying”

·         grammar: more, most as comparative and superlative influenced by French more, most (native strategy: -er, -est)



Loanwords in Early Modern English: Latin


Diagnostic elements of “Early Modern” English include

·         spread of English (this week)

·         at expense of Celtic languages within Britain

·         into other countries: North America (first wave, when /r/) and other areas like Australia

·         development of a single prestige variety of English for literary and administrative use (next week)

·         big influx of vocabulary so that English could function in new areas

·         Nevalainen in CHEL: in EModE loans rather than affixation and compounding more common way of enlarging the vocabulary

·         Latin main source: prestige language

·         your second topic next week: why that word for that concept/thing?

·         prepared for by lots of French and Latin borrowings in ME (i.e. if lots of –ation words already, language prepped for even more)

·         codification of English in dictionaries and grammars

·         not surprising that the earliest dictionaries were “hard word”


Process of standardization of a vernacular has been classified into two stages (book by Joseph)

·         elaboration: add to vocabulary so that English can talk about philosophy

·         lots of redundancy: expiative, expiatory, expiatorious, expiable

·         some words borrowed more than once: Latin aestimare, aestimatus

·         at different points in time (e.g. aim from French by the 14th c, estimate from Latin in the 17th century)

·         from different parts of the same verb (e.g., revolve from infinitive, revolution from participle)

·         general linguistic principle: no utter synonyms, so some sort of differentiation

·         semantic differentiation

·         register differentiation

·         control and codification:

·         pick one from the many variants

·         put it into a dictionary or grammar, just like Latin had

·         stigmatize the other ones



Review: prestige of Latin


Spelling issues

·         ME: borrowings from French, Latin

·         e.g. aventure and dette from French in C13th

·         EModE: etymological respelling (or selection of more Latinate variant)

·         e.g. b starts appearing in debt in C15th

·         e.g. d starts appearing in adventure in C15th

          -affects the pronunciation


Lexical issues

·         borrowings from French or Latin said by Crystal “usually more formal, careful, bookish, or polite” (page 124), often more specialized and perhaps less accessible in the mental lexicon (Williams 115)

·         ask, question, interrogate

·         end, terminate

·         stop, desist


·         the same word can get “borrowed” at different times: e.g. Latin verb aestimare, aestimatus became OF esmer

·         Latin meanings basis of later ones (I went to a Latin dictionary)

·         to appraise, to determine the extrinsic/monetary value of a thing

·         to weigh, to estimate the intrinsic/moral worth of a thing

·         one source of formal variation: whether the verb comes from the infinitive (esteem) or the participle (estimate); similarly, currere, cursum “to run” (current, cursor)

·         other examples:

·         another source of variation: when it was borrowed and from what language

·         borrowed first into ME from OFr esmer as aim

·         OFr was Latinizing too: reborrowed Latin as estim-er, taken into C15th English as esteem

·         C16th English then went directly to the Latin for estimate

·         semantic/register competition/differentiation: the interesting bit!

·         do your words have meanings in common? (check Latin dictionary)

·         how much competition is there when they end up in English

·         do they end up with different meanings? in different registers?

·         EXX:

·         aim: entered English with all the Latin meanings in 1300s

·         “esteem”: thou eymest the son of man (c14th)

·         estimate”, calculate: no man might aim the number .. (c14th)

·         but what stuck was the (also C14th) meaning that had narrowed via “calculate” to mean

·         to calculate one’s course with a view to arriving at a point

·         (“to aim at singularity”)

·         to calculate the direction of anything about to be launched, to direct a missile

·         esteem entered (c15th) with both the “appraise” sense and the “attach subjective value” sense:

·         “His land shalbe worthe according as it is esteemed”

·         “How is the man esteemed here in the city?”

·         what stuck was the narrowed/ameliorated “attach subjective value” sense, to “to think highly of” (c16th)

·         the “appraise” sense became obsolete

·         estimate came in by C16th

·         its main current meanings derive from the “appraise, assign a value to”

·         specifically without actually counting or measuring

·          one spelling was <aestimate>


·         you can borrow more than words

·         words

·         the odd grapheme: <ae> in <aestimate> ...

·         a few “inflectional morphemes” (grammar endings)

·         not productive: only on loanwords

·         once you have enough Latin words like cactus, cacti, fungus, fungi

·         fungu (back formation)

·         prefixes and suffixes:

·         edible and visible borrowed

then –ible attached to other Romance bases: palatable