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A loanword (or loan word or loan-word) is a word adopted from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language without translation. It is distinguished from a calque, or loan translation, where a meaning or idiom from another language is translated into existing words or roots of the host language.

Examples of loanwords in English include café (from French café ‘coffee’), bazaar (from Persian bāzār ‘market’), and kindergarten (from German Kindergarten ‘children’s garden’). The word loanword is itself a calque of the German term Lehnwort,[1] while the term calque is a loanword from French.

Loans of several-word phrases, such as the English use of the French term déjà vu, are known as adoptions, adaptations, or lexical borrowing.[2][3] Strictly speaking, the term loanword, although it is traditional, conflicts with the ordinary meaning of loaning since something is taken from but nothing is returned to the donor languages.[4]


Donor language terms frequently enter a recipient language as a technical term in connection with exposure to foreign culture. The specific reference point may be to the foreign culture itself or to a field of activity in which the foreign culture has a dominant role.[citation needed]

From travel abroad

A foreign loanword is arguably still outside the recipient language and not yet a "loanword" when it is fixed in the local culture. What is "exotic" varies from language to language. Thus, English names for creatures not native to Great Britain are almost always loanwords.[citation needed]

From a dominant field of activity

Examples of loanwords from a dominant field of activity:

  • Arts – Most of the technical vocabulary of classical music (such as concerto, allegro, tempo, aria, opera, soprano) is borrowed from Italian,[5] and that of ballet from French.[6]
  • Business – English exports terms to other languages in business and technology (such as le meeting to French).[citation needed]
  • Philosophy – many technical terms, including the term philosophy itself, derive from Greek dominance in philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, economic theory and political theory in Roman times. Examples include democracy, theory and so on.[citation needed]
  • Religion – religions may carry with them a large number of technical terms from the language of the originating culture:
    • Arabic (Islam) – caliph, hajj, jihad, Qur'an[citation needed]
    • Greek (Christianity) – baptisma has entered many languages (English baptism).[citation needed]
    • Hebrew (Judaism) – Some terms in the Hebrew Bible have been carried into other languages as borrowings rather than translated. For example, Hebrew shabbat ("day of rest" שַׁבָּת) has been borrowed into most languages in the world: Greek Σάββατο; Latin sabbatum; Spanish and Portuguese sábado; and English Sabbath. The major exceptions are languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, and which Chinese characters are used and words are often translated rather than transliterated; for example, "Sabbath" is translated as "(peaceful) rest day" (安息日; Mandarin: ān xī rì, Japanese an soku jitsu, Korean an sig il, Vietnamese an tức nhật) rather than transliterated.[citation needed]
    • Latin (Catholicism) – missa and communio have entered English as mass and communion.[citation needed]
    • Sanskrit (Hinduism) – guru (teacher), yoga[citation needed]
  • Science (Latin) – medicine (itself a Latin loanword) uses a large vocabulary of Latin terms (sternum, appendix), as a result of medieval advances in medical science being conducted in Latin even if some of the earliest Latin medical texts were translations from Greek and Arabic.[citation needed]

Passing into general use

When a loanword loses foreign cultural associations, it has passed into general use in the language, as is the case with a vast number of English terms for which a dictionary entry will show that the etymology is French (typically from the Norman Conquest onwards) and not of Anglo-Saxon origin.[citation needed]

Loanword-resistant areas

By contrast, function words such as pronouns, and words referring to universal concepts, are the most static words within each language. Functions words are borrowed only rarely such as English they from Old Norse þeir. Sometimes, only one word from an opposite pair is borrowed, yielding an unpaired word in the recipient language.[citation needed]

Linguistic classification

The studies by Werner Betz (1949, 1939), Einar Haugen (1950, also 1956), and Uriel Weinreich (1953) are regarded as the classical theoretical works on loan influence.[7] 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.[8]

The expression "foreign word" used in the illustration below is however an incorrect translation of the German term Fremdwort, which refers to loanwords whose pronunciation, spelling, and possible inflection or gender have not yet been so much adapted to the new language that they no longer feel foreign. Such a separation of loanwords into two distinct categories is not used by linguists in English in talking about any language. In addition, basing such a separation mainly on spelling as described in the illustration is (or, in fact, was) not usually done except by 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 in wide use for a very 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)."[9] This is however not how the term is (incorrectly) 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.

Models that try to integrate borrowing in an overall classification of vocabulary change, or onomasiological change, have recently been proposed by Peter Koch (2002) and Joachim Grzega (2003, 2004).[citation needed]

In English

The English language has often borrowed words from other cultures or languages:

Spanish definition English definition
"hat" "a wide-brimmed festive Mexican hat"
Other examples of words borrowed by English
from Hindi from Afrikaans from Malay
juggernaut (from Sanskrit 'Jagannath')
karma (from Sanskrit)

[from Persian origin]
[via Afrikaans from Malay]

Some English loanwords remain relatively faithful to the donor language's 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 relatively thick, chunky, and rough. The Hawaiian spelling indicates the two glottal stops in the word, but the English pronunciation, /ˈɑː.ɑː/ or /ˈɑːʔɑː/, contains at most one. In addition, the English spelling usually removes the ʻokina and macron diacritics.[10]

The majority of English affixes, such as un-, -ing, and -ly, were present in older forms in Old English. However, a few English affixes are borrowed. For example, the agentive suffix -er, which is very prolific, is borrowed ultimately from Latin - arius[citation needed] (with similar forms found in other Germanic languages). The English verbal suffix -ize comes from Greek -ιζειν (-izein) via Latin -izare.

In languages other than English

English exports to other languages

Direct borrowings, calques, or even grammatical constructions and orthographical conventions from English are called anglicisms, which leads to a virtual pseudo dialect in which language consists of words from two (and sometimes three or even more) vocabularies. In French, for example, the result of perceived overuse of English words and expressions is called franglais. Some English terms in French include le week-end, le bifteck (beefsteak), and le job (in France) or la job (in Canada). Spanglish is the English influence on the Spanish language while Denglisch is the English influence on German, and Dunglish is the English influence on the Dutch language. Conversely, words are oftentimes borrowed from other languages by English speakers. For example, a straight clone from Swedish into English, like the word smörgåsbord, is called a sveticism (in Swedish svecism).[citation needed]

Transmission in the Ottoman Empire

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 exported to other languages of the empire, such as Albanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek, Hungarian and Ladino. 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), mostly 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.[11]

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 and as well in scientific or technological terminology.[12] One scholar argues that 20% of Indonesian words can be traced back to Dutch words.[13]

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.[14] The contact influences what loanwords are integrated into the lexicon and which certain words are chosen over others. Using the example of Plautdietsch/Mennonite Low German shows the influence of many historical and cultural factors in the loanwords adopted by this unique language.[citation needed] For example, as Mennonites were pushed from the lowlands of Germany into Poland and then on to Russia Plautdietsch gathered vocabulary from Dutch, Frisian, Russian, and Ukrainian.[citation needed]. Some examples appear below:

Plautdietsch word
(recipient language)
Donor language word English gloss
drock Dutch druk busy
ladig Dutch ledig empty
kjast Frisian kest wedding
kjwiel Frisian kwyl spit
lauftje Russian лавка general store
schessnikj Ukrainian чесник garlic
Borscht Ukrainian борщ beet soup
Warenikje Ukrainian варе́ники dumplings

[citation needed]

Transmission patterns

Changes in meaning

Words are occasionally imported with a different meaning than that in the donor language. Among the best known examples of this is the German word Handy, which is a borrowing of the English adjective handy, but means mobile phone (and is hence a noun). (See also: Pseudo-anglicism.) Conversely, in English the prefix über-, taken from German, is used in a way that it is rarely used in German. An abundance of borrowed words taking on new meaning can be found in Rioplatense Spanish. For example, the English gerund camping is used in Argentina to refer to a campsite, and the word wok, borrowed from the Cantonese word meaning pan, is used to mean stir-fry.[citation needed]

Idiomatic expressions and phrases, sometimes translated word-for-word, can be borrowed, usually from a language that has "prestige" at the time. Often, a borrowed idiom is used as a euphemism for a less polite term in the original language. In English, this has usually been Latinisms from the Latin language and Gallicisms from French. If the phrase is translated word-for-word, it is known as a calque.[citation needed]

Changes in spelling

Words taken into different recipient languages are sometimes spelled as in the donor language (such as many of the terms above). Sometimes borrowed words retain original (or near-original) pronunciation, but undergo a spelling change to represent the orthography of the recipient language. Welsh is a language where this is done with some consistency, with words like gêm (game), cwl (cool), and ded-gifawe (dead giveaway). The French expression "cul de sac" (meaning "dead end" or "no through road") is used in English as is, with the same meaning but a spelling pronunciation: the 'l' is mute in French but enunciated in English.[citation needed]

Changes in pronunciation

In cases where a new loanword has a very unusual sound, the pronunciation is frequently radically changed, a process sometimes referred to by the archetypal name of the law of Hobson-Jobson; this is particularly noted in words from South Asian and Southeast Asian languages, as in this example. Some languages, such as Jèrriais, have a tendency to apply historical sound-shift patterns to newly introduced words. For example, while Jèrriais speakers would have little difficulty pronouncing "parki" (to park), the form used is partchi, displaying the typical Norman ki → tchi shift.[citation needed]

Most languages modify foreign words to fit native pronunciation patterns (including morpheme structure constraints, morpheme combinations, and morphophonemic alterations).[15] Whether or not a change in pronunciation occurs depends on multiple factors such as: if the sounds occur in both the original and target languages and the level of contact between cultures. An excellent example is Japanese, which has an enormous number of loanwords (gairaigo). Japanese often denotes gairaigo in the writing system with the use of カタカナ(katakana). There was a massive ancient influx from China, and then a flow of new words came from European languages, particularly from Portuguese, which was spoken by the first European people whom Japanese encountered in the transition from the Middle Ages to Early modern period. Recently, most gairaigo have come from English, though there have been numerous loanwords borrowed from Dutch, German, French and other languages. There are almost always significant pronunciation shifts.[citation needed]

Japanese katakana Romaji IPA Donor language word English gloss
パン pan /paɴ/ Portuguese pão [ˈpɐ̃w] bread
コップ koppu /kopːu͍/ Portuguese copo [ˈkɔpu] glass (cup)
フラスコ furasuko /ɸu͍̥ɽasu͍̥ko/ Portuguese frasco [ˈfɾaʃku] (laboratory) flask
じょうろ jōro /dʑoːɽo/ Portuguese jarro [ˈʒaʀu] watering can (jar)
バレーボール barēbōru /baɽeːboːɽu͍̥/ English volleyball volleyball
ソープ Sōpu /soːpu͍/ English Thorpe name: Thorpe
ソープ sōpu /soːpu͍̥/ English soap soap
ホワイトハウス howaitohausu /how͍aitohau͍su͍̥/ English White House White House
rangēji-raboratorī /ɽaŋɡeːdʑi̥ ɽaboɽatoɽiː/ English language laboratory language laboratory
terefon-kādo /teɽefoɴ kaːdo/ English telephone card telephone card
パトカー pato-kā /pato kaː/ English patrol car patrol car

Longer gairaigo are often shortened:

Japanese katakana Romaji IPA Donor language word English gloss
サントラ san-tora /saɴ toɽa/ English soundtrack soundtrack
デパート depāto /depaːto/ English department store department store
ハンカチ hankachi /haŋkatɕi/ English handkerchief handkerchief
カーナビ kānabi /kaːnabi/ English car navigation system car navigation system

[citation needed]

In some cases, the original meaning shifts considerably through unexpected logical leaps: buffet → バイキング baikingu (Viking): derived from the name of the restaurant "Imperial Viking", the first restaurant in Japan which offered buffet style meals.[16]

dress shirt → ワイシャツ waishatsu: derived from the words white shirt and shortened.

There are other cases where words are borrowed, seemingly at random, and used in totally inexplicable contexts. This is often the case in the names of small businesses and in anime and manga series such as Bubblegum Crisis. Gairaigo is so large a part of the modern Japanese vocabulary that there are specialized dictionaries for it.[citation needed]


It is possible for a word to travel from the recipient language to another and then back to the original donor language in a different form, a process called reborrowing.[citation needed] Some examples:

Original Borrowed to Reborrowed to original as
French bœuf “ox” English as beef, the root of the English word beefsteak bifteck
Greek κίνημα (transliteration: kinima) French as cinema “motion picture” σινεμά (transliteration: sinema) “motion picture”
English animation Japanese as アニメ, (transliteration: anime) "animated movies" anime (Japanese-style cartoons)
Hebrew keli-zemer “musical instrument” Yiddish as klezmer “(traditional Ashkenazic) musician” klezmer “(traditional Ashkenazic) musician”[17]
Portuguese feitiço “charm” French as fétiche "fetish, amulet" fetiche "fetish"

[citation needed]

See also


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  2. Chesley, Paula and R. Harald Baayen. 2010. Predicting new words from newer words: Lexical borrowings in French. Linguistics 48:4, pp. 1343-1374
  3. Thomason, Sarah G., Language Contact: An Introduction. Georgetown University Press: Washington, 2001.69. Print.
  4. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. "Linguistic 'borrowing' is really nothing but imitation." Shakespeare, however, anticipates this situation in Hamlet, Act I, scene 3: Neither a borrower nor a lender be ..."
  5. Shanet 1956: 155
  6. Kersley & Sinclair 1979: 3
  7. Compare the two survey articles by Oksaar (1996: 4f.), Stanforth (2002) and Grzega (2003, 2004).
  8. The following comments and examples are taken from Grzega, Joachim (2004), Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu?, Heidelberg: Winter, p. 139, and Grzega, Joachim (2003), “Borrowing as a Word-Finding Process in Cognitive Historical Onomasiology”, Onomasiology Online 4: 22–42.
  9. Loanwords by Prof. S. Kemmer, Rice University
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  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  12. Sneddon (2003), p.162.
  13. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  14. Hock, Hans Henrich, and Brian D. Joseph. "Lexical Borrowing.” Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics. 2nd ed. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. 241–278. Print.
  15. Itô, Junko. Ed. A Handbook of Japanese Linguistics: Chapter 3 The Phonological Lexicon. Oxford: Blackwell, 2-6. Print.
  16. [1] Archived January 17, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.


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External links