In the past, we’ve done posts on idioms (https://support.gengo.com/entries/58632720-Forum-Lesson-15-Idioms), collocations (https://support.gengo.com/entries/53145454-Forum-lesson-13-Collocations), and false cognates (https://support.gengo.com/entries/23531902-Forum-Lesson-2-A-friend-by-any-other-name-), among many others.


This time, we’d like to focus on loanwords (a.k.a. mot d'emprunt, el extranjerismo, zapożyczenie, etc.).


A loanword is a word borrowed from one language and incorporated into another without translation.*


Some excellent examples of English loanwords being used in other languages would be:

The French le weekend for the English weekend

The Italian camping for the English campsite

The German babysitten for the English to babysit


Of course, English borrows many words from other languages as well, e.g.:

From the French: café

From the German: kindergarten

From the Spanish: aficionado


Do you have a favorite (perhaps non-FIGS) loanword? Or a particular strategy for how to handle them in translation? We’d love to hear it!


*Ironically, the word loanword is actually a calque (a.k.a. loan translation, i.e. a meaning or idiom from another language translated into existing words in the host language) of the German Lehnwort, and calque is a loanword from the French. 

1 comment

  • 0

    I could go on about lexical borrowing for years, and I probably will. My interest was piqued quite incidentally by two unrelated yet similar incidents while I was working as a greengrocer. A French customer approached me and asked to be directed to the champignons. Ever the linguist, even in those days, I sent him towards the mushrooms without hesitation, although I seem to recall advising him that few others in our largely monolingual country town (or yet, our largely monolingual country) would be quite so ready to understand him if he kept up with his choice of words. I had unwittingly experienced an echo of the earliest linguistic borrowing into English: the introduction of Norman French words into Anglo-Saxon through the choice of words used by the lesser Norman officials - the bilinguals of the day. Even today, these borrowings account for nearly half of the total lexicon of the language of our good Queen.
    Another time, a Japanese customer approached me and asked for pīman. Again, I was able to direct the customer towards the capsicums without further ado, but I completely understood the error of this customer's ways. Pīman is a Japanese word borrowed from French piment. With as many as 80% of all borrowed words in Japanese coming from English, this customer was making a fairly safe bet that the borrowed word was an English one. The Japanese are acutely aware of borrowed words in their language - they even use a special script to write them. If that isn't enough, they even make up their own ones. Would a native English speaker wear training pants to a nighter? Probably. Would a native English speaker use these expressions for wearing trackpants to a night game of baseball? Probably not.
    Lexical borrowing probably shouldn't be called borrowing at all, since the words are never actually returned, at least, not in the same way they left. English borrowed bougette and tounelle from French, turned them into "budget" and "tunnel" and gave them back again. Japanese borrowed "animation" from English, and English took it back again as "anime". Japanese borrowed (or made up) "pocke[t] mon[ster]" from English, and English took it back as "pokemon".
    Perhaps my favourite lexical borrowing of all time is the Chinese word for concrete. Chinese has a sneaky way of borrowing words - it absorbs them until they are indistinguishable from vernacular terms. The Chinese word for concrete is 混凝土 混凝土 hùnníngtŭ; the characters used here mean "earth that is mixed and set" - to all appearances, it is a native Chinese word. Many Chinese speakers seem to be unaware that when China modernised its lexicon in the mid 20th century, it borrowed a large number of words from Japanese, which had begun its path to modernisation in the late 19th century. The characters were the same, so the work had already been done. The difference here is that in this particular case, the Japanese reading of the word was konkurīto, 100% percent borrowed from English "concrete". The deception has been made complete by the fact that Japanese no longer uses these characters to write this word, preferring to write it in katakana, the special script used for most borrowed words. Borrowed from English into Japanese, our friend "concrete" lost its English spelling but retained some semblance of its original pronunciation. Borrowed from Japanese into Chinese, it retained its (antiquated) Japanese spelling, but lost its Anglaic pronunciation. Nowadays, neither the Chinese, the Japanese, nor the Anglophones are aware of this sneakily 'borrowed borrowed' word.

Please sign in to leave a comment.