Loanwords

Have you ever noticed a word from your native language being used in English? English has a long and interesting history. During its evolution, English has borrowed many, many words from other languages. This has helped enrich the language’s lexicon. Often these borrowed words are referred to as loanwords.

The excellent blog Lexicon Valley recently posted an article about loanwords. They included a really cool animation that showcases the lexical impact that other languages have had on English from 1150 all the way to the present day. As you can see, the majority of English borrowing has come from French, Latin, and Greek but other languages are represented also.loanwords

Loanwords are so prevalent in English that often 20-40% of the vocabulary items in literary works are cognates or words that have a shared origin. For example, the Old Norse word for sister systir was borrowed by both German (schwester) and English (sister). So, these two words are cognates. The website Cognates.org did a textual analysis on the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. They found that over 30% of the words in the book are cognates. Click this link to see an illustrated example of the frequency of cognates in Frankenstein.

Borrowing is not unique to English. In fact, most languages have loanwords. An issue that is discussed often in Quebec (where Culips HQ is located) is the influence of English on Quebecois French. Many people in Quebec feel that French borrows too much from English.

The blog OFFQc wrote an interesting article about what English might look like if it began to borrow heavily from Quebecois French. As you can see, the dialogue example feels English but has a very different flavour due to the inclusion of many loanwords. I recommend you check out this link if you are familiar with French or have an interest in Quebecois culture.

So, what do you think about loanwords? Do they strengthen a language or dilute it? What English loanwords do you have in your native language? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment.