Are our languages more beautiful with lexical borrowing?

For the linguistic materials that may pass from one language into another there is no boundary; however, some materials are more likely to pass than others. Linguistic borrowing could be a common issue which is intently studied and examined in individual languages. Hoffer (2005) has stated that “one of the most easily observable results of intercultural contact and communication is the set of loanwords that is imported into the vocabulary of each language involved”. The spread of English as the language of the Internet and the emphasis placed on English in schools and education suggest that more and more English loanwords will be imported in other countries over the next few decades (See also Long term languages).

Grant (2015) believes that lexical borrowing is “the commonest form of contact-induced linguistic change”. He adds that “loanwords can (but need not) also act as conduits for the transmission and subsequent integration of new phonemes or inflectional and derivational morphemes into the recipient language”. According to Bernard Comrie, “the nature of the morphological systems in contact and how they relate to one another” underlie the formal determining factors in the process of borrowing (Comrie, 2002).

It is pointed by Iweta Kalinowska (former Communication Trainee at TermCoord) that “the simplest of all linguistic processes used to create new words, is that of borrowing, where words from other languages enter common use”. Although the process of borrowing would seem the simplest among all linguistic processes, managing and monitoring these forms are not easy tasks.


Loanwords are a very distinguished cluster of borrowings and a series of recent publications analyzes their integration into the recipient languages. Einar Haugen (1950), one of the most important American linguists, has presented a threefold distinction applied to borrowings and to him “loanword” is the vaguest of the group because “it may include practically any of the others”:

  1. Loanwords (e.g. AmE shivaree from Fr. charivari)
  2. Loanblends: hybrid borrowings which consist of partly borrowed material and partly native material (e.g. Fr.couronne jacket from Engl. jacket crown).
  3. Loanshifts: Loan translations [calque] and loan meaning [semantic borrowing] (e.g. Fr. presqu’île modeled on Latin paeninsula)

There is also another categorization by Hughes (2000), Professor of the History of the English Language at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, according to which three groups of lexical borrowings are distinguished:

  1. Guest word: Word that retains its original pronunciation, spelling, and meaning. Examples are passé from French, diva from Italian, and leitmotiv from German.
  2. Foreign word: Word that has undergone partial assimilation, as have French garage and hotel.
  3. Loanword: Word that has become a virtual native in the source language with no distinguishing characteristics. Loanword is thus an example of itself.

Suzanne Kemmer, associate professor of linguistics at the Rice University describes loanwords as follows:

Loanwords are words adopted by the speakers of one language from a different language (the source language). A loanword can also be called a borrowing. The abstract noun borrowing refers to the process of speakers adopting words from a source language into their native language. “Loan” and “borrowing” are of course metaphors because there is no literal lending process. (Kemmer, 2003)

Martin Haspelmath, senior scientist at the linguistics department at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and well-known researcher in the fields of comparative syntax, morphology, language contact, and linguistic universals, in his article Lexical borrowing: Concepts and issues (2009) describes that the term borrowing  has been used in two different senses:

(i) As a general term for all kinds of transfer or copying processes, whether they are due to native speakers adopting elements from other languages into the recipient language, or whether they result from non-native speakers imposing properties of their native language onto a recipient language.

(ii) In a more restricted sense, “to refer to the incorporation of foreign elements into the speakers’ native language” (Thomason & Kaufman 1988:21), i.e. as a synonym of adoption.

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics defines lexical borrowing as “the adoption of individual words or even large sets of vocabulary items from another language or dialect”.

It can also include roots and affixes, sounds, collocations, and grammatical processes. It has profound implications for various aspects of applied linguistics, including sociolinguistics and foreign-language learning (Daulton, 2012).

As it can be seen from these arguments, “some linguists define borrowing in a narrow way that excludes the effects of shift-induced interference or substrate” (Stolz, T., Bakker, D., & Palomo, R. S., 2008).

Loanwords and Terminology

When languages are in contact, they enrich their vocabulary through the cultural, technological and scientific exchanges. These exchanges can influence the recipient language to the extent that new concepts and consequently new terms and new coinage strategies could enter the linguistic system of the language. It is also probable that these new terms become integrated into the target language as its own components. It is also worth mentioning that among all linguistic patterns, nouns are more likely to be borrowed than others.

With the ever increasing pace of progress in science and technology, there is a large variety of loanwords in various subject fields that require being verified whether or not can be adopted or if they need to be replaced by native alternative terms. Therefore, it is desirable to manage and monitor these lexical exchanges to a particular level so as to ensure their correct accommodation within the general system of the language as well as the specialized scopes.

Loanwords in specialized contexts are also called “borrowed terms” or “loan terms”. According to ISO [1087-1 Terminology work — Vocabulary —Part 1: Theory and application], borrowed term is:

borrowed term

term (3.4.3) taken from another language or from another subject field (3.1.2)

Nevertheless, languages do not perform the same attitude towards borrowed terms either for the diverse internal characteristics of the languages (e.g. morphological and phonetic systems) or for the distinct criteria and policies (e.g. purism). For instance, while in Italian the term “chat” is admitted as an adopted term, in Catalan the term “xat” is proposed as an adapted term and in Quebec French “clavardage” is a preferred French term designating the concept in Informatics. According to Varga & Orešković Dvorski (2011), “France exerts a far greater institutional effort to preserve its native language than does Italy”.

The process of borrowing also depends on the domains and subject fields. Some technical and knowledge domains tend to borrow more than some other domains. For instance in Russian, the most frequent lexical borrowings have occurred in business, industry, politics, art, fashion, entertainment and technology (Styblo Jr., 2007). It is worth mentioning that borrowing can be observed as a part of a wider linguistic phenomenon which is neology.

In “Metodología del trabajo en neología: criterios, materials y procesos” (Cabré 2004), borrowing is considered as a type of neologisms. The other types are formal neologism, syntactic neologism, semantic neologism and others (i.e. neologisms that cannot be categorized in any of the defined categories). In this document, lexical borrowing (préstamo) is a category including not-adapted words from another language or orthographically adapted words. In this sense, borrowing from another subject field in the same language (as it is defined by ISO) is not accounted.

Why do we use loanwords?

It is admitted that not only there is nothing wrong in using loanwords but also the flexibility in borrowing from other languages (donor languages) enriches the vocabulary of the target language. Interestingly, English, as one of the most prominent languages, is among those flexible languages that its vocabulary has developed and enriched significantly through borrowing processes. However, structurally, all languages have adequate productive resources to form up new words for new notions. Thus, so as to clarify the widespread use of loanwords, we might need to search for the roots in the convenience of applying the loanword in bilingual or multilingual circumstances (Haspelmath, 2009).

The use of loanwords is not problematic per se, but the consequences of the process might be. The problems arise when loanwords conflict with the linguistic characteristics of the target language. “If loanwords are to be incorporated into the utterances of a new language, they must be fitted into its grammatical structure” (Haugen, 1950). The study of borrowing and loanwords in technical languages is one of the key subjects in terminology. It is a common practice for terminologists to extract frequent formation resources and patterns to analyze the adaptability and receptivity of scientific language in order to design appropriate criteria for the borrowings in certain languages or domains (Read more about “terminological analysis” here).

Top Language Lovers 2017


  • Bennasar, A. (2017). Long term languages. Terminology Coordination Blog. WordPress. Available at:  (Accessed: 17 May 2017).
  • Cabré, M. T. (2004). Metodología del trabajo en neología: criterios, materials y procesos. Observatori de Neologia, Cabré, M. Teresa (Dir.). Institut Universitari de Lingüística Aplicada. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2017).
  • Comrie, B. (2002). Linguistic Borrowing in Bilingual Contexts. John Benjamins.
  • Daulton, F. E. (2012). Lexical borrowing. In The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Grant, A. P. (2015). Lexical borrowing. In The Oxford Handbook of the Word. John R. Taylor (ed.). Oxford University Press.
  • Haspelmath, M. (2009). Lexical borrowing: concepts and issues. In Loanwords in the world’s languages: A comparative handbook, 35-54.
  • Haugen, E. (1950). The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing. Language. 26 (2), pp. 210-231.
  • Hoffer, B. L. (2005). Language Borrowing and the Indices of Adaptability and Receptivity. Intercultural Communication Studies XIV (2), pp. 53-72.
  • Hughes, G. (2000). A History of English Words. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
  • Kang, Y. (2013). Loanwords. Oxford Bibliographies. Available at (Accessed: 9 May 2017).
  • Kalinowska, I. (2016). Neologisms – their origin and how they reinvigorate language. Terminology Coordination Blog. WordPress. Available at (Accessed: 17 May 2017).
  • Kemmer, S. (2003). Borrowed words. Words in English. Available at (Accessed: 9 May 2017).
  • Nordquist, R. (2017). What are Loanwords? Definition and Examples. Languages. ThoughtCo. Available at (Accessed: 9 May 2017).
  • Stolz, T., Bakker, D., & Palomo, R. S. (Eds.) (2008). Aspects of language contact: new theoretical, methodological and empirical findings with special focus on Romancisation processes (Vol. 35). Walter de Gruyter.
  • Styblo Jr., M. (2007). English loanwords in modern Russian language. Master’s dissertation. University of North Carolina.
  • Varga, D.; Orešković Dvorski, L. (2011). English Loanwords in French and Italian Daily Newspapers. SRAZ LVI, pp.71-84.

Author: BesharatFathi

Terminologist, researcher, learner, teacher,...

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