A loanword (or a borrowing) is a word taken in by one language from another. The word loanword itself is a calque of the German Lehnwort. A calque or loan translation is a related process whereby it is the meaning or idiom that is borrowed rather the lexical item itself.
Although loanwords are typically far less numerous than the "native" words of most languages (creoles being an obvious exception), they are often widely known and used, since their borrowing served a certain purpose.
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Loanwords in English
English has many loanwords, due to England coming in contacts with numerous invaders in the Middle Ages, and English becoming a trade language in the 18th century. The table below lists languages (with examples) from which English borrowed more than 1000 words:
- Romance Languages – agenda, exit, beauty, champion, chase, parliament
- Ancient Greek – anonymous, catastrophe, parabola, skeleton, tonic
- Norman – catch, guardian, judge, pork, wicket
- Old Norse (Scandinavian) -are, call, gill(fish), leg, skin, sky, take, they, window
- Goidelic – claymore, bard, galore, slogan
- Brythonic – coracle, crowd (musical instrument), corgi, gunnies
The Norse loanwords amount to about 2% of all significant vocabulary. However, the Norse words are used more often than the rest of the loanwords put together. Some Norse words form, with English ones, vocabulary couplets. In each case below, the Norse word is first. Often, if the Norse word starts with an /sk/ sound, the English one will start with /S/.
- egg (on) – edge
- scatter – shatter
- skirt – shirt
- dike – ditch
- skull – shell
In addition, some words like think are of shared English-Norse origin. The modern word descends from one, or more likely, both forms.
The Norse loanwords are actually part of the grammatical skeleton of English. It is possible to spend a whole day without using a Latin, French, or Greek borrowing, but the only way to never use a Norse borrowing (or an Old English descendant) is not to speak. The classicist C.W.E. Peckett recommended (in "How to write good English") using Anglo-Saxon words whereever possible if the purpose is direct and simple communication.
The Latin and French words together make up about 40% of English vocabulary. Norman is also common. Greek is almost exclusively found in scientific terms and is the source of about 50% of these words.
Many Hebrew loanwords have been incorporated into English, including:
- amen (ah-MEN)
- Goliath (gol-YAHT)
- jubilee (yo-VEL)
- leviathan (lev-yah-TAHN [=whale])
- hallelujah (ha-le-LOO-yah)
- messiah (mah-SHEE-ah)
- seraphim (se-rahf-IM)
- Sabbath (sha-BAHT)
- hosanna (ho-shah-nah)
- Armageddon (har meggido)
- Satan (sah-TAHN)
- cabal (from Kabbalah)
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah, etc.
('ah' is used everywhere to emphasize the sound of 'a' like in the word 'father')
Persian has contributed words such as:
Latin set phrases are called Latinisms:
- Et cetera (etc.), exempli gratia (e.g.), id est (i.e.), vide licet (viz)
French set phrases are called Gallicisms:
- Goes without saying, in lieu of
Here are some common borrowed affixes:
- -s (verb suffix) from Norse. Contrary to popular belief, the English plural ending is not from French.
- -in Latin
- -able Latin
- -ity Latin/Greek
- -tion Latin
Direct loans, expressions translated word-by-word, or even grammatical constructions and orthographical conventions from English are called anglicisms. Similarly, loans from Swedish are called sveticisms or svecisms.
In French, the result of perceived over-use of English loanwords and expressions is called franglais.
For the English influence in German, see Germish.