AskDefine | Define loanword

Dictionary Definition

loanword n : a word borrowed from another language; e.g. `blitz' is a German word borrowed into modern English [syn: loan]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


Calque of the Lehnwort


  • (RP): /ˈləʊnwɜːd/, /"l@Unw3:d/
  • (US, Canada, Australia): lōnʹwûrd, /ˈloʊnwɝd/, /"loUnw3`d/


  1. A word taken from one language for use, unchanged, in another
    The word "exit" is a loanword from Latin.


word taken from another language

Extensive Definition

A loanword (or loan word) is a word directly taken into one language from another with little or no translation. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept whereby it is the meaning or idiom that is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort. Loanwords can also be called "borrowings".

Classes of borrowed words

Certain classes of words are more commonly borrowed than others, usually words for exotic concepts or ideas. What is "exotic" varies from language to language. Thus, English names for creatures not native to Great Britain are almost always loanwords, and most of the technical vocabulary referring to classical music is borrowed from Italian.
By contrast, function words such as pronouns, numbers, and words referring to universal concepts, are usually not borrowed, but have been in some cases.

Classification of borrowings

The studies by Werner Betz (1949, 1959), Einar Haugen (1950, also 1956), and Uriel Weinreich (1953) are regarded as the classical theoretical works on loan influence. The basic theoretical statements all depart from Betz’s nomenclature. Duckworth (1977) enlarges Betz’s scheme by the type “partial substitution” and supplements the system with English terms:
  1. importation
    1. foreign word = non-integrated word from a foreign language, e.g. E café (from French); Sp. whisk(e)y (from English) (*the word whiskey in fact comes from the Irish phrase "uisce beatha" which means the water of life, "aqua vitae"); E weltanschauung (< G Weltanschauung); It. mouse ‘computer device’ (< E mouse ‘rodent; computer device’);
    2. loan word = integrated word from a foreign language, e.g. E music (from French "musique"); Sp. chófer (from French "chauffeur");
  2. partial substitution: composite words, in which one part is borrowed, another one substituted, e.g. OE Saturnes dæg ‘Saturday’ (< Lat. Saturni dies), G Showgeschäft ‘literally: show-business’ (< E show business), G Live-Sendung ‘literally: live-broadcast’ (< E live broadcast)
  3. substitution
    1. loan coinage
      1. loan formation
        1. loan translation = translation of the elements of the foreign word, e.g. OE Monan dæg ‘Monday’ (< Lat. Lunae dies), Fr. gratte-ciel and Sp. rasca·cielos ‘both literally: scrape-sky’ (< E skyscraper), E world view (< G Welt·anschauung), AmSp. manzana de Adán (< E Adam’s apple; vs. EurSp. nuez [de la garganta] ‘literally: nut [of the throat]’);
        2. loan rendering = translation of part of the elements of the foreign word, e.g. E brother·hood (< Lat. frater·nitas [= Lat. frater ‘brother’ + suffix]), G Wolken·kratzer ‘literally: clouds-scraper’ (< E sky·scraper);
      2. loan creation coinage independent of the foreign word, but created out of the desire to replace a foreign word, e.g. E brandy (< Fr. cognac);
    2. loan meaning = indigenous word to which the meaning of the foreign word is transferred, e.g. OE cniht ‘servant + disciple of Jesus’ (< Lat. discipulus ‘student, disciple of Jesus’), OE heofon ‘sky, abode of the gods + Christian heaven’ (< Lat. caelum ‘sky, abode of the gods, Christian heaven’), G Maus and Fr souris ‘rodent + computer device’ (< E mouse ‘rodent, computer device’).
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 has 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).

Beyond words

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.

Loanwords in English

English has many loanwords. In 1973, a computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd edition) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff. Their estimates for the origin of English words were as follows:
However, if the frequency of use of words is considered, words from Old and Middle English occupy the vast majority.
The reasons for English's vast borrowing include:
This lack of restrictions makes it comparatively easy for the English language to incorporate new words. However, the English pronunciations of loanwords often differ from the original pronunciations to such a degree that a native speaker of the language it was borrowed from is not able to recognize it as a loanword when spoken.
English often borrows words from the cultures and languages of the British Colonies. For example there are at least 20 words from Hindi, including syce/sais, dinghy, chutney, pundit, wallah, pajama/pyjamas, bungalow and jodhpur. Other examples include trek, aardvark, laager and veld from Afrikaans, shirang, amok (Malay) and sjambok (Malay via Afrikaans).
English also acquires loanwords in which foreign sounds are part of the foreign pronunciation. For example, the Hawaiian word 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 usual English pronunciation, [ˈɑ.ɑ], does not contain the glottal stop. In addition, the English spelling usually removes the okina and macron diacrtic.


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. The English verbal suffix -ize comes from Greek -ιζειν via Latin -izare.

Other languages

Direct loans, expressions translated word-by-word, or even grammatical constructions and orthographical conventions from English are called anglicisms. Similarly, loans from Swedish - like the word smörgåsbord - are called sveticisms or svecisms. In French, the result of perceived over-use of English loanwords and expressions is called franglais. English loanwords in French include 'le weekend', 'le job' (in France) or 'la job' (in Canada) and 'le biftek' (beefsteak). This has so outraged French purists that various French institutions spend much time and energy to keep the language pure. Denglisch is English influence on German. Another popular term is Spanglish, the English influence on the Spanish language and Dunglish the English influence on the Dutch language.
During the Ottoman period, Turkish literature became heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic borrowings. During more than 600 years of the Ottoman Empire, the literary and official language of the empire was a mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, which is now called Ottoman Turkish, considerably differing from the everyday spoken Turkish of the time. Many Turkish, Persian and Arabic words were also loaned to other languages of the empire, such as Bulgarian and Serbian. After the empire fell in 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 loanwords were replaced with equivalent words derived from Turkic roots. The language reform was a part of the ongoing cultural reform of the time, in turn a part in the broader framework of Atatürk's Reforms, and included the introduction of the new Turkish alphabet. Turkish also has many loanwords derived from French, such as pantalon for 'trousers' and komik for 'funny' (from Fr. comique), all of them pronounced very similarly (except for the French pronunciation of the letter 'r').
The Italian government has recently expressed its displeasure over the borrowing of English words and syntax in Italian. English words are often used where they are more convenient than a longer Italian expression, as in "computer" for elaboratore elettronico or "week-end" for finesettimana; but also where equally convenient Italian words already exist, as in "fashion" for moda and "meeting" for conferenza.
Words are occasionally borrowed with a different meaning than the meaning in the source language. Among the most well-known examples of this is the German word Handy, which is a borrowing of the English adjective handy, but means mobile phone and is thus a noun. Conversely, in English the prefix über-, taken from German, is used in a way that it is rarely used in German.
Japanese contains a tremendous amount of loanwords (gairaigo). Ignoring ancient influence from China, recently most Gairaigo has come from English, though there have been significant borrowings from Dutch, German and other languages. There are almost always significant pronunciation shifts (machine -> mashin). Longer terms often are shortened (word processor -> wapuro). In some cases the original meaning shifts considerably though unexpected logical leaps (smorgasboard -> baikingu (Viking): the word smorgasboard is of Norse origin). In other cases the words are borrowed and used in totally inexplicable contexts, with words picked seemingly at random. This is often the case in the names of small businesses, or in artistic works as seen in many anime and manga series such as Bubblegum Crisis. Gairaigo is such a large part of the modern Japanese vocabulary that there are specialized dictionaries for it.


It is possible for a word to travel from one language to another and then back to the original language in a different form, a process called reborrowing. A specific example of this is the French "le biftek", which is borrowed from the English "beefsteak", while the English "beef" is originally from the French "le bœuf".
Another example of this is found in Northern Africa where the Spanish word "Zapato" is used for the word shoe. However, the word "Zapato" came from the Arabic word for shoe: "Sabbat" (سباط) which was borrowed by the Spanish when the Islamic Arabs were living in Andalusia (modern day Spain).


  • Betz, Werner (1949): Deutsch und Lateinisch: Die Lehnbildungen der althochdeutschen Benediktinerregel. Bonn: Bouvier.
  • Betz, Werner (1959): “Lehnwörter und Lehnprägungen im Vor- und Frühdeutschen”. In: Maurer, Friedrich / Stroh, Friedrich (eds.): Deutsche Wortgeschichte. 2nd ed. Berlin: Schmidt, vol. 1, 127-147.
  • Cannon, Garland (1999): “Problems in studying loans”, Proceedings of the annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 25, 326-336.
  • Duckworth, David (1977): “Zur terminologischen und systematischen Grundlage der Forschung auf dem Gebiet der englisch-deutschen Interferenz: Kritische Übersicht und neuer Vorschlag”. In: Kolb, Herbert / Lauffer, Hartmut (eds.) (1977): Sprachliche Interferenz: Festschrift für Werner Betz zum 65. Geburtstag. Tübingen: Niemeyer, p. 36-56.
  • Gneuss, Helmut (1955): Lehnbildungen und Lehnbedeutungen im Altenglischen. Berlin: Schmidt.
  • Grzega, Joachim (2003): “Borrowing as a Word-Finding Process in Cognitive Historical Onomasiology”, Onomasiology Online 4, 22-42.
  • Grzega, Joachim (2004): Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Heidelberg: Winter.
  • Haugen, Einar (1950): “The analysic of linguistic borrowing”. Language 26, 210-231.
  • Haugen, Einar (1956): “Review of Gneuss 1955”. Language 32, 761-766.
  • Hitchings, Henry (2008): The Secret Life of Words. London: John Murray.
  • Koch, Peter (2002): “Lexical Typology from a Cognitive and Linguistic Point of View”. In: Cruse, D. Alan et al. (eds.): Lexicology: An International on the Nature and Structure of Words and Vocabularies/Lexikologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1142-1178.
  • Oksaar, Els (1996): “The history of contact linguistics as a discipline”. In: Goebl, Hans et al. (eds.): Kontaktlinguistik/contact linguistics/linguistique de contact: ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung/an international handbook of contemporary research/manuel international des recherches contemporaines. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1-12.
  • Stanforth, Anthony W. (2002): “Effects of language contact on the vocabulary: an overview”. In: Cruse, D. Alan et al. (eds.) (2002): Lexikologie: ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen/Lexicology: an international handbook on the nature and structure of words and vocabularies. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, p. 805-813.
  • Weinreich, Uriel (1953): Languages in contact: findings and problems. The Hague: Mouton.

See also


External links

loanword in Breton: Amprest (yezhoniezh)
loanword in Bulgarian: Чужди думи
loanword in Catalan: Préstec lingüístic
loanword in Danish: Låneord
loanword in German: Lehnwort
loanword in Modern Greek (1453-): Δάνειο (γλώσσα)
loanword in Spanish: Préstamo lingüístico
loanword in Persian: وام‌واژه
loanword in French: Emprunt lexical
loanword in Korean: 외래어
loanword in Croatian: Posuđenice
loanword in Indonesian: Kata pungut
loanword in Icelandic: Tökuorð
loanword in Italian: Prestito linguistico
loanword in Hebrew: שאילת מילים
loanword in Lithuanian: Skolinys
loanword in Lojban: fu'ivla
loanword in Hungarian: Jövevényszó
loanword in Dutch: Leenwoord
loanword in Japanese: 外来語
loanword in Norwegian: Lånord
loanword in Norwegian Nynorsk: Lånord
loanword in Low German: Lehnwoort
loanword in Polish: Zapożyczenia językowe
loanword in Portuguese: Empréstimo (linguística)
loanword in Russian: Заимствование
loanword in Slovenian: Prevzeta beseda
loanword in Finnish: Lainasana
loanword in Swedish: Lånord
loanword in Ukrainian: Запозичення
loanword in Walloon: Calcaedje (linwince)
loanword in Chinese: 外来语
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