What Are Loanwords and What Is Their Significance In Language?

Throughout time translators have often been unable to find translations for words in the language they are translating too, and have just kept the original source word. These words are then incorporated into the language and are commonly known as, ‘loanwords’. There are multiple examples of such instances across almost every language and they are so commonly used that most native speakers will be unaware of their origin.

Another way in which loanwords would work their way into a new language is that the speaker may speak the language the word comes from, and use that word when speaking with groups of people familiar with the language. They would then use that word speaking to somebody who does not know the language and hears it as a foreign word. This person would hear the word frequently and use it themselves in a wider group, and the word spreads until it is used by people who have no interaction with speakers of the original language.

The term ‘loanword’ is in itself a contradiction, as there is no ‘loaning’ of the said word, both instances above show how the word is simply adopted into the new language, and of course there could be no way that it could be returned to the original language and cease being used. This being said, loanwords are so ingrained in the English language and date so far back that many would be unrecognisable as a loanword, words such as; history, tragedy, skeleton and autograph originate from 16th century Greek, and were themselves ‘loaned’ to the Greek language from Latin years before that. There are many more examples of loanwords that have been embedded into the English language and can be read here. The below graph illustrates just how much of the English language is made up of words from other languages.

Origins of Loanwords

A lot of loanwords can have their origins traced back to war, for instance, ‘blitz’, was a term used by the Germans in World War Two that has been adopted into the English language, both for describing horrifying events of the war, but also to simply, ‘blitz through some work’. Another common place for loanwords to originate, is from food and drink, widely used terms in the English language include, but are not limited to; espresso, latte, pizza, baguette and deli. These are all words that do sound foreign in origin and most people would be able to accurately guess where they originate from, however they do not stand out from the English language.

Sporting terms are very often loanwords, with the likes of karate and kung-fu originating from Japanese and Cantonese respectively but were not translated and were thus adopted into the English language and are very well known words widely used. Popular culture is also very well known for introducing loanwords, with words such as; paparazzi, karaoke and yo-yo all being adopted from other languages successfully and with longevity.

Loanwords in Modern English

Due to the popularity of platforms like Netflix and YouTube, access to entertainment from around the globe is instantly available. This will undoubtedly have an affect on the English language with typical American words like; trash and elevator already being used more and more everyday. Could this be the time that historians look back on as a pivotal moment in globalisation and integration of languages that might lead to less need for translations in the future? Seems quite unlikely, but perhaps this is the beginning of a huge shift.

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