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Loanwords

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Loanwords

Did you know that around 80% of the English language consists of words borrowed from other languages?

It might surprise you that English has been borrowing words from other languages since it was first developed. These words are referred to as loanwords. Let's look at a definition:

Loanwords Definition

Loanwords are words taken from one language and then incorporated into another language's vocabulary. These words often aren't translated from the original language and remain the same (although they may be altered slightly, e.g., a difference in spelling/pronunciation).

FUN FACT: The three languages with the most influence on modern English are Latin, French, and German.

Loanwords Image of latin words StudySmarterFig. 1 - Around 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots.

It is also important to note that although the word 'loan' itself could imply that these words will be given back or are temporary, they are not. Once a loanword has been integrated into the English vocabulary, it is unlikely this will change!

Why Do We Have Loanwords?

Loanwords exist as a result of different countries or communities of people coming into contact with other languages and cultures. This often happens due to migration and/or trade between countries.

Certain languages may have words for things, feelings, or experiences that others don't have, so these words get borrowed and integrated into new languages and cultures. Or, there may already be an existing word in one language, but another word from a different language could be more specific, have a slightly different meaning or perspective, or be easier/catchier to pronounce.

An important term you may hear when studying loanwords is etymology. This refers to the history of a word - taking into account where the word originally came from, what its original form was, and when it was first used. The etymology of a word can tell us the languages that English words were borrowed from. It allows us to understand how different languages are connected and shows how language evolves over time.

Here are some English words with interesting/unusual etymologies:

Sandwich - this word comes from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English politician and nobleman.

Nightmare - the 'mare' in nightmare comes from the Old English 'mare.' This is a term used to describe a goblin/demon-like spirit who supposedly lies on a sleeping person, suffocates them and/or gives them bad dreams.

Clue - derives from the Greek word 'clew', meaning 'a ball of yarn'. In Greek mythology, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of yarn to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. This led to the word 'clue' being used to refer to something that helps guide the way.

Hazard - supposedly from Arabic 'al-zahr', which refers to a type of dice used in many gambling games. In gambling games, there is often a lot of risk involved. Nowadays, 'hazard' in English is used to refer to a risk or a danger.

Loanwords Example

Let's begin by looking at some examples of loanwords that were taken directly from other languages and have retained the original spelling:

Language of originRoot wordLoanword in English
FrenchCaféCafé
SpanishPatioPatio
LatinActorActor
DutchDamDam
ItalianPastaPasta

Now let's take a look at some loanwords that differ slightly from the original root words they were borrowed from:

Language of originRoot wordLoanword in English
FrenchIronieIrony
SpanishRanchoRanch
LatinEnthusiasmusEnthusiasm
DutchKoekjeCookie
ItalianVioloncelloCello

Greek Loanwords in English

Below are some loanwords from Greek and their etymologies:

  • Idol - from Greek εἰδōλον (eidōlon), which stemmed from εἰδος (eidos)

  • Grammar - from Greek γραμματικὴ τέχνη (grammatikḕ téchnē), which stemmed from γράμμα (grámma)

  • Dialogue - from Greek διάλογος (dialogos), which stemmed from διά (dia) and λόγος (logos)

  • Anonymous - from Greek ᾰ̓νώνῠμος (anōnumos), which stemmed from ᾰ̓ν (an) and ὄνῠμᾰ (onuma)

  • Photography - from Greek root words φωτός (phōtós) and γραφή (graphé)

German Loanwords in English

English is a Germanic language, so shares similarities with German and other languages in the Indo-European language family, such as Dutch and Afrikaans (in case you weren't aware, Afrikaans derives from Dutch and is one of the official languages of South Africa). The three most widely spoken Germanic languages are English, German and Dutch. Below are some loanwords from German without changes in spelling:

  • Hamster

  • Rucksack

  • Angst

  • Blitz

  • Kindergarten

Loanwords Cartoon of a kindergarten StudySmarterFig. 2 - Kindergarten is a combination of 'kinder' and 'garten', together meaning 'garden of children'

Here are some loanwords from German that have slightly different spellings:

  • Pretzel - from German ‘brezel’
  • Noodle - from German 'nudel'
  • Abseil - from German ‘abseilen’
  • Delicatessen - from German ‘delikatessen’

How many of those words did you know were borrowed from German?

Loanwords List

Below is a list of more loanwords from other languages. How many of the following did you already know were loan words?

  1. Karaoke - from Japanese カラオケ (karaoke). This stemmed from 空 (kara) and オーケストラ (ōkesutora), meaning 'empty orchestra.'

  2. Shampoo - from Hindi चाँपो (shapo) which stemmed from the Sanskrit root word चपति (capati).

  3. Lemon - from Arabic لَيْمُون (laymūn), which is derived from Persian لیمو (limu).

  4. Aardvark - from Afrikaans 'aarde' and 'vark', meaning 'earth pig.'

  5. Orangutan - from Malay' orang' (meaning person) and 'hutan' (meaning forest).

Loanwords Borrowed From English

So now you know some loanwords that were taken from other languages and incorporated into English... but what about English words that other languages have borrowed?

Many languages borrow words from English and combine them with their own languages in some way. For example:

In Korea, many words are borrowed from English but are sounded out using the Korean alphabet, so often have different pronunciations. These words are referred to as Konglish (Korean English). Some examples include:

아이스크림 (aiseukeurim) = ice cream

주스 (juseu) = juice

피자 (pija) = pizza

샌드위치 (saendeuwichi) = sandwich

Some words are taken directly from English and retain the same spelling and/or pronunciation. For example, Italian uses the following words:

Weekend

T-shirt

Smartphone

Chat (referring to internet conversations)

Loanwords - Key Takeaways

  • Loanwords are words taken from one language and then incorporated into another language.
  • Loanwords often do not need to be translated from the original language (although there may be differences in spelling/pronunciation).
  • Around 80% of the English language consists of words borrowed from other languages.
  • The three languages with the most influence on modern English are Latin, French, and German.
  • English is a Germanic language, so it shares similarities with German and other languages in the Indo-European language family.

Frequently Asked Questions about Loanwords

Some examples of loanwords include:

  • Irony (from French)
  • Ranch (from Spanish)
  • Enthusiasm (from Latin)
  • Cookie (from Dutch)
  • Cello (from Italian)
  • Grammar (from Greek)
  • Noodle (from German)

Examples of some loanwords in English include:

  • Café
  • Patio
  • Actor
  • Dam
  • Pasta
  • Hamster
  • Karaoke
  • Lemon

Yes, Engish has loanwords, as they have borrowed many words from other languages.

Languages use loanwords as a result of coming into contact with other countries and cultures. Certain languages may have words for things or feelings that others don't have, so the word gets borrowed and integrated into new languages and cultures.

Around 80% of words in the English language were borrowed from other languages.

Final Loanwords Quiz

Question

What percentage of words from the English language are borrowed from other languages?

Show answer

Answer

80%

Show question

Question

Name the three languages with the most influence on modern English

Show answer

Answer

Latin, French, German 

Show question

Question

True or false?


Loanwords are temporary and should be given back to the original languages.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What are loanwords?

Show answer

Answer

Words that are taken from one language and then incorporated into another language's vocabulary.

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


English is a _______ language.

Show answer

Answer

Germanic

Show question

Question

True or false?


Loanwords often do not need to be translated from the original language.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

In German, 'Kindergarten' means what?

Show answer

Answer

Garden of children 

Show question

Question

The word 'karaoke' derives from which language?

Show answer

Answer

Japanese

Show question

Question

The word 'enthusiasm' came from which Latin root word?

Show answer

Answer

Enthusiasmus

Show question

Question

True or false?


Loanwords may be altered slightly from the original root words, e.g. differences in spelling/pronunciation.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The word 'patio' derives from which language?

Show answer

Answer

Spanish

Show question

Question

The word 'pasta' derives from which language?

Show answer

Answer

Italian

Show question

Question

The word 'café' derives from which language?

Show answer

Answer

French

Show question

Question

True or false?


The word 'anonymous' is a loanword from Greek.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

'Noodle' derives from which German word?

Show answer

Answer

Nudel

Show question

60%

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