English through history (Part 3)
One of the reasons for the change that has happened to English over the centuries is that, since its very beginnings, English has always been in contact with other languages. The influence from this contact can be seen most clearly in the way that English is full of what are known as loanwords. The term loanword, or borrowing, is used to refer to an item of vocabulary from one language which has been adopted into the vocabulary of another. The process is often the result of language contact, where two or more languages exist in close geographical or social proximity. The dominant language often absorbs new items of vocabulary, either to cover concepts for which it has no specific word of its own, or to generate a slightly different function or nuance for concepts for which it does have existing words.
Some loanwords retain their ‘foreign’ appearance when they are adopted, and people will often then use them specifically for the sense of exoticism that they impart. One can talk of a certain je ne sais quoi, for example, or of a joie de vivre when speaking English – in both cases invoking images of French culture to enhance the meaning of what is being communicated. Other loanwords, however, become completely naturalised, until speakers of the language no longer notice their ‘foreignness’ at all. Below is a short selection of words of foreign origin which are in use in modern-day English. As you can see, they come from languages from all parts of the globe.
|from the Old Norse freknur, first recorded in English in 1386
|from the Scandinavian, steik, 1420
|from the Malay, bambu, 1563
|from the Spanish, barbacoa, ‘a framework of sticks set upon posts’, 1697
|from the Chinese (Amoy dialect), ketchiap, a sauce, 1711
|from the Arabic, ghul, an evil spirit, 1786
|from the Hindi, dengi, 1794
|from the Urdu, paejamah, 1801
|from the Spanish, 1839
|from the Japanese, taikun, meaning ‘great lord’, 1857
|from the German, 1866