Language and Linguistics

Loanwords definition with background different and periods

The loan words and borrowing words

The word “loanword” is in fact a type of loanword itself. The word comes from the German word “lehnwort”, which means precisely loanword. In this case, the meaning of the German words (lehn + wort), the English equivalents are used. This type of borrowing is called a calque. As this example shows us, there are different kinds of borrowings, and they can be divided into subgroups. These subgroups will be discussed later in the essay. In this article we will define Loanwords definition.

The word “borrow” is often used in the literature on loanwords to symbolize that a language uses a word that originally comes from another language. In this paper, the term will also be used, even though the word is somewhat misleading. The word “borrow,” indicates that the item borrowed will be returned, and since this obviously is not the case, “borrow” may not be the best metaphor in this particular case.

Theoretical background

Borrowings enter a vernacular in a very natural way. The process starts off with those bilingual people of a certain language community start using words from another language. These people often choose to use certain foreign words because they feel that these words are more prestigious than their native ones. As time passes, more and more people start using the word, and eventually the word has become a part of the vocabulary of the borrowing language.

An example of this is how it became popular for the upper class in Germany at the beginning of the 18th century to speak French. Between, 1650 and 1770, France was the leading political and cultural nation in Europe, and the French language was very popular and prestigious during this time. Many wealthy Germans also wanted to be part of the culture and therefore learned French and became bilingual. The majority of Germans, who were poor peasants, however, still spoke German, but many French loanwords managed to enter the German vocabulary. Examples are the words “Kostüm”, “Parfüm”, “Promenade” and “Balkon”. Often, the original native word exists alongside the borrowed, but many times the native word died out.

History of the English language 

English belongs to the Proto-Indo–European language group. Linguists assume that the Indo-Europeans lived approximately 6000 years ago south of the Caucasus. As time went by, these people migrated in various directions, and 2000 years later some of them came to occupy the land around the western parts of the Baltic Sea. The language that these people came to speak was Germanic. A few centuries later, approximately around 450 – 600 A.D, three Germanic tribes, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons migrated to the British Isles and the language that they came to speak in their new land was Old English ( for example, sēo sunne (the Sun), se mōna (the Moon). Since a language always develops and changes, the English that these people spoke was very different from the English we speak today. Most people that have English as their native tongue would find it difficult to understand an Old English text for example.

All in all, we can say that native English words are words that have their origin in Old English or in the Germanic dialects that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes spoke when they lived on the continent.

Loanword periods

We will also look at other languages that have helped shape the English vocabulary.

The zero period 

Even before English became English, in other words, before the Angles, Jutes and the Saxons moved to the British Isles, the dialects they spoke on the continent came in contact with the Romans and their language, Latin. Even though the Germanic languages and Latin derived from the same source, namely the Indo-European language, they had developed in different directions and were back then, as they are today, completely different languages. At this point in history, the Romans were far more technically advanced than the Germanic people. They had plenty of words in their vocabulary that the Germanic people did not have because they had not developed the objects or ideas yet. An example of this is that they only lived in wooden houses and had not discovered the art of building houses out of stone.

When they came in contact with the Romans, though, and learned this new technique, they borrowed the Latin terms. Most of these words were quite short and therefore “easily adaptable to the highly inflected Germanic languages”.

The words often had to do with cooking, military matters, commerce, and trade. Examples of words that were borrowed during this period are “mule”, “chalk” and “linen”.

The first period

During the first period, which began in the year 43 A.D. and continued until 449 A.D., “Latin was the official language of the administration” in the British Isles. The Anglo-Saxons had not yet migrated to the British Isles and the Celts, the indigenous people of Britain, were living there. The Romans had occupied the country, and their language, Latin, became the official language. Many Latin loanwords entered Celtic languages during this period, and these loanwords were then passed on to the Anglo-Saxons when they moved to Britain. Here are some examples of the loanwords, which entered the language during this period: ambassador, bannock, bard, bracket, breeches, car, career, carry, charge, druid, embassy, piece, vassal.

The second period 

During the second period, which took place between 597 A.D. and 1066 A.D., the Romans Christianized the Anglo-Saxons. This period can be divided into two parts, the Early and the Benedictine period. During the early period, many words were borrowed from Latin that was related to the Anglo-Saxon’s new religion, Christianity. Examples of such words are “bishop”, “mass” and “pope”. Words relating to other subjects were also borrowed, like school and plant. During the Benedictine period, many exotic and learned words were borrowed.

During this period there was also some borrowing of Celtic words. Celtic name words for places and rivers were frequently borrowed, and today many of the names of towns in England have their origin in the Celtic language. Examples are London, Cornwall, and Thames. However, only a few “normal” Celtic loanwords entered the English language during this time. The explanation for this is most likely that the Anglo-Saxons were the conquerors and the Celts the conquered, and the powerful people only seldom borrow words from the people they have defeated. Additionally, there was not much contact between the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons and the relationship between them was presumably hostile.

There was also a profound Scandinavian influence on the English vocabulary during this period. The Vikings occupied the northeastern parts of England and Scotland, later to be called the Danelaw, in the 9th and 10th Century, and therefore many words from their mother tongue, Old Norse, entered the English language. Words, like “dream”, “sky” and the pronoun “they” are examples of words that were borrowed from the Old Norse language. Since Old English and Old Norse were fairly similar languages, it is likely that a colloquial Anglo-Norse arose in the Danelaw area. In this colloquial, it was easy for many Old Norse words to replace Old English ones. A further example of a word that was once borrowed from Old Norse is “window”. The Scandinavian name was “vindöga”´, but in some Scandinavian languages like Swedish, for example, the word is not used anymore. The Swedes borrowed the word “fönster” from Low German in the 15th century, and this example shows us that other languages, in this case, English, may save a word from dying out, because they became loanwords.

The third period 

In the year 1066 A.D. the Norman Conquest took place. The Anglo-Saxons were defeated, and since the Normans spoke Norman French, their language became the official language in England. Both in business and in the government Norman French was the language that was used (examples are: attorney, bailiff, chancellor, chattel, country, court, crime, defendant, evidence, government, jail, judge, jury, larceny, noble,

parliament, plaintiff, plea, prison, revenue, state, tax, the verdict. Norman-French was a local variant of Old French that was spoken in the area of Normandy in the 10th century. The people that lived in this area and spoke this dialect were originally of North Germanic origin, which leads to that Norman French had a considerable amount of Germanic influence.

Thousands of words, from all kinds of fields, were borrowed from Norman French into English after the Norman Conquest. Words like: castle, marry, noun, language, glory, and poet are all examples of loanwords from this time. Many of the borrowed words came from the field of administration, state, politics, war, law, and art. This third period continued into the 16th Century, which means that for more than 400 years Norman French-influenced English. It is likely that many French words entered the English language because the upper class that had spoken French continued to use many French words when the country went over to speaking English. Other people then imitated their language, because of their social standing and education, and the result was that thousands of French borrowings were adopted. In the middle of the 14th century, a French dialect called Central French or Parisian became the official standard in France and on the British Isles. The loanwords that entered during this time are therefore borrowed from this dialect. Many of them do not exist in French anymore.

Some of them have, however “survived” in English.

Examples of such words are close, feature, fuel and remain.

Some 10,000 French words entered the English vocabulary during the Norman occupation. Around 75% of these words are still “alive” and used in English today.

Today it is also possible to look at English words and understand how certain aspects of society worked during this time. If we look at the words “beef” and “cow”, for example, it is clear to see that the words are not of the same origin even though their semantic relationship is obvious. The explanation for this is that the word “beef” derives from Norman French, while “cow” is of Germanic origin. Due to the fact that the French people were those who could afford to eat “beef” during this period since many of them belonged to the aristocracy, they used a word from their language. The people who tended the cattle, however, were mostly the Anglo-Saxons and therefore they used the Germanic word “cow”.

Many times, words of Germanic and Romance origin that had the same meaning existed side by side. The Romance word was often more formal and not as emotional as the native word. Today, many of these words are still used. Examples are the synonyms doom and judgment, and odor and scent.

In the 14th and 15th Century there was also a considerable amount of Latin influence. Due to translations of Latin literature, and the fact that some people read literature written in Latin, Latin loanwords managed to enter the English language. The writings of Trevisa, Lanfranc, Arderne, and Wyclif are some famous scientific and theological works that were translated during this period. Examples of Latin loanwords from this period are “commit”, “create” and “impress”.

The Modern Period 

During the Renaissance in the 15th century, Latin and Greek became important languages once again. Scholars and intellectuals studied classical texts that were written in Greek and Latin, which eventually led to many loanwords from these languages entering the vocabulary of other European languages, like English. Thousands of words were borrowed during this

period, and many of them had already been borrowed from the French some centuries earlier. Now, the “same” word entered the language, only this time from Latin directly. “Perfect” is an example of a word that was borrowed twice. In Middle English, the word was “parfit” and had been borrowed from French, but during the Modern Period, the word was changed into “perfect”, because the Latin equivalent was “perfectus”, and it was considered better if the word resembled the Latin word.

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