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Immigrant English

Have you ever asked yourself how words and expressions move from one language to another? The answer is simple, they immigrate just like people. Historically, this has occurred both as a result of war and immigrant relocation. The rule was simple, as long as the particular group that originally spoke the 'foreign words and expressions' was sufficiently large enough in numbers for the words or expressions to take hold, they usually did. However, the actual process by which 'foreign words and expressions' are adopted into another language can differ. The two basic processes by which foreign words are adopted are known as 'loanwords' and 'calques'.

Loanwords are words taken directly into a language with little or no translation. Familiar examples of some German loanwords are 'hamburger', 'frankfurter', 'delicatessen', 'kindergarten', 'rucksack', 'Doberman', 'blitz' and 'foosball'. It is obvious from the foregoing list that German words have entered the English language from such diverse fields as food and sports. French and Spanish have also contributed their faire share of loanwords to the English language. With regard to French, its 'fair share' is probably an understatement as 30% of all English words are said to be of French origin. Examples of French loanwords are 'avenue', 'boulevard', 'clarinet', 'clique', 'limousine' and 'entrepreneur'. Of course, it must be remembered that entire phrases have also entered the English language as loanwords. The familiar 'RSVP' short for (please answer), 'c'est la vie' (that's life) and 'eau de toilette' (perfume) are some of the most commonly used loanword expressions from French. And it's not just European languages that have made contributions. Such common words as 'pajama', 'jungle', 'bungalow', 'bandanna,' and 'shampoo' are of Indian origin which in turn borrowed them from Persian.

The second process by which new words and expressions enter a language is referred to as 'calque' or 'loan translation'. Unlike a loanword, a calque results when the meaning of a word or expression is borrowed and not the actual word or expression itself. Some familiar calques that have come to us from French are 'flea market' which comes from , 'Adam's apple' (from pomme d'Adam), 'New Wave' (from Nouvelle Vague) and rhinestone (from caillou du Rhin). From German have come such calques as 'rainforest' (regenwald), 'foreword' (vorwort), 'intelligence quotient' (Intelligenzquotient) and 'superman' (Ubermensch). Like loanwords, calques have come to the English language from dozens of other languages.

Of course, English has also 'immigrated' to other language by these same two processes. Loanwords that have entered the French vocabulary are 'le parking', 'le weekend' and 'les jeans'. Some recent examples of English words calqued into French are (from skyscraper) and (from hard disk). Of all the English words which have entered other languages by way of loanwords and calques, an exceptionally large number have come from the field of technology.

So there you have it. If it weren't for loanwords and calques, all language, including to very large extent English, would be far poorer in both vocabulary and expression. It is therefore safe to say that the value of these lending and borrowing processes has been 'in-calque-ulable'.

By Rob Jensky,
Director of Language Link School

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