The Definition of Borrowing Language

lexical borrowing

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In linguistics, borrowing (also known as lexical borrowing) is the process by which a word from one language is adapted for use in another. The word that is borrowed is called a borrowing, a borrowed word, or a loanword

The English language has been described by David Crystal as an "insatiable borrower." More than 120 other languages have served as sources for the contemporary vocabulary of English.

Present-day English is also a major donor language--the leading source of borrowings for many other languages.


From Old English, "becoming"

Examples and Observations

  • "English . . . has freely appropriated the major parts of its vocabulary from Greek, Latin, French, and dozens of other languages. Even though The official's automobile functioned erratically consists entirely of borrowed words, with the single exception of the, it is uniquely an English sentence."
  • "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
  • Exploration and Borrowing
    "The vocabulary of English based on exploration and trade [was] often brought to England in spoken form or in popular printed books and pamphlets. An early example is assassin (eater of hashish), which appears in English about 1531 as a loanword from Arabic, probably borrowed during the Crusades. Many of the other words borrowed from eastern countries during the Middle Ages were the names of products (Arabic lemon, Persian musk, Semitic cinnamon, Chinese silk) and place names (like damask, from Damascus). These were the most direct examples of the axiom that a new referent requires a new word."
  • Enthusiastic Borrowers
    "English speakers have long been globally among the most enthusiastic borrowers of other people's words and many, many thousands of English words have been acquired in just this way. We get kayak from an Eskimo language, whisky from Scottish Gaelic, ukulele from Hawaiian, yoghurt from Turkish, mayonnaise from French, algebra from Arabic, sherry from Spanish, ski from Norwegian, waltz from German, and kangaroo from the Guugu-Yimidhirr language of Australia. Indeed, if you leaf through the pages of an English dictionary that provide the sources of words, you will discover that well over half the words in it are taken from other languages in one way or another (although not always by the sort of straightforward borrowing we are considering here)."
  • Reasons for Language Borrowing
    "One language may possess words for which there are no equivalents in the other language. There may be words for objects, social, political, and cultural institutions and events or abstract concepts which are not found in the culture of the other language. We can take some examples from the English language throughout the ages. English has borrowed words for types of houses (e.g. castle, mansion, teepee, wigwam, igloo, bungalow). It has borrowed words for cultural institutions (e.g. opera, ballet). It has borrowed words for political concepts (e.g. perestroika, glasnost, apartheid). It often happens that one culture borrows from the language of another culture words or phrases to express technological, social or cultural innovations."
  • Contemporary Borrowing
    "Today only about five percent of our new words are taken from other languages. They are especially prevalent in the names of foods: focaccia, salsa, vindaloo, ramen."
  • Borrowings From English
    "English borrowings are entering languages everywhere, and in more domains than just science and technology. Not surprisingly, the reported reaction of a Paris disk jockey to the French Academy's latest pronouncements against English borrowings was to use an English borrowing to call the pronouncement 'pas très cool' ('not very cool')."




  • Peter Farb, Word Play: What Happens When People Talk. Knopf, 1974
  • James Nicoll, Linguist, February 2002
  • W.F. Bolton, A Living Language: The History and Structure of English. Random House, 1982
  • Trask's Historical Linguistics, 3rd ed., ed. by Robert McColl Millar. Routledge, 2015
  • Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words. Houghton Mifflin, 2002
  • Carol Myers-Scotton, Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Blackwell, 2006
  • Colin Baker and Sylvia Prys Jones, Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, 1998
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of Borrowing Language." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). The Definition of Borrowing Language. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of Borrowing Language." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).