Linguistic exchange has been at the heart of some of the world’s most spoken languages.
As we have explored earlier in this series, the English language is itself a composite of several languages that dominated the British Isles during its history: Anglo-Saxon, Norse, French and Latin.
Add in more loan words and borrowings as the British Empire grew and trade around the world brought Arab, Indian, Latin American and South East Asian products to the country, and you begin to see that even an ‘old’ language like English is not only constantly changing – but tells a story about a culture’s past.
The same can be said for English words which have travelled into other countries.
The English language has become so dominant in the last hundred and fifty years for two main reasons: the economic and global rise of the United States of America; and the technological innovations in communication, from radio, to TV to the internet. These media, and business, dominated by the English language, have spread English language shows, newscasts and advertisements around the world.
As such, many languages are full of English loan words. And interestingly, unlike the German or French borrowings that were absorbed into the English language, these are very much modern additions. Let’s take a look:
German’s English loan words are contemporary and usually related to objects or certain professional names.
Anti-baby Pille – Birthcontrol pill
Handy – Mobile phone
Trainer – Coach, usually for a football team
The French language’s English loan words are oddly idiosyncratic in their selection. Items of clothing and fashion (jeans, le pullover, le smoking) are quite common, alongside a few anomalies (le weekend). Interestingly, ‘parking’ is used in both French and Italian.
Le parking – Car park
Le weekend – The weekend
Le smoking – Tuxedo
Les jeans – (Blue) jeans
Camping – Campsite
Dancing – Dance-hall
Eskimo – Parka
Whilst kanji, the traditional form of Japanese writing, based on characters (as with the Chinese system) may not absorb words so well, the katakana form of writing, which uses an alphabet, can take on foreign words. Japanese culture and youth culture in particular is quick to absorb new English words, many of which are only slowly picked up by dictionaries.
Dining kitchen – Dining room with a kitchen
Salaryman – White-collar worker
There are also plenty of English words which have been given Japanese endings – such as the word ‘ending’ – endingu! You’ll also find examples from famous global sports like football: soccer can be known as sakkaa; half-time as haafu taimu. And the referee may be referred to as a refurii.
Why loan words?
As you may have noticed, some loan words make perfect sense – we can understand why a ‘handy’ is a mobile phone, because in America, one of the most prominent users, it’s called a ‘handheld’. But you’ll often find English loan words in situations that seem to make little sense. Japanese culture is a good example.
The Macmillan Dictionaries Magazine has an interesting introduction to this issue. As Diane Nichols writes, in her article on English loan words in Japanese [insert link http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/MED-Magazine/April2003/06-language-interference-loan-words.htm], a lot of English borrowings are to do with commerce. Whilst the word itself may not be understandable to a Japanese audience, the fact that it is in English adds a certain cachet. The same is true for other European languages, like Italian and French:
“Any visitor to Japan will be amazed (and amused) to find so many English words being used to advertise Japanese products. David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (CUP, 1997) points out Japanese car manufacturers’ preference for English, French and Italian words when selecting names for their products (eg Nissan Bluebird, Cherry, Sunny, Violet, Stanza). Often the choice of words used for other products will seem quite bizarre. This is the case, for example, with the soft drink called Pocari Sweat or the cleaning gloves called Clean life, please. Other product names are more inexplicable, like the shampoo called I’ve, the electric razor called Love-Love, and the condoms called Super Winky! Japanese advertisers admit that the meaning of the words used is often of secondary importance – after all, for the most part, the public are not aware of their meaning – what matters more is that they inspire confidence in the consumer and they are felt to do this precisely because of their foreignness.”