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Aurélia Paulin and Jennifer Vince

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1Languages have been in contact for centuries because of historical, political, economic, social, and cultural reasons and, of course, tourism. As a consequence, there are many linguistic interferences which may lead to the process of linguistic borrowing.

2The borrowing language is going to attract various foreign elements, and the product will be either graphic (e.g. one letter), phonological (e.g. one phoneme), morphosyntactic (e.g. the structure determined noun + preposition + determiner) or lexical. Lexical borrowing is the main process and can be divided as follows: morphological (the signifier is borrowed), semantic (the signified is borrowed) and morphosemantic (both signifier and signified are borrowed).

3Borrowings – either non-integrated, in the process of being integrated, or integrated – are assimilated in a graphic, phonic, semantic or flexional way. As far as the contact between languages is concerned, English has a very important role to play, because mainly of Great Britain and the United States. So it is that English is a language that not only provides loan words but also welcomes them from other languages. It has already borrowed from over 350 languages in the past, and it continues to draw on these same resources. It is this role of English, that of recipient language, which provides the framework for the five papers that make up this issue.

A Brief Historical Background

4In the past, the arrival of loan words in English has often been recorded and commented on, while at the same time giving rise to a certain amount of concern and even animosity about the number of words being borrowed, as was certainly the case in the 16th century. In the 18th century, Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language, which was the first real attempt to put in place a methodical treatment of the lexicon, while at the same time introducing a certain amount of stability in the language. This did not mean he refused to include loan words, which he defined and illustrated in the same way as any other element of the lexicon, his aim being to “register the language”. The analysis of linguistic borrowing tended to follow the same lines right up until the 20th century, when Einar Haugen put forward his suggestions for the classification and categorization of linguistic borrowing. His categories remain the main point of reference by which linguistic borrowings of all types are classified today.

The Different Types of Analysis

5The study of linguistic borrowing tends to follow three main lines of investigation:

1. The Dynamics of Linguistic Borrowing

  • the mechanisms involved in the process of linguistic borrowing

  • the reasons behind the need for recourse to loan words

  • the modifications that loan words are subjected to in order to integrate the target language

  • once integrated, the problems posed by their translation into other languages

2. Linguistic Contacts and Exchanges between Cultures and Communities

  • the history of linguistic borrowing in a particular language

  • linguistic borrowing (both direct and indirect) between two particular cultures

3. Linguistic Borrowing in Particular Fields of Study or Activity

  • social and sociological fields

  • scientific and technical fields

6These three lines of investigation all appear in the five papers that follow. To turn to the papers collected in this volume, it is noticeable that two contributors focus on the study of languages in contact (directly or indirectly) and analyse the loan words that this gives rise to.

7Tan Siew Imm (National Institute of Education, Singapore) explores the very specific nature of “Malaysian English”. This variety of English has grown up over the past 200 years due to contact between the English and Malay languages. However this paper goes beyond the mere question of linguistic acculturation and seeks to describe the linguistic processes that take place behind the borrowing phenomenon, while at the same time examining the mechanisms used to improve the communicative and expressive functions of Malaysian English. Tan Siew Imm analyses a corpus-based inventory of Malay borrowings drawn from The Malaysian English Newspaper over a period of six months, from August 2001 to January 2002. The author stresses the fact that, contrary to popular belief, borrowing is often initiated by fluent non-native speakers of English, as is the case here. Tan Siew Imm posits that the linguistic outcomes of lexical borrowing being generally systematic and stable, this would imply considerable potential for the codification of the lexicon of Malaysian English.

8In his paper, Jason D. Haugen (Oberlin College, USA) presents an inventory of those words recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as being English loan words from Nahuatl, an Aztec language. Unlike many papers devoted to the study of linguistic borrowings, that of J.D. Haugen focuses on what he calls “borrowed borrowings”, in other words loan words that have passed between two languages by means of intermediary languages. In the particular instance here, the process of secondary borrowing has taken place mainly through Spanish, due firstly to the Spanish colonial invasion of Central America in the 16th century, and more recently due to contact with the Mexican variety of Spanish. The corpus studied in this paper is made up of 93 lexemes, classified firstly according to semantic fields, and secondly according to first attestation dates. The last part of the paper is devoted to an exploration of the phonological and morphological adaptations that have occurred during the borrowing process of the loan words of this corpus.

9Magdalena Bielenia-Grajewska (University of Gdansk) studies the importance of linguistic borrowing in the economic field analyzing a corpus of 300 lexical units. These units come from various influent languages and were selected in books dealing with economics published from 1982 to 2008. The author is interested first in the historical aspect before studying the different ways the loanwords have modified the lexicon. Apart from French, Spanish and German, Magdalena Bielenia-Grajewska shows that other languages are influent as well. The article ends on the future situation of loanwords in the economic communication.

10Some authors have chosen to speak about linguistic borrowings within translation. The translation of words, phrases or texts from one language to another one goes from the way one understands an original message (that implies both linguistic and extralinguistic knowledge) in a source language, to a deverbalization of a linguistic form to express the semantic content (denotation, connotation and register) in a target language. Here, translating is often a synonym for interpreting. Corinne Wecksteen (University of Artois) argues the case for borrowing from French into English. The use of a foreign lexical unit in a text is not due to chance and has some consequences on the connotation. She introduces, firstly, the various motivations for borrowing from French and analyses the signals present in the text in order to see the semantic shifts and changes. Secondly, she studies the strategies of translation used in a corpus of English and American fiction from the 19th and 20th centuries.

11Frédérique Brisset (University of Orleans) develops another translation point of view concerning the borrowing process in Woody Allen’s American English movies. From a corpus dealing with the dialogues created by Woody Allen from 1977 to 1996, the author views the semantic, graphic and phonic integration of non-standard language before analyzing the loanwords with a technical motivation. What is to be done with proper nouns and the religious technolect? Can we say that dubbing will be led by the anticipation of a lack of cultural awareness?

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Electronic reference

Aurélia Paulin and Jennifer Vince, « Introduction », Lexis [Online], 3 | 2009, Online since 27 July 2009, connection on 28 May 2017. URL :

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About the authors

Aurélia Paulin

Université de Franche-Comté (Besançon), France

By this author

Jennifer Vince

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, France

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