Fun with Words

Loanwords enrich the English language

Loanwords indicate that the English language is constantly evolving by absorbing and assimilating words and phrases from other cultures and languages  - Roopa Banerjee

Are you going to a bungalow near the jungle wearing a khaki shirt carrying bangles bought from the bazaar?”
Are you aware that the sentence in English has a large number of borrowed or loanwords from other languages — bungalow, jungle, khaki, bangles and bazaar?

Loanwords are words borrowed from a foreign language with little or no modification. Philip Durkin, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and author of Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English, says that English has evolved into a global language by merrily borrowing from Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Scandinavian and South Asian among other languages. According to the Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, which maintains a World Loanword Database, “42 percent of English words are loanwords”.

So, whether you prefer chai, a mojito or cappuccino, pause to remember these words have been borrowed or adapted from foreign languages and countries. Loanwords are formed when two cultures come in contact through immigration, trade, travel, cuisine etc. In particular, English has heavily borrowed words from other languages because of Britain’s colonial history. Every country it conquered or ruled in the heyday of the British empire (1757-1947) contributed, in some way, to the evolution of the English language. Another reason could be military conflict or political contact with other countries. For example, words such as glasnost and pogrom are of Russian origin while blitz is German.

Interestingly many loan words are nouns, pertaining to food and drink. This is perhaps because the British couldn’t find English equivalents to many indigenous culinary delights, and it was simpler to absorb some words wholesale — like sushi (from Japan) or chutney and samosa (India) — into the English language. 

That’s how the Indian chai, basmati or balti, the French aperitif, croissant, baguette, have added zest and zing to the English language. Be it nouvelle cuisine (another loan phrase from France), bistro, or the Italian pizza, latte or cappuccino, these words are part and parcel of the English language. 

The Danish lego, Filipino yo-yo and Hungarian Rubik’s Cube today sound as English as any other. So do angst and kaput which are actually of German origin. Indian loanwords also abound. Words with spiritual connotations like avatar, yoga, guru and karma are now woven into contemporary English vocabulary. Ditto bungalow, pajamas, shampoo, kedgeree, jungle and bandana.

Read this sentence carefully: ‘Although he carried a rucksack to kindergarten, he is an entrepreneur who made it big in his genre.’ 

Besides making little sense, this sentence has something else unusual about it. It contains four loanwords — rucksack, kindergarten, entrepreneur and genre. Yet this sentence doesn’t sound at all foreign. Indeed, most sentences we frame in English today are very likely to have some loanwords. The character of loanwords is that they merge discreetly and, very often, undetectably, into a language, helping it develop, grow and thrive. 

Spot the loanwords

Identify the source country and the meanings of the following loanwords:

1. Schadenfreude
2. Faux pas
3. Doppelganger
4. Mea culpa
5. Aficionado

Answers
1.Schadenfreude (German): The pleasure one derives from someone else’s misfortune.
2. Faux Pas (French): The violation of a commonly accepted social norm — a blunder, gaffe.
3. Doppelganger (German): A double, or look-alike person.
4. Mea culpa (Latin): Literally, ‘my own fault’. Usually used by a person admitting guilt for wrong-doing.
5. Aficionado (Spanish): An ardent admirer or fan.