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A word, which has been assimilated into another language, usually because the destination language did not have an equivalent word. This also applies to entire phrases.

Examples of loanwords that have recently become part of English are menage a trois from French, smorgasbord from Swedish, schadenfreude and zeitgeist from German, karaoke and manga from Japanese, and koppie and trek from Afrikaans.

Other words from Afrikaans have made it into South African English, but not into Standard English, like lekker and braai. Though this node is not a list of loan words, /msg me if you have some more choice examples.

Languages differ in their attitude towards loanwords. English is very accepting of loan-words, and after a few centuries they become naturalised citizens, perhaps with changes in pronunciation.

Japanese tends to reshape them into new words that are often unrecognisable in the original language (salariman for an office-worker is one of the easier ones). See gairaigo for a longer discussion of Japanese loanwords.

The French have laws and officials dedicated to stopping the influx of English words, and would rather mandate their own equivalent coinages.

You may also wish to read What loan words say about a society.

It is also worth noting that all English words that have Q not followed by U are loan words, mostly of middle-eastern origin.

In linguistics, a term for a word or phrase (lexical item, if you want to get technical) that somehow spread from one language to another. Loanword formation is a result of repeated code switching or borrowing over time. The classic loanword is a lexical borrowing; i.e. a useful foreign word or phrase that has been modified to fit the phonotactic constraints of the language doing the borrowing (this process is called nativization). Other possibilities include:

  • loan blends, which involve some combination of nativized foreign morphemes and native words. An example is the "German-style crackhaus" featured in an Onion article, or the word "socketinas", a blend of the English and Spanish words for sock popular among Chicano youngsters.
  • loan shifts, which are when the meaning of a useful word or phrase is important, but the actual words involved are translated. For example, the German Wolkenkratzer, French gratte-ciel and Spanish rasca-cielos are all based on the English word skyscraper. The English backpack, Dutch rugzak and French sac à dos are likely loan shifts as well, though I'm not sure what language was the original source of the morpheme.

Loanwords may be either substitutions or importations. The former is when a foreign word gradually replaces its native equivalent (which is usually infrequently used; basic function words like pronouns and prepositions are hardly ever subject to borrowing); the latter is when a loan fills a lexical gap (introduces a new concept for which the language originally had no word).


Sources: René Appel and Pieter Muysken, Language Contact and Bilingualism; Grover Hudson, Essential Introductory Linguistics, and many a linguistics class in between.

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